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  • Writer's picturePaul Thienes

This Sucks. But, it's only temporary. Well, kind of.

As Thomas L. Friedman said this morning on CNBC, Mother Nature always bats last, and always bats 1,000. With Covid-19, Mother Nature is at bat again. How are we going to pitch?

Obviously we need a vaccine to Covid-19, but according to the CDC, that realistically isn't going to arrive to all until next year. That's right - no vaccine available to all until 2021.

Take a moment, sip some coffee, and think about that. I sure am.

Even if we do everything right to slow down the spread with the current social distancing and lockdowns, it logically follows to continue even after the vaccine arrives. When social distancing lessens and lockdowns end, we can count on people calling in sick more often.

Mother Nature: 1 Humans: 0

For many small businesses, it's time to think Business Continuity, like I did back in 2015

My business has been through an existential threat that rippled for years: our 2015 data breach. The breach, performed by an unknown hacker out of Asia, affected up to 70 wine brands, 400,000 cardholders, and cost me over $500,000, draining my cash accounts down to zero.

The Business Toll

For the following TWO YEARS, we suffered a 20% loss of clients and revenue in the portfolio and signed ZERO new clients. If that wasn't enough (and no one knows this until this writing), I was also facing potential litigation from Attorney Generals in various states, with multiple potential fines amounting to tens of millions of dollars. Keep in mind, I had 9 employees with $1.3 Million in revenue at the time. If I lost only one lawsuit, I would be out of business, with all 9 of us looking for new jobs. Thankfully it didn't come to that, and the business has grown significantly since to become the most data-secure in the wine industry.

The Personal Toll

For two years, I averaged 3 hours of sleep per day (I literally worked until I fell asleep in my chair/bed), woke up and continued working. Rinse and repeat - every day. Although I am sure I've lost years off my life with that level of pro-longed stress working my ass off that hard, I am very proud to say that not one of my employees lost their job, although I constantly scrambled with my cash flow to meet payroll.

Here's what else I learned during my business' 2015-2017 crisis:

  1. Conserve Cash and Stay Liquid: Anybody who has built their business from nothing knows cash flow is king, but after experiencing consistent profit growth for years, it's easy to forget. Take a hard look today and cut out the non-essentials, and if possible, corral your cash so you can make those fast pitches when you think they'll count.

  2. Know every person working at home is, if not already, about to go out of their mind: Take it from me - who worked from home for many years - it's fun at first, but the voice calling to get out, visit (physically) with co-workers & lunch with industry peers becomes louder and louder until it screams. Get help to find a release valve(s) for them so they don't blow.

  3. Creatively re-allocate products & services so they fill emerging channel sales gaps: A new employee who is coming to eCellar from three-tier wine sales suggested that wineries re-allocate some wine from their three-tier channel (who isn't buying this vintage because their inventory depletions are stalled), instead offering that wine to your DtC channel for a one-vintage-only wholesale price (or slightly above).

  4. Thank buying customers at every opportunity: We exist for them, not the other way.

  5. Share your Story: It's inspiring for employees to hear that there have been significant challenges from time to time that has helped form the character of The Company and those long-timers who have weathered the storm and stuck with it, no matter what.

In closing, I'm looking forward to getting through this with you, knowing that it's going to be a lot of work helping our clients to creatively maintain their club levels, and filling the sales gap between declining tasting room sales vs. online sales.

Times like this reminds me that this is why we exist - to serve.

At home and isolated for now, it's going to feel strange, but this will make us all stronger, and this too shall pass.

Mother Nature: 1 Humans: 1

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