In this article we hear Leaf Bean Machine’s co-owner Fleur Cassidy recount her experience as a small business owner during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Owned by Perth couple Fleur and Brad, Fleur takes the time to let us in on the difficulties the Coronavirus has presented for the hospitality industry…
“It’s nothing new that the last 6 months have offered a rollercoaster of emotions. Everyone everywhere has felt changes (some individuals more heavily than others) because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Living in Perth, Western Australia we’ve had a bit more luck and I can say on behalf of everyone that we feel very grateful and appreciative for the everyday luxuries that it has afforded us.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first started in April 2020, no one was prepared for the rapid changes that were to unfold. In just the first month, we were left stunned with the impact the virus was having.
In the middle of March, I went on a short trip to Melbourne with my son whilst my husband ran things at the roastery.
Whilst visiting cafes and galleries in Melbourne, I started to hear more news about the Coronavirus. I was deeply concerned but reminded myself that Australia is far away, we’ve got protective measures in place, there’s no chance the Coronavirus could impact our country, our home and our small coffee roastery hidden in Perth.
Wow, how things can change in such a short period of time! When I had left to go on my break in Melbourne, business was running as per normal. When I arrived back to Perth, I was met with disheartening news.
Brad and I sat down and we discussed the reality of the situation. I think he may have been keeping some concerning details from me whilst I was away so I could enjoy my time, which I can understand, I would have done the same.
We realised that the reality was our business was rapidly falling. It seems like a bad nightmare now.
Cafes were closing their doors unsure when they were going to reopen. Baristas, Chefs and employees were being let go left, right and centre.
Sure, there were some cafes able to offer takeaway options, but this wasn’t an effective business model for most.
Our profits decreased by 64% what seemed like overnight and we felt sick with even trying to comprehend where to go from here. Brad and I had to make some difficult decisions, unquestionably the hardest we’ve faced in our time as business owners (coming on 30 years now).
We had a staff meeting the next morning. On next to no sleep we announced to our close, small team who we view as family that we had to let everyone go.
To face our team who we feel so connected with and tell them this news, it was a feeling that I don’t wish for any business owner – but unfortunately, it has been one that many businesses have had to face.
It was a devastating slap in the face. Looking back on the very beginning of this year we were optimistic that this was ‘our year.’ We were growing like never before. We were delivering to cafes all the way down in Albany to all the way up in Derby.
Our name was growing in popularity and we had just hired 4 new team members who each held such passion and devotion for Leaf Bean Machine. But, quickly, this was turned upside down.
Our initial devastation switched to determination. We weren’t going down without a fight. With the government’s announcement of Job Keeper our whole team stayed employed and with everyone’s contribution we felt like we could take on anything.
Supporting Local Business
During these trying times our coffee family gave us such an immense amount of strength, support and encouragement. It was unexpected and beautifully overwhelming.
From the bottom of our hearts we say thank you! We’ve always felt deeply close with our coffee community. We like to think we stand with open arms to each and every coffee and tea lover.
Whether it be the cafes we supply coffee to, the customers that pop in for a coffee or, those who purchase online – we’ve always felt strongly connected to each and every person involved in our business.
As COVID-19 presented a series of unanticipated challenges, our coffee family was there fighting with us. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Supporting the Community
Although it was a difficult time, we were all facing these hardships together. We believed that by bounding together we could overcome these hurdles.
We took action straight away and began offering support to our local community in any way that we could.
For the baristas, whom many had lost their job, we offered them the small gesture of a free bag of coffee.
We encouraged all baristas to bound together online by sharing their home coffee making by using the hashtag #keeponbrewing.
It became a fun activity seeing home users make up their Karvan coffee with their own gadgets. It was a way for all of us to stay connected particularly during the period where social distancing was at its peak.
For the cafes, we shared many phone calls with owners giving them hope and practical advice on how to organise finances and readjust their business model.
We kept close communication at all times, ensuring their cafés were staying afloat and checking in with them as well.
Although we were facing challenges it was crucial for us to be there as strong pillars for our customers to rely on during their own hardships.
For the industry as a whole, we teamed up with Beyond Blue to raise funds and awareness for the mental health of all of those in the hospitality industry.
$1 from every 250g bag of Single Origin sold was to be donated to Beyond Blue specifically to support the mental health of those in the hospitality industry.
We’re over the moon to announce that we’ve actually reached our first goal of raising $1,000! And… we’re well on our way to $2,000.
For the community, we ran a t-shirt competition which encouraged our artsy coffee lovers to design a graphic for t-shirts we would sell on our website.
We organised and funded the printing of the t-shirts and gave all profits straight to the designer.
We received a huge and very impressive response. Everyone enjoyed seeing all of the entries and you can now purchase the 4 winners via our website!
For the team; honesty, transparency and empathy go a long way. Being a small business, these are values we see as essential in running a small business.
During COVID-19, these values became even more important. We were all in this together and we were going to fight together.
We shared many tears in the first few weeks but by communicating openly and working together we’ve come out of this stronger than ever.
Now, we can announce with a full and appreciative heart that our business has bounced back!
As Theodor Seuss says, “sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”
What an emotional rollercoaster it has been and we really couldn’t have done it without our coffee community – our team, our customers, fellow business owners, you.
We feel incredibly blessed to have the encouragement of our coffee community. Every act of support whether big or small has contributed to where we are today.
Whether you placed an online order, came in for a takeaway coffee or even just engaged with us on our social media platforms – thank you!
Onwards and upwards
Of course, the scare of COVID-19 hasn’t fully worn off and our thoughts are currently with all Victorians experiencing lockdowns.
Looking back at my Melbourne trip in March, it’s disorientating to imagine the city without the hustle and bustle I associate it with.
As a small business owner, my heart is with all Melbourne business owners who are going through this second wave.
We really hope you’re doing ok.
Uncertainty still lingers for what the future holds but, what is certain is that with the ongoing support of the community, we can get through anything.”
A big thank you to Fleur Cassidy co-owner of Perth’s coffee roastery and tea supplier for sharing with us this honest and optimistic account.