ETA: If you are looking for resources to help, they are listed at the bottom of this post!
Grit and tenacity are the two traits that I believe are most critical for success as an entrepreneur. 2019 was a year that defined the entrepreneurial roller coaster for ‘Laine’s. While we experienced the joys of opening a second location and expanding with our wholesale clients, behind the scenes we were fighting for our proverbial lives.
- We went through the polar vortex of 2019 with no heat and through the sweltering summer with no AC in our production facility. We had ongoing issues with the roof leaking which rusted out the furnace and blower for the AC, shorted out our pantry light, and caused ceiling tiles to rot. We brought these issues to our landlord repeatedly with varying degrees of fruitless responses. At one point, I was told “Rachel! You are asking for too much!” when I stated that we needed to have the roof fixed and the furnace in working order to get through the winter
- The opening of our retail location was delayed again, so we opened in May of 2019 instead of September of 2018. The expenses we incurred as a result of the delay, greatly affected our ability to market the space which has impacted our performance since opening
- The CPA firm that we enlisted for bookkeeping, taxes, and consulting, did not complete the work they were contracted to do so we spent most of the year addressing errors in their accounting and working to catch up on work that wasn’t completed. We’ve found a firm to partner with to correct the outstanding issues, but used the cash we reserved for this purpose in the move described below
- We lost key people on both the production and retail side of our business
- Due to a restructuring at one of our non profit partners, we lost our apprenticeship program which was a critical hiring and staffing pipeline for our production team
- I faced a series of health challenges that resulted in significant time away from the business
- And all of this was just the tip of the iceberg… Despite everything, I am incredibly proud that our team came together to grow the company over 80%
January of 2020 seemed determined to make the issues we encountered in 2019 seem relatively inconsequential. The past few weeks looked like they would be the end of ‘Laine’s Bake Shop. We are still standing because our village has helped us pull off, what would have been impossible on our own. I hesitated to share this story, until I remembered this quote from Brené Brown:
Today, I am choosing to share our story, in my attempt to write a new ending for ‘Laine’s. I deeply believe that business is the most powerful tool for social change that we have available to us. The work that we are doing and the impact of our social mission can have a catalytic effect on our neighborhoods on the south and west sides of Chicago. We are reaching out for help, in hopes that others who share this belief can join us to continue building on the work I started 7 years ago.
Here’s the short version of how our year started off. Saturday, January 18th, I came into the production kitchen to work on a re-organization project with our team’s organizing guru. Shortly after getting started, he asked me if I’d been near the office area yet. When I walked over, I saw that my desk and all of our office equipment was soaked. Just two weeks prior to this, our landlord assured us that the leaks in the roof had been fixed and now they were back in several new areas, and stronger than ever. As we worked to cover all of the areas that were getting wet, we noticed several areas on the ceiling with new water stains and buckling. There was one tiny crack that spanned the length of our kitchen and one side of the crack was expanding as water came through the roof and we literally watched the crack spread and the leaks travel further into the kitchen. My mother and grandmother had arrived by this time and they noticed hot water was dripping down one of the light fixtures. A few minutes later that light shorted out.
So back to this black hole. You may think that the buckling ceiling and shorted out electrical fixtures would be enough to cause us to pack up in a panic and leave this building far behind. However, the final straw was that part of the ceiling had actually caved in! Rotting timber and insulation were accompanied by mold and a steady drip of water.
I called our landlord to see if he’d come over to explain how the ceiling was leaking so profusely just two weeks after the latest repairs. He arrived a few hours later and gave us several excuses why he couldn’t address this issue anytime soon. Prior to leaving, he suggested placing A TARP on the roof in the interim. At this point, we all looked at each other and knew we had to leave. I will readily admit, that this was also the point where I fell apart. In that moment, I couldn’t imagine how we could get through this. We had 40+ hours of production scheduled each week to keep up with our regular orders and some of our equipment literally weighed over half a ton. Even if we found a place to move, all of the licensing and administrative hurdles, plus the financial requirements, seemed insurmountable.
In the past 3 weeks, we found a wonderful new kitchen space at The Hatchery, a new food manufacturing incubation space halfway across the city and were supported in our move by our guardian angels on the team at the new kitchen, Chapin and Erika. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the kitchen, Chapin, Erica, and the amazing support that they provided during this time. Another long time advocate, Aarti provided us with sage advice and facilitated a cash bond, that we used to cover equipment and some of our payroll expenses while our production kitchen was down and our team was moving the kitchen. In the future, we’ll pay that bond forward to another entrepreneur. Our family and friends stepped in to help us move most of our belongings out of the old kitchen (I’ll save that adventure for another post), we passed our state health department license (required since we are a wholesaler), received our City of Chicago business license, and set up a lean manufacturing assessment to make sure we’re operating as efficiently as possible. The last time we set up a new kitchen, this process took us several months!
Altogether this move and the lost or delayed orders has set us back over $20,000. For a business of our size, this is a significant financial hit. We are also still working, in the midst of everything else, to fix equipment damaged in the move, to get our kitchen organized and to hire staff to replace the team members that were not able to transition with us.
Despite the chaos, this move positions us for a very strong 2020 if we can recover quickly enough in February. If we can’t this could still be the end for ‘Laine’s. In the new space, a lot of the constraints that inhibited our performance and growth are completely resolved. We’ve saved hundreds of dollars on shipping costs in the first few weeks by having a loading dock (many companies charged us a fee for not having one as it requires more labor or a special truck for deliveries), we’re working with a food scientist to help create a next level food safety plan that will allow us to sell to more national chains, and we have space to ramp up quickly and safely. We are also surrounded by a supportive team with a mission to build companies like ours, and entrepreneurs that we can learn from and partner with. This isn’t the way that I would have planned this move, but we are cautiously optimistic that this will be a turning point for ‘Laine’s.
I hope that our story encourages other entrepreneurs falling on tough times and brings awareness to some of the issues faced by under-resourced small businesses. I’ve also received a lot of “How can I help?” messages from people who’ve heard part of this story. For the past few weeks, I often didn’t know what we needed, but hopefully this post answers some of those questions as well.
How you can help:
- Vote daily (through March 8th) to help us win a $50,000 grant in the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. Search “Laine” here to vote: https://smallbusinessgrant.fedex.com/#/gallery
- Visit our retail location at One Eleven Food Hall, bring a friend, and make a purchase! This location is closing on February 29th.
- Contribute or share our fundraising campaign on Fundly
- Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop
- Sign up to help move our remaining equipment from the old kitchen by emailing AtYourService@lainesbakeshop.com with your availability
- Sign up for the Scoop Squad, our volunteer cookie scooping team until we can pay for repairs to our cookie scooping machine by emailing AtYourService@lainesbakeshop.com with your availability
- Do you know a place where we can host a pop up shop for a few hours ? To cover the cost of labor, ingredients, set up, and prep time, we look to pop up for a minimum of 3 hours and need to sell ~$75 per hour.
- Here are a few of our favorite ways to support any small business:
Thanks so much for reading and sharing. Your support is invaluable!