Charlie Mayer, CEO | Evanston, IL | B2B / Food Services
Charlie Meyer, The Spice House | Evanston, Illinois
The Spice House prides itself as a purveyor of spices, herbs, blends, and extracts to everyone from Michelinstar chefs to home cooks. It began as a single store on Galena Street in Milwaukee in 1957, and first got on the internet in 2000. Charlie digitized the back office in 2018 and replatformed the website in 2019. He sees the company’s future as digitally native and internet-first.
This pre-crisis digital readiness also included use of websites (71%), and social media (72%), and a majority (64%) increased use of these tools during the crisis.
As a first step in early 2018, Charlie introduced Slack and Zoom, which were obvious and necessary tools given that he lived hundreds of miles away. “My remote leadership basically required the adoption of these tools early on,” Charlie says, “which is why when COVID hit, communication really wasn’t that big of a deal for us; it was just, ‘See you on Slack, see you on Zoom.’” But the most important change for the company’s operations overall—not to mention its ability to function effectively during a pandemic— was to optimize internet sales, in-store pickups, and customer service operations and communications via platforms like Shopify and Zoho and to digitize its dayto-day functions through G Suite. The company also focused heavily on digital advertising through Google and Facebook.
For Charlie, COVID-19 was a scary and uncertain time. He shut down the company’s physical locations, except for online pickup orders. Then his e-commerce exploded to record levels. Customers were ready to reconnect with their love of cooking in quarantine, and The Spice House had just what they needed.
Most SMBs (53%) also plan to continue to use more digital technologies in their business, even after the pandemic.
“April and May are traditionally the worst months for spice-buying, and November and December, where holiday sales account for the majority of our profit each year, are always the best,” Charlie says. But April and May sales were bigger than the holidays. “The kind of sales we’ve seen are just orders of magnitude larger than anything we would have expected—and there is no way we could’ve done so well if the company were not as digitally connected as it is,” Charlie says.
The company rapidly expanded its workforce, bringing on many workers who had been laid off from local restaurants. Charlie says the ability to help out his colleagues in a struggling industry is one of the most rewarding aspects to come out of this situation. In addition to that is his ability to spotlight other food-related small businesses in his marketing communications and to invite Spice House customers to consider checking them out too. “We’re all in this together,” Charlie says, “and it is precisely because we have been able to do so well as a digitally connected business that we are able to help others collectively get through the challenging times with us.”
Now that many Americans are rediscovering cooking, Charlie can help thanks to his company’s strong digital backbone. “Our systems work the same today as they did three months ago, and it’s really amazing when you think about it,” Charlie says. “The world can go on pause for months at a time, and a cloud-connected business can just go right on.”
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