Talking Squarely — SN.01/EP.13 Talking Squarely About Another Unusual Holiday Season

Talking Squarely About Another Unusual Holiday Season
In this episode of the Talking Squarely podcast, three business owners discuss their approach to this holiday season, the challenges they are facing, and what’s giving them hope as they ring in 2022.
by Vidya Rao Dec 13, 2021 — 13 min
Talking Squarely About Another Unusual Holiday Season

This holiday season was supposed to be a full-on celebration, with COVID-19 in the rearview mirror. But with the pandemic still affecting many areas of the US and countries around the globe, business owners have had to prepare for another unusual holiday season.

Additionally, supply chain disruptions, shipping delays, and the worsening effects of climate change are all top of mind for business owners we spoke to, and they are developing both short- and long-term solutions for this new normal.

“As winemakers, we have difficulty with supply chain issues, being able to get glass to bottle our wine, which will slow down our releases of things,” says Kate Vourvoulis, co-owner of Good Luck Wine Shop in Pasadena, California. “And then on the consumer point… if California winemakers can’t get bottles either, I can’t get product from California. [There are also] shipping delays from Europe…and France had a really, really difficult harvest this year because of climate change.”

She isn’t alone. Beau Coan, operations manager of Papa Noel Christmas Trees based in Texas, has faced similar issues, and says the price of his product is increasing as a result.

“Shipping is becoming extremely expensive from both sides of the country,” he says. “There’s a shortage of truck drivers, a lot of retiring this year apparently, big trucking companies are having a hard time hiring, and that of course impacts us, but not to the point where we’re going to be in any kind of danger of not receiving product. It just will raise our prices a little bit because shipping prices have gone up.”

For some business owners, the impact of COVID-19 has been deeply personal. Kenneth Brown, co-owner of Sisters of the New South, a Southern restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, reflects on the fact some of his regular customers died as a result of COVID-19, and some of his employees also became ill.

“My biggest wish is safety for everybody,” he says. “Not only just my family, but for everybody who comes in touch with us and safety for the world.”

Despite ongoing challenges, these business owners are staying resilient. Listen to the episode to learn more about the lessons they learned from the 2020 holiday season, how they’ve pivoted this year, and what they are hopeful for as they ring in 2022.

Have questions or comments? Discuss this episode of Talking Squarely on the Seller Community.

Episode 13 Talking Squarely guests

Beau Coan, operations manager for Papa Noel Christmas Trees, a Christmas Tree shop with seven locations in Austin and San Antonio, Texas

Kate Vourvoulis, co-owner of Good Luck Wine Shop, a wine store and wine club in Pasadena, California

Kenneth Brown, co-owner of Sisters of the New South, a southern comfort food restaurant in Savannah, Georgia

More resources


Episode 13 full transcript

Nelson (host):

Hi, I’m Nelson Murray, and this is Talking Squarely. In this special three episode miniseries, we’re checking in with independent business owners as they look back at their experience, almost two years into the pandemic. The holidays are arguably the busiest time for business owners and a time of immense pressure. But this year there are added challenges from supply chain issues to continued uncertainty around customer behavior. Today we’re exploring those questions, opportunities and challenges that independent business owners are thinking about as they head into this year’s holiday season. What did they learn from 2020? How are they preparing for this holiday season? And what is giving them hope?

Beau:

I guess, coming into our season, we obviously, like anyone else, didn’t really know what to expect or how the pandemic would alter our business.

Nelson (host):

That’s Beau Coan, operations manager of Papa Noel, a specialty Christmas tree retailer located in Austin, Texas, talking about what his business experienced in 2020.

Beau:

We saw such a huge increase in sales very early in our season than ever before that it actually depleted our inventory twice, to almost nothing during the season and caught us kind of stumbling a little bit. But ultimately we caught our balance and caught up with the flow and ended up being probably the most successful season we’ve had in the 41 years we’ve been doing this. And obviously, as you can imagine, last year, a whole lot of people were interested in the online shopping experience. And that, of course means that the delivery part of our business really went crazy just like everything else did. It is becoming a staple of our business model and kind of sets us apart from our competitors in and around that area.

