What do you do when you’ve got all the customers in the world, but few products to sell them?
Founder of Gloriously Free Oats Kylie Martin is still trying to work that out. But she’s getting creative.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown normal operations out the window for most Aussie businesses, but if there’s one truism emerging from the disruption, it’s that everyone has their own set of coronavirus-related problems.
While many businesses deal with a collapse in customers coming through their doors, Martin’s business, which specialises in gluten free oat products, has experienced the opposite, as demand for rolled oat products explodes as Aussies stockpile for a winter in lockdown.
Online sales shot up 50% in March, says Martin, providing much needed money in the bank after the initial economic shock of the pandemic scuppered her plans to launch a new product.
“We’ve gone through two months worth of supply in four weeks,” Martin tells SmartCompany.
But that’s just where the madness started for the Toowoomba-based business owner.
“No control” as US supply chains crack
Money was coming in the door, but Martin knew immediately there was a need to mind pennies, realising Gloriously Free Oats was facing a gaping hole in its available stock that was going to be difficult to fill.
Martin imports her oats from the United States, one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis, and she’s spent the better part of the last two months navigating everything from supply chain gouging, to freight quarantines and product lead times that are impossible to predict.
Making matters worse, Gloriously Free Oats‘ packaging is usually shipped in from China, which has undergone its own supply chain freeze in recent months as it recovers from the first COVID-19 outbreak.
“We have no control over what we’re doing or when that stock is going to be here,” Martin says.
“We’ll be getting thin on oats by the end of April.”
Want your load? Pay more
Pallets packed with Martin’s product are now sitting out 14-day quarantine periods before they can exit the United States, and after 10-years of reliably importing, the suppliers upped their prices, dishonouring their quote.
“They have so much business they don’t have to worry about it,” Martin says.
Martin recalls the conversation: “Well do you want your load? You can pay this much more, or yeah… the load can stay here”.
The business owner has been skipping sleep and working non-stop to ensure her company weathers the coronavirus storm, and luckily the Australian community is jumping in to help.
Playing to strengths
Faced with a need to develop a new income stream, Gloriously Free Oats signed a partnership with Legacy, a charity supporting veteran’s families, which itself has been struggling to maintain fundraising efforts amid the pandemic.
The charity provides support to more than 50,000 Australians, almost 2,000 of which are children.
The partnership was a moment of clarity after one of the most stressful periods in her career, Martin explains.
“One of the best things I did was instead of going into a meltdown and panic; I stepped back and looked at the problem from a different point of view,” Martin says.
“Legacy had lost their ability to fundraise this year, and I said, ‘well, funny you say that … we’re approved by Veterans Affairs and my goal for 2020 was to partner with a charity’.”
“This is perfect,” Martin recalls telling Legacy.
With ANZAC Day coming up on Saturday, Martin has begun selling commemorative kits, including Gloriously Free Oats‘ famous ANZAC Biscuits, and is donating $1.50 from each sale to Legacy.
The partnership is a made-match. Legacy is struggling with outreach, and Martin has plenty of customers. Meanwhile, Martin is facing a need to diversify to ensure Gloriously Free Oats still has income coming through the door.
One thing after another
Looking ahead, Martin is optimistic, having managed to secure passage of around 19 tonnes of oats into Australia last week.
But that’s given rise to another issue: Endeavor packing facility in Toowoomba has shut down amid the outbreak, leaving Martin with oats but no easy way to get them on shelves.
Luckily, the company’s ANZAC Biscuits are packed at another facility, safeguarding her partnership with Legacy, but oats are the company’s main income source, and a packing facility is vital.
There are plenty of facilities around, but far fewer that can pack organic gluten free oats.
“It’s just a whirlwind … and we’re all so tired,” Martin explains.
“I’m confident we’ll get through it, but it’s a roller-coaster ride every day.”