Mother-daughter group Geraldine Keough and Lindsay Smith were living their dream of running their own bakery, The Dessert Ladies at Stirling, N.J., once the pandemic struck. Focused on producing dinner bars for corporate customers —including Goldman Sachs, Mercedes Benz, the NFL, Prudential and Northwestern Mutual—they saw orders slow to a trickle, as company occasions all but closed down.
“Initially, it was a big shock to our system—we had events being cancelled every day, every hour,” states Keough. “The early season of March to June is almost as big as Christmas for us. We bring in a lot of our revenue during that time frame.”
This set them in a similar scenario to several other tiny companies fighting in the pandemic—as well as their imaginative method of staying afloat retains inspiration for entrepreneurs from a number of different businesses.
For Your Dessert Ladies, the cancellations began in mid-March. They’d ready tens of thousands of St. Patricks’ Day merchandise for an event in a financial services firm to be held on a Friday whenthe Thursday before, they got notice that it had been cancelled. They given the treats into a veteran’s group.
From Mondaythey made the choice to shut their merry brick-and-mortar shop for now.
Due to some loan in the Paycheck Protection Programthey could keep on paying their little staff, which had risen to seven individuals because they began the company in 2012.
The graduates of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program realized it was a good time to shift their focus to e-commerce and quickly put up an online store. “We had a pretty robust Easter and Mother’s Day,” says Keough. “There were still celebrations going on, but revenue was down.”
They started brainstorming ways to bring additional cash. “We said, ‘How can we plan our way out of this?’” recalls Keough.
Keough stayed active in every business network she belonged to, soaking up information about any loans and grants available to small businesses and sharing any leads she found with others in this group. “We’re all in this together,” she says. “Everyone is doing everything they can to survive.”
Thanks to another loan under the Economic Injury Disaster loan (EIDL) application—second quarter revenue at the bakery was down 71%—they were able to pursue a new way to bring in revenue: Manufacturing.
With more time to attention on research and development, they introduced Biens Chocolate Centerpieces. These are customizable mail order chocolate cake truffle towers, which they designed for displays at celebrations and have patented.
“We thought ‘If we don’t have it and it doesn’t exist, we’ll just make it,’” recalls Smith.
There was one challenge: They didn’t have the right space for production. “We decided to get very brave and pulled the trigger on renting an additional workspace,” Keough states.
The soon discovered a production center in Denville, N.J. “It was perfect for us,” Keough said. “We signed the lease very quickly. We accelerated everything we did.”
Soon they were advertising the Biens Chocolate Centerpieces at virtual trade shows. “Lo and behold, we got a call from 1-800-FLOWERS,” states Keough. “They said ‘We’d love to feature you on our Simply Chocolate website. We have started the process to be one of their distributors. It’s very exciting.
The Dessert Ladies don’t expect a full financial recovery at the bakery until the next quarter of 2021, but in the meantime, they’re staying focused on the opportunities in front of them.
“We’re seeing tremendous growth with Bien,” states Keough. “We’re leaving nothing on the table.”