Nelson (host):

Kate Vourvoulis of Good Luck Wine Shop in Pasadena, California faced some challenges with a new business that started just prior to the 2020 holidays.

Kate:

We had just opened our doors right before the holiday season, so October 2020. So we were kind of still getting our footing a little bit. Luckily we had kind of, we have this great sort of built in community in our neighborhood where our predominant customer base is. So during the holidays, of course, there’s a lot more gift giving. There’s a lot more consumption of alcohol with meals and such. We actually started as just an online delivery company and did local delivery within our radius of Pasadena and surrounding cities. When we opened our doors in October, we decreased our delivery thinking, “Oh, we’re open now. People aren’t going to need as much delivery.” And quickly we found out that, just the convenience of delivery, as well as the convenience of online ordering and plus the pandemic, people still wanted it. So we just brought it all the way back up during the holidays also. And that was definitely our busiest delivery time.

Nelson (host):

Kenneth Brown is owner of Sisters of the New South, a Southern comfort restaurant located in Savannah, Georgia. He learned how important it was to quickly adapt to extenuating circumstances and had to make some tough decisions.

Kenneth:

People really were scared to dine inside. So what we did see was, we were already set up for takeout. So we saw our takeout business go from 50-50 to basically 95% or more. Very few people were sitting inside only if they, let’s say, were visiting. And it was like, it was only going to be them and their family in the dining room. They would do that. Otherwise, they wouldn’t do that. And I think that was the same all over Georgia, dining rooms were going to be very, very limited and occupancy. Some of the big chains who had all you can eat buffets all they could do was take out.

Kenneth:

So things got really, I’m going to say scary at that time. Normally we have Thanksgiving, all you can eat buffet where we normally the rest of the year only do a meet three and our Thanksgiving buffet basically was canceled because who was going to come in with all the unknowns, who would come and sit down and do a buffet or you can eat buffet. So that day usually is around 5 to $6000 that was canceled. It was, there’s just money loss going away. We actually closed that day and did like everybody else — spend time with your family because we didn’t know what was going on.

Nelson (host):

Beau is in the business of Christmas trees. And you are in the business of Southern comfort food that a lot of folks would associate with a time of unity and a time of reflection, a time of comfort. I’m curious, what kind of community support there’s been for you at your restaurant and what role the actual interaction you have as a business owner with your community has played throughout the pandemic? Has there been lessons you’ve learned or ways that your community has perhaps rallied around your business to try to support you?

Kenneth:

Without the community, I can say that we wouldn’t be standing here today. Our community has really stood up for our restaurant, meaning they have come out, given local support, radio and TV stations have done little] snippets and Savannah College of Art and Design actually gave us award for grit, for hanging in there on those tough days when everybody else— a lot restaurants in Savannah closed, they just closed it doors never to reopen, but I will say, I pride my family, my wife, my son, my sister-in-laws, my mother-in-law. Because when there was nobody to hire, they were there. When there was nobody to work, they were there long hours and we still put in long hours, but the community has supported us by coming in, showing us love, ordering from us, whether it be pick up curbside or on different delivery platforms brings you back to know that your roots, even though Savannah is a lot of tourism, your roots is your customers, your everyday customers.

Nelson (host):

I’m curious if there are any new challenges as we head into holiday season 2021 that are relating to things like perhaps supply shortages or delays in being able to get things like raw ingredients that you need to run your business. So Beau, maybe let’s come back to you.

Beau:

The Christmas tree industry in itself is still kind of experiencing a glut in certain sizes and certain varieties across the country. And so we’re still not out of that yet. Most of our trees come from North Carolina where luckily this year we haven’t had any drought. We haven’t had any wildfires. The weather’s been pretty perfect actually for Christmas tree growing. And we do count on a couple of thousand or more trees every season from the west coast. And that’s going to be pretty problematic. They’ve had major droughts and wildfires and that, of course affects anything growing, Christmas trees included. Shipping is becoming extremely expensive from both sides of the country. There’s a shortage of truck drivers, a lot of retiring this year apparently, big trucking companies are having a hard time hiring and that of course impacts us, but not to the point where we’re going to be in any kind of danger of not receiving product. It just will raise our prices a little bit because shipping prices have gone up.

