Here’s to 2020

As I spent some time reflecting on this year and the roller coaster that it has been for many of us, I wanted to take a few minutes to update our ‘Laine’s family and to thank all of you that have gotten us through this year. Every word of encouragement, order, and donation meant more to us than I can adequately express at the moment.

Many of you know that our year started off with quite a bit of chaos prior to the onset of the pandemic. There were many times throughout the year where we thought we would need to close permanently. Thankfully, we are cautiously optimistic that we will come back stronger than ever in 2021!

Our operations have been mostly suspended throughout the year which was an extraordinarily difficult decision. The short version is that our business is not essential and I wasn’t willing to risk the health of our team members to make cookies. We did implement measures to protect our team members during the few weeks that we ramped back up like providing masks with the best filtration we could find, implementing temp checks, and rolling out a new scheduling system with contact tracing capabilities. However, our kitchen space is very small and doesn’t allow for social distancing. Once the city percent positive test rate accelerated alarmingly, we ceased production and provided hazard pay for the cut hours. Many of our team members have already lost family members this year. I also understand that our team members rely on us to provide for their families in the absence of ongoing COVID-19 federal stimulus funds.

Left picture: our new scheduling app allows for easy contact tracing and didn’t allow clock in if there any health concerns. Right picture: one of our more humorous attempts at ramping up food safety in the kitchen, it didn’t stick.

Juggling these tradeoffs has been one of the most complicated things I’ve had to do as a business owner. For now, here’s our plan:

  • We are currently (through 12/15) accepting holiday orders to earn funds to get us through the next few months. We are also hosting a virtual garage sale and participating in the neighbor loaves donation program to raise additional funds over the next few months.
  • While the percent positivity rate in Chicago exceeds the CDC and WHO recommendations of 5% (currently we’re at 12%) we will cease regular production. I will go into the kitchen with family members in my “bubble” (with masks of course) to produce the final holiday orders and then we will cease production until February in the hopes that the positivity rate is within the scientifically established guidelines for resuming activities like non-essential manufacturing. Based on the information that I have available, reaching that threshold, along with our COVID-19 safety procedures reduces risk to a prudent level.
  • In the interim, 100% of the COVID-19 donations made on our website will go to non-family staff members that are currently furloughed.
  • Some of our employees need to find other jobs for now, and I am assisting them with these efforts so that they can make the best decision for their families at this time.
  • We plan to relaunch in February, hopefully with the full team. If not, we will resume the staffing model that we’re using for this month until we meet the parameters described above.

Things on our end haven’t been all doom and gloom thankfully! This operational pause did provide a silver lining. It’s not often that small business owners have the chance to slow down, analyze their businesses, and completely revamp them. You may have noticed the updated website that we launched earlier this year. We’re working diligently to continue improving it. We are also working to unveil what we’re calling ‘Laine’s Bake Shop 2.0 in early 2021. I’ve analyzed what worked well before, what didn’t, and how we can better serve our customers and employees. In the coming weeks, I’m excited to share more with you about where we’re headed!

For those of you that know me, you know that I love operational efficiency. One of the challenges we’ve faced over the years is how we can make our team efficient enough to provide living wages and comprehensive benefits. This year really drove home the necessity of this. Roughly 30% of our sales cover the cost of our quality ingredients, about 35% goes to staffing expenses, 30% is available to cover all of our overhead, and ideally, we have about 5% of profit. This means that anything we can do, without compromising quality, to make things more efficient, allows us to invest more in our team. Here are a couple of the efficiency projects that we were able to implement this year:

  • We started working with IMEC, the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Corporation, to update the layout of our kitchen and to create a lean operations training for our team. We have a lot of great projects lined up for next year with the IMEC team.
  • We brought in a trainer to teach our team how to use our newly repaired cookie depositor machine so that we don’t have to scoop literal tons of cookie dough manually!
Our trainer Ed was phenomenal. Damien and ‘Laine #2 are now cookie manufacturing experts!
  • We were able to invest in an edible printer thanks to a large custom cookie order this fall. This thing is SO COOL!!
Can you tell how excited I was?
The first day testing out the new printer!
We can create delicious cookies with any picture you can dream up now! We’ll still have the hand-painted cookies too, so lots of options!
  • Probably most exciting of all, this week we found out that we’ll receive a grant that will cover the deposit on a roll in oven! This piece of equipment has been on our wish list for almost 4 years! This is a real game-changer and we are so grateful that West Side United selected us as one of the grant recipients!! The oven increases the amount that we can bake at once exponentially which will increase our team efficiency and as a result the team pay rate. We’re hoping to have a pre-sale for our new online store next year to help raise the remaining funds for the purchase.
  • There are a few other things that we’ll keep under wraps, trade secrets and all 😉

That was a lot! But, I guess that’s very on-trend for 2020. Thanks for reading, and for all of your patience and understanding this year, you all are the best!

Signing off for now,

Rachel Elaine (‘Laine #3)

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