Littleleaf Farms lost their entire client base overnight.
The local microgreens distributor based out of Cavan-Monaghan, just off Highway 7A, supplied their little greens strictly to 25 local restaurants.
When the sweeping COVID-19 pandemic regulations regarding restaurants came down across Canada, it completely disrupted Littleleaf Farms’ business model.
That wasn’t an easy pill to swallow for Larissa Nicholson and her husband Jon Hassell.
After all, they were just announced as one of Peterborough & the Kawarthas Business Advisory Centre (BAC)’s Starter Company Plus grant winners from program’s latest intake.
Starter Company Plus is a program offered through the Peterborough & the Kawarthas BAC with funding from the Government of Ontario. The program is designed to provide business training for entrepreneurs (from aspiring to experienced), aged 18 and over in the City and County of Peterborough who are launching a business or expanding an existing business (that has been operating for five years or less).
“We have to rebuild our entire customer base now,” Larissa said over the phone from her farm. “Obviously some restaurants are still open for takeout and although microgreens are nice for colour and flavour, it’s not something they necessarily need.”
Larissa and Jon moved to their current farm in Cavan from Ajax five years ago to plug into Peterborough & the Kawarthas’ ‘vibrant and close-knit community’. Larissa mentioned how much she’s valued the mentorship and guidance from Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development (PKED) Entrepreneurship Officer Madeleine Hurrell.
“We’re really lucky to be in the Peterborough area. Maddie (Madeleine) has been extremely supportive. If we ever have a question, we’ve been able to reach out to her and she gets back right away,” Larissa explained. “We love this community. Peterborough (& the Kawarthas) is all about supporting local.”
“I’ll never forget my first day when we moved here. I was downtown Peterborough for a walk and someone just waved at me. I was looking around and they said, ‘Oh, I’m just saying hi!’”
Despite how difficult times are right now, instead of packing it in and folding the business, Larissa and Jon decided to pivot. They quickly created an online store through Wix.com and have changed their target customer base to the general public.
The response has been strong, and they’ve been able to deliver to customers from Cobourg, Buckhorn to Oshawa.
“Immediately we realized we’ve had a lot of customers that have contacted us from the public in the past and we know that people are already interested,” Larissa said.
“We’re just trying to keep positive and are looking for different avenues to pivot our business,” she added.
If you’re a small business like Littleleaf Farms and are considering pivoting your business model. Here are 5 steps Littleleaf Farms took:
1. Add an Ecommerce platform
“Wix has been great. We’ve dropped down our selection to just do a salad mix and a spicy mix to make it easier for customers online.”
Shopify, Squarespace and BigCommerce are also popular ecommerce platform options.
2. Find Your Preferred Social Media Platform of Choice
“For us, it’s Instagram. Customers just message us on our Instagram page and put an order in through there. It’s the channel where we have the biggest audience and it’s really easy to post a picture with a little blurb underneath. People seem to really respond to that.”
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, Pinterest, Snapchat and Reddit are all popular social media platforms. Your target demographic will shape what social media platform you prioritize.
3. Find Online Communities and Marketplaces
“All the farmers go onto this Facebook platform, post their product that they have available, the public comments on what they want, the farmer confirms it and then they either e-transfer, use credit or debit cards for tap.”
Facebook Marketplace, Peterborough’s Reddit Forum and searching potential customers through relevant Instagram hashtags are great places to start.
4. Be Flexible and Consider the Value of Building Brand Loyalty through Exceptional Customer Service
“We’re open to delivering our customers the product. I’ve been driving all over the place. We’re hoping once we increase the volume, that we could hire someone to do the deliveries.”
Quick responses on Facebook Messenger, Twitter and Instagram Direct Messages go a long way to ensuring your customers return.
5. Build Partnerships
“We have one partner that’s a coffee shop in Cobourg that’s selling our microgreens. Just by some luck, they opened a bakery with a drive thru window and they have been selling a crazy amount of our microgreens through that drive thru window. We’ve also been partnering with Harley Farms in Keene and Kendal Farm in Clarington. They’ve been posting our product on their virtual farmers market.”
PKED’s Business Collaboration Portal is a great place to start building partnerships with other local businesses.