Nelson (host):

Are there issues that are unique to this year you’re experiencing?

Kate:

So as winemakers, we have difficulty with supply chain issues being able to get glass to bottle our wine, which will slow down our releases of things. And then on the consumer point, just the general supply chain issues around the country, around the world rather, if California winemakers can’t get bottles either, I can’t get product from California, but also shipping delays from Europe, et cetera, getting wine to port. France had a really, really difficult harvest this year because of climate change, terrible frost. And so there won’t be a lot of product coming out of France from the 2021 vintage. So that will be interesting to see, and not necessarily within the immediate months, but ongoing, definitely with agricultural products to be considering as things keep changing even beyond the pandemic.

Nelson (host):

Kenneth, I’d like to turn to you for a moment. I’m curious, what kinds of changes, if any, are you making this year or what are you anticipating having to deal with that’s unique to that period of time?

Kenneth:

When we look at Thanksgiving, I think the biggest thing is going to be the availability of turkeys. Can we get them from those suppliers? Normally we go into Sam’s and work out a deal and say, “Listen, I’m going to need a hundred turkeys.” They couldn’t do it last year because it was like, we don’t know if we going to be able to get them, it’s like, “I call you and this first come first serve.”

Nelson (host):

Kate, for you and Beau, are there additional technologies or tools that you perhaps either adopted last year or have discovered in 2021 that you plan on utilizing this holiday season to try to shore things up and provide you with a measure of stability that’s really essential for your businesses? Kate, what’s on your mind?

Kate:

We’re actually going to be introducing Square Invoices into our business platform as we are shifting our wine club so that we can do more automated processing of people’s credit card information monthly rather than like the manual process that we’ve been doing ongoing. And hopefully that will save us a lot of time and not necessarily labor, but just like the difficulties of bringing in credit cards manually month after month.

Nelson (host):

Beau, what about you? Are there any other tools whether virtual or otherwise that you’re planning on embracing this year?

Beau:

Yeah, I mean, we definitely have adopted the online store pretty thoroughly and we continue to expand on that this year and offer that platform for people. One new thing, I guess, that we’re trying to do this year is, and this is with the ability of the online store is offer not only our online shoppers, but also our in-store shoppers, but also really anybody in the United States now who can come to our website, they’ll be able to buy a handmade wreath from us online and have it shipped anywhere in the country to a family member or a coworker, something like that. The mail order wreath business is something that we used to do many, many, many years ago at a very small scale. And so we’re trying to revamping that this year and making it much bigger.

Nelson (host):

Kenneth, I’m curious if there are any changes in consumer trends in so far as the way people actually celebrate the holidays.

Kenneth:

Yes. I think there is. We’ve kind of like, we’re already set up for this, but we’re going to try to take more of advantage of it this year as a lot of people want to stay home, why do they want to get in the kitchen and do a lot of cooking and stuff themselves? What we planned on doing was basically letting them order the seasoning because like everybody love, well, most people love collard greens, but everybody can cook collard greens. But there’re a lot of people can’t cook turkey or mac and cheese and that kind of stuff.

Kenneth:

So we have the seasoning, we got 13 seasonings that we going to look at shipping out and we working with Square Marketing already to see about getting people those seasonings. But the biggest concern I have is, I have to put a deadline on it so that… There was an article about how the mail US post office is going to be making changes, which is going actually slow down the mail. We have to make sure that we cut it off in enough time where people can actually get their season regardless of how slow the mail moves so that they have a [inaudible 00:11:38] favorite holiday.

Nelson (host):

Kate, have you noticed any changes in the ways that consumers are shopping for wine or that they’re selecting it, especially around the holidays?

