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What COVID Taught Me About Efficiency and Myself

If you have read some of my other posts, you probably know that I own a small business called Nordic Jo's Coffee. It's a specialty coffee brand that I mainly sell through local grocery stores. I have been running the business since 2012, and I have been learning lessons all along the way, but the BIGGEST lessons have come in 2020.

When I first started Nordic Jo's I made it a top priority to make sure that the shelves at all of the stores I sold to were always fully stocked, organized, and looking great. I didn't want to risk a customer looking for their favorite blend and not finding it. This was both a good thing and a mistake.

It was good for the obvious reason. I was taking care of my customer. It was a mistake because I was doing it the wrong way.

I was stopping in at the stores as much as possible. I would go as far as stopping at the same stores multiple times a week. As a vendor, I was doing an amazing job of taking care of the shelves, but ultimately, I was over-servicing them. And that was costing me.

I spent about eight years operating this way. Then the pandemic hit. And to be perfectly honest, it scared me. I didn't want to be spending all of that time in those stores anymore. So, I started making changes. I started changing how I stocked the shelves, and I started stretching out the time between deliveries.

What I discovered amazed me. With a few careful adjustments, I was able to significantly extend the time between stopping at the stores without decreasing the value that I was providing to my customers. I'm not saying that there weren't hiccups, but they were minor. In the end, I had a new system of operating that was providing the same level of service with much more efficiency and profitability.

Most of the grocery stores that I sell to are highly vendor driven. By that, I mean that it is the vendor's responsibility to check inventory and deliver however much product is needed to restock. The stores don't call me to place orders. It's up to me to make sure that my product is on the shelf. So the changes that I made in my own ways of operating resulted in me delivering more product with less stops. I am now dropping off about two to three times as much product per delivery as I was before and I have eliminated almost all of the stops that I was making that were just check-ins without dropping off product.

So the lesson that I learned from COVID about my operations is pretty clear. I learned how to operate at a much higher level of efficiency and therefore profitability. But there is also a lesson buried here about myself and probably many other entrepreneurs that is just as valuable or maybe even more valuable.

The pandemic wasn't the first time that I had thought about increasing my efficiency. I had often wondered if I was making stops too frequently, and if I could make the changes that I did to be able to keep the shelves stocked with fewer stops. The pandemic was just the trigger that was pulled to force me to make those changes.

So why didn't I try making these changes before even though I knew that there was potential for more profitability? It was because I was afraid of the potential loss. I was afraid that if I didn't make those frequent stops, a store might run out of one blend or another when a customer came looking for it. Or worse yet, I might lose the confidence of a store if there was an unexpected run on the product and the shelf went too bare.

In retrospect, these concerns carried little risk. If I found that I had made a mistake and stretched things a little too far, I could always dial back a little and course correct. The reality was that the perceived risks were just fears in my head.

As humans, we have a tendency to place greater weight on the risk of loss than the potential of gain when we are making decisions. Because of this, we choose to just stay the course and say no to change, even when that change carries a likelihood of something better.

So the bigger lesson that I am trying to learn is to always look at what is holding me back from making a change and to ask myself what is the worst that can happen. Chances are, the real risk is much less than it feels.

If I had chosen to try these changes years ago, my business might be in a much different spot. What could I have accomplished had I spent all that time on building my business rather than just maintaining my business?


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