Katie Mitchell is the Founder of Happy Camper a healthy (made from scratch) convenience food company, who’s snacks and treats you can find at The Lola. We caught up with Katie to hear how she’s pivoted her revenue (80% of which came from from cafes and coffee shops pre-pandemic) to an online model in a matter of weeks and managed to keep her people employed.
What has your overall experience of COVID-19 been like and what has stood out the most?
The largest changes to our business took place in the first few days of shelter-in-place. Week by week I have evolved from making quick decisions that were drastic changes to our business model to making smaller changes to adjust to consumer demand and safety precautions. Community support stands out to me the most. Customers calling to check in on us, my coffee shop partner owners calling to check-in, and an overwhelming amount of referral orders. I have been amazed that our customers care so much about our ability to weather through this phase.
What have been the hardest parts?
The first two weeks were extremely hard. I had to pivot my business model and make a decision about continuing to remain open to keep my staff employed. We make physical goods so the only way I could continue to support salaries was to continue production. Making that decision felt like a huge responsibility. On top of keeping our work environment safe, we had to deal with our suppliers completely running out of all the ingredients we need to keep up with production. It was so hard for the first few weeks to keep sales and stock inflow.
What have been some inspiring moments?
The simple notes we receive from returning customers keep me going on a daily basis. We spend so much time in a production kitchen, so hearing the words of encouragement and seeing the online orders grow makes me feel like we are a part of people’s lives. I have been inspired by our coffee shop partners that are supporting the community with donation drives and supporting healthcare workers, all while keeping their staff employed. I have been particularly inspired by one of our partners that is over 30 miles away and has continued to meet me (Safely) to pick up her store orders. The commitment to our relationship really means so much!
What habit, practice, goal, or mindset are you trying to embrace in this particular moment?
Gratitude and focus on the steps right in front of my face. Every day I remember to be thankful for the roof over my head, the ability to work on what I love, and the healthy food on my table. Starting work with a grateful mind, I am much more prepared to face all the changes to my business. Focus on the steps right in front of me helps me avoid the anxiety that can come from envisioning too many doom scenarios with all the unknown.
What has impacted your business the most and how have you had to pivot or even innovate?
Previously, sales to cafes and coffee shops made up 80% of our revenue on a monthly basis. With almost all of our cafe partners closed or cutting off food service, we pivoted quickly to grow our online business. I quickly offered free home delivery that I personally delivered to each home in the first few weeks of stay at home to keep business steady. We have had to reconfigure our production process and figure out the best shipping options as well as deal with buying from new suppliers when stock has been down at our traditional outlets.
What keeps you up at night?
How can we support our closed wholesale partners and how long will this version of the business model last? I really feel for the closed coffee shops and wonder how I can help them. Secondly, I do not know how customers will continue to behave over time. Will we be able to keep our revenue up enough with online sales? Should I focus on growth online or with new stores or what? Figuring out where to focus efforts when people’s behavior is not steady is difficult.
What additional support do you wish you had?
I am continuing to look for mentors that operate within a similar business framework and within similar financial means (bootstrapping). I would love to have more financial resources to make our shipping options more cost-effective / easier / environmentally friendly to make this channel work better for us. Emotionally, I am lucky to have a family that reminds me that all I can do is my best.
What do you hope will be different coming out of this?
I hope that our society will learn how devoted local businesses are to their craft. I hope that our families and friendships become closer because we recognize what matters most.
What have you learned about yourself?
I have learned that I continue to be resilient.
What things, habits, ways of working will you permanently change?
I am sincerely working on better long term planning and having more back up plans. As a growing small company, you often feel like you cannot have too many plans and have to focus on one thing. During a crisis like this, I’ve realized that even really small businesses should have contingency plans and scenario planning based on different economic factors.
How do you feel at this moment as businesses start to open in our state?
Honestly, I just feel stressed for the retail business owners making tough decisions. As a business owner myself, I understand that there is this struggle between fostering a safe environment and doing whatever you can to support your team and your business’ livelihoods.
How can the community support your business right now?
Order our products online, in local stores, and continue to support local coffee shops around Atlanta.