Kate:

I think that we’re finding more and more people are interested in exploring the wines that are made from small producers who are conscious of the environment, their farming practices, as well as not putting additives and chemicals into the wine in which people are consuming. So there is this shift of people’s interests towards this product, but along with that also just comes consumer education. And that’s one of my favorite things to do is to talk about what we do and why we do it. New generations of alcohol drinkers are coming of age. They’re definitely interested in these products of all the colors are more vibrant. The labels are a little bit more fun and graphic and illustrative, and there’s just a little bit more appealing than maybe what their grandparents had consumed wine wise.

Nelson (host):

At the end of every holiday season here, of course there is the new year holiday and a lot of people make new year’s resolutions. I’m curious for each of you, what a new year’s wish might be as we head into 2022 and there is the start of the new calendar year? Beau, what do you hope is in store for Papa Noel Christmas Trees in 2022 and beyond?

Beau:

I Hope for a little bit of normalcy, I guess, in the world. And for everyone that’s been dealing with this pandemic for so long. I really hope that we start to see people feeling more comfortable going out and shopping, on a personal sense for my company, particular, I’m excited to grow a new arm of our retail market.

Nelson (host):

That’s great. Kenneth, what about you? What’s a wish that you have as we head into 2022 for Sisters of the New South?

Kenneth:

I think our biggest wish is safety for all our customers and staff. Honestly, that’s our biggest thing because we’ve seen so many actual customers pass. They’re no longer here. We had a couple of employees who, once they went back to school, teenagers went back to school. Next thing, they in the hospital because of COVID. My biggest wish is safety for everybody. Not only just my family, but for everybody who comes in touch with us and safety for the world. On the business side, I would think that our biggest wish is just to have continued success to adapt to the new cashless world is coming about, get more involved with the marketing, the online sales, I guess, get used to the new norm.

Nelson (host):

Kate, what about you? What’s a wish or perhaps a plan that you have in store for your business as we head into 2022?

Kate:

To echo Beau and Kenneth just for safety and normalcy within our community and good health for everyone. And also, just for everyone to have a little bit less stress and anxiety over what is to come. And then for, on a professional note, we are expanding our business, adding a new concept which will be full liquor as well as a specialty grocery store. So it’ll be exciting to see how that folds into our lives and how our neighborhood, how best we can serve our neighborhood. And the idea of this came about because we saw a lack of this in our neighborhood and we wanted to bring that to the community. So I’m excited for that new challenge and all the opportunities and people that we’ll meet through that.

Nelson (host):

Well, plenty of new challenges and new opportunities for all of us as we head into the new year. Thank you all so very much. Before we wrap up, we want to make sure that listeners know where they can learn about and perhaps support each of your businesses.

Kate:

Our websites are www.goodluckwineshop.com. We have online ordering and we ship wine throughout California. Our Instagram handle is just Good Luck Wine Shop. We also have our winery, Vin de California. The website for that is www.vdcwine.com.

Nelson (host):

Beau, tell our listeners where they can learn more about and support Papa Noel Christmas Trees.

Beau:

Papa Noel, yeah, we can be found online, www.papanoeltrees.com. And of course in person Austin and San Antonio, Texas, we’ll have seven retail locations this year in both cities and starting, hopefully November 1, you’ll be able to go online and order a wreath from us and we will ship anywhere in the lower 48. And our Instagram is Papa Noel Trees and same with Facebook.

Nelson (host):

All right. And Kenneth, if I’m looking to give some seasoning to make my collard greens and turkey taste much better this year, where can I learn more about and support Sisters of the New South?

Kenneth:

It’s real simple. Go to the www.sistersofthenewsouth.com, order your seasons and we’ll ship them right to you. If you ever visit in Savannah, just come and see us. We are located in Savannah, Georgia, 2605, Skidaway Road. And we’d love everybody to come and see it.

Nelson (host):

A very special thanks to Beau, Kate and Kenneth for sharing their unique perspectives, both this and the last year’s holiday season. You’ve been listening to Talking Squarely, a Square Production. This episode was produced by Vidya Rao and Clara Shannon. Our music was composed by Jordan Wallace with sound recording by Sorrentino Media and D.R. Baker. I’m Nelson Murray. Thanks for listening.

Vidya Rao
Vidya Rao is an editor at Square covering the wide world of commerce, with a particular passion for restaurants.

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