Half Full/Half Empty: The Chocolate Biz in 2020 & 2021
We are big fans of Marketplace business news around here. Not only because Kristin was on the show once or twice (or six times really . . .(check out her stories here)) but also because the show is fun and informative and hits just the right balance on both. Kai and Molly, two of the main hosts, did a “half full/half empty” segment recently, so I thought I’d try out their idea for a recap of our chocolate biz for 2020 and thoughts as we start 2021.
Ok, here we go:
Half Full / Half Empty
Living with Uncertainty – Only a drop above completely empty on this one
Uncertainty is hard. Pre-pandemic life was uncertain too – we just had the illusion we could predict things better. When the pandemic hit, the feelings of uncertainty crashed down hard. Would anyone want chocolate? How could we keep our employees working? We listened to the news and planned a day at a time as best we could. (That’s when we decided to keep making chocolate bunnies for Easter and give them away, a story that Marketplace covered last spring. That decision helped us with the uncertainty and kept our employees working.)
Side note: Dean finds living with uncertainty much easier than I do. In fact, he’d rather stay in uncertainty, do more research, ask more people, experiment with more recipes, play with different ingredients. This, as his business partner and wife, drives me crazy. I am an instant-fixer. I want to run away from uncertainty the second it shows itself, which means I look for answers before we can even weigh most options. Maybe we end up with good results because Dean and I meet in the middle between contemplation and action. The only reason I give uncertainty “a drop above completely empty” is because I’ve had prolonged practice living with uncertainty this year. I think I’m a tiny bit better at it now.
Summer – Definitely half empty
Fewer visitors to Maine meant a lackluster summer of chocolate sales. Worse was the 100% loss of our hotel “turn-down” business – a cornerstone of our year-round chocolate production. And it was just plain sad for our hotel friends nearby.
Side note: For June and July, we had the state of Maine pretty much to ourselves. Coastlines, mountains, bike lanes, and trails, all to ourselves. Lucky to live in such a great place!
Online Sales – Half full to overflowing
The business-saving grace of this year was online sales. From Easter and Mother’s Day through Thanksgiving and the Christmas/Hanukkah, our online sales were five to ten times better than the year before. We prepped for the fall/winter holidays by updating our website and adding a few new products, including a chocolate subscription box. We have survived this year specifically because of online sales.
Side note: We know that luck plays a major role always, but this year, the luck was definitely on our side. We have a product that can be sold online, ships relatively easily (right USPS?!), and makes people happy. It’s just luck. Right product, right time.
USPS – So empty, so so empty
It’s not the fault of the hard-working postal workers, and our hearts went out to these people as they busted a gut to move all those packages, but wow, the major slow-down in shipping caused us and our customers a fair dose of grief for the last two weeks of December and still now into January. The constancy of customers’ phone calls and emails asking for tracking information took time and many deep breaths on our side, and understandably, our customers anxiously wanted their chocolate and gifts before Dec 25th.
Side note: We all got a lesson in patience.
The New Year – Half full, with hope for full full
If and when life slowly comes back to whatever we might call normal, when we can travel and shop and dine in safety again, our business is set to thrive. By summer of 2021, we foresee more customers in our stores, more guests in nearby hotels, more fairs and events on the schedule. Our business is stronger than it was a year ago, that is clear. The year of 2020 forced us to improve our processes and our product offerings. Our employees have all stuck with us, for which we are incredibly grateful. We see online sales remaining strong – a 2020 trend here to stay. We see new hires and business growth in our year ahead. We are, in truth, brimming with optimism.
Final side note: One of the reasons I am attracted to Kai and Molly’s half full/half empty game is because it has a history for Dean and me. Early in our marriage Dean and I compared whether we tended to see the glass (i.e., life) as half full or half empty.
For me, it’s always been half full. My optimism may not be founded in reality, but I’ll stick with it.
For Dean, no matter which way he looks at the glass, he just sees water. Not half full or half empty. Just water. It sums up who Dean is. He takes life as it comes with little to no judgement, anxiety, or fuss. I’m pretty sure that’s why Dean’s chocolates are so good. And it sums up who we are as business and life partners: complementary, hopeful, and dogged. And since I’m the fighter in the family and I win all our debates, the glass remains half full, end of story.