Our small business survival strategies
This is a story of how we triumphed over turbulent times in our small business and the strategies we used to bring it back from the brink.
Back in 2017 our small business painted a very different picture to where we are today. We very nearly lost it all but this is our story of success and how we managed to save Marvellous Superfood and it's transformation into the business we are today.
Our business landscape in 2018.
We had an office with a shop and production rooms where we made our products. We were exporting to Malta, Gibraltar, Spain and Ireland supplying 3 Holland and Barrett franchises as well as Planet Organic and Amazon prime.
Things were looking good until it all crashed down…
It started with Amazon.
We were selling on amazon prime and making good sales. Our products were coming up at the top of the pages and our customer reach was growing! Then we started to notice the amazon ‘favourite’ sticker appearing on our listings and we were super excited, YAY AMAZON LOVES OUR PRODUCTS!
It wasn’t long before amazon approached us and said they wanted our products to be ‘supplied by amazon'. This meant they would buy our products from us and advertise them meaning we should see our sales increase dramatically. All sounds good so far! They gave us an account manager who was super enthusiastic and he said we had to quote them our best possible prices as they would be making big orders!
So we looked at our spread sheets and worked out our best prices, then we waited excitedly for our first order to come!
When the order came it was a ‘bulk price request' which basically means ‘we want 500 hot chocolates but we want to pay 20p less per unit than the agreed price’….
Eeek, we thought, this is tricky but we went ahead with it.
Then, when the order came in it had to to be shipped 10 different warehouses and WE had to pay the shipping to each one, BLIMEY!
Then we waited the 90 days for our first invoice to be paid..
Guess what, there was another blow for us was when the invoice came in, -2% for advertising, -2% for breakages (even if there were non), -2% for ‘subscribe and save’ even if that option wasn’t selected, so the invoice was 6% less than agreed on the bulk price…
At that point we were still selling our products as "Prime" products. However, Amazon undercut our amazon prime price which meant they now had the 'buy it now' button and our listings disappeared down the algorithm. The only way for us to reach to top of the search pages as we had previously was to pay for more advertising!!
And it didn’t stop there, no 'ad campaigns' were run, even though we paid for them and they continued with blow after blow to us until we were on our knees financially. There was no concern for our small business survival at all!
That's when the returns started...
It turns out that buried in the huge contract they sent us was the rule that they could return unsold, out of date stock and we had to refund them!
So in short, they made huge orders and demanded a lower price because it's a huge order. Then, they made us refund them when the products didn't all sell because they didn't advertise them..
Still more struggles for our small business came..
Around this time, Holland and Barrett changed the way their franchises worked and we lost our deal with all the shops we supplied. Then shortly after, Planet Organic got a new buyer, who came with his own ideas and preferred companies, so we were dropped from there as well.
Suddenly the shop was full of returned products from amazon and unpaid bills…
There’s nothing for it, we were going to have to liquidate the business...
But this is not a story of failure. This is a story of our small business survival strategies that saved us!
As we prepared to shut the doors I said to my sister, “I can’t bring myself to shut the door on all our hard work”.
She was moving on to a new job and so I decided to give it a go alone.
Survival strategy #1 - Down size and face your debts!
After an honest chat with my brother about how I was going to lose the business and had to find somewhere to work, he arrived at my farm a few days later with an old shipping container. Then my brother in-law also stepped in and got to work renovating it for me.
Within a few weeks we were able to start picking up the pieces working from home. We spent the first weeks contacting all the companies we owed money to and setting up payment plans.
We were finally getting somewhere but then came the first covid lockdown!
Survival strategy #2 - Pivot when you can!
We were small and had a strong view of where our products were selling best and to who. We knew what benefits we wanted our customers to have from using our products. This became our ‘SUPER POWER’!
We brainstormed ideas to boost income and came up with the idea of using our products to create hampers and letterbox gifts.
I got my sister Wanda on board to supply cookies, she’s a master free-from baker, and we developed cookies to add to our hamper range that would support our company's ethos of clean eating and boosting gut health. Finally we started to crawl back from the edge.
Survival strategy #3 - Embrace change and focus on what’s working
So we haven’t dropped our original superfood range, not all, in fact by adding the letterbox gifts and hampers we’ve brought an extra dynamic to them and now we see our small business as providing solutions for you to eat healthy, boost immunity and improve gut health! If we can hep you do that with our superfood blends but also delicious cookies and soothing teas, then it’s a win in our eyes.
It's been 4 years of hard work, instead of relying on large outlets to promote and sell our products and be at their whim of hidden charges, dropping ranges etc; we've become small and artisan with a dedicated focus on you, our customers. We now love sharing ideas and recipes on social media.
Oh and I nearly forgot! During all this we've completely overhauled our packaging systems to go from plastic to FULLY compostable product pouches and hamper packaging. You can find out more on this journey in this "Plastic to Fantastic" blog post.
We’d love to get your feedback, maybe you’ve been a long time customer and witnessed us move through the changes, or you’re a new customer and this story is a surprise to you.