Madame Flavour founder Corinne Noyes has been overwhelmed by an outpouring of support from the Australian community after taking to social media to describe the “devastating effect” the COVID-19 pandemic will have on her business.
Noyes started the bespoke tea business in 2007, and is one of about 12,000 creditors waiting to find out the fate of airline Virgin Australia, which collapsed into administration last week with an estimated $12 billion in debt.
Over the past decade, Madame Flavour tea had become a mainstay in Virgin lounges across the country, after Noyes signed a supply deal with the airline that helped propel her business to national prominence. But the founder has now become one of myriad small business owners thrown through a loop by the collapse.
Noyes tells SmartCompany the stakes are high for her business. She’s facing a restructure of its own if Virgin is unable to emerge from the administration standing.
“Our [Virgin] deal would be the difference between continuing to run pretty much with the structure we have, versus having to do some significant pivoting,” Noyes says.
“It could be really devastating for our business.”
The coronavirus pandemic has grounded the Virgin’s fleet, and the airline appointed administrators from Deloitte last month after pleas for a federal government bail out fell on deaf ears.
Noyes attended a first meeting of creditors on Thursday morning and is waiting anxiously to find out what happens next, with reports numerous buyers are circling.
“I believe they’ll be bought, there’s been a lot of interest,” Noyes says.
“Then it becomes a conversation with whomever is running the business.”
Noyes took to Instagram earlier this week to do something the business owner admits she had never done before — ask customers for their support.
The business owner says she found drafting the message “uncomfortable”, but the decision to open up about Madame Flavour’s vulnerability has paid off, after customers flooded the online store.
“Our website crashed after that post went live,” Noyes says.
“Usually I’d post something and maybe 1,000 people would see it, and this time it’s up to 75,000 — it clearly resonated,” she adds.
View this post on Instagram
Hi, I’m Corinne, and I started Madame Flavour tea in my spare room 12 years ago. ⠀ ⠀ You may have heard of us or seen us in your local supermarket, café, or maybe in the Virgin Australia lounge.⠀ ⠀ Our tea gives special moments to many across Australia and I am so thankful for the love and support shown to us over the years. ⠀ ⠀ Right now, many of our wholesale customers have been forced to close due to the pandemic, and for some, their doors are unlikely to reopen. ⠀ ⠀ Looking ahead for Madame Flavour, this will have a devastating effect on us. We look big, but we are actually a small business, with a small dedicated team who work really hard.⠀ ⠀ So, I am asking for your support.⠀ ⠀ If you haven’t tried our tea before, please do. I promise, it is delicious, fragrant, comforting – and in buying it, you will be helping out an Australian small family business. One of the last in tea in supermarkets.⠀ ⠀ If you already drink Madame Flavour, please keep spreading the word by sharing this post. ⠀ ⠀ With love, thanks, and thought for all who are struggling at this time.⠀ ⠀ Corinne Noyes⠀ ⠀ https://www.madameflavour.com/
“Even if the posts didn’t generate sales, the level of goodwill in the comments was enough to buoy me for days … Australians in general at the moment are trying to help each other out,” Noyes explains.
“People are being really awesome.”
Madame Flavour is also stocked in Coles and Woolworths, which both saw retail sales spike in recent weeks. But, things are now returning to normal, as the initial flurry of panic buying recedes.
The business has also been affected by supply chain issues out of Sri Lanka, with pallets coming in slowing to a “trickle”.
Noyes has responded by running through her cost base line-by-line and cutting where possible, and prioritising staffing over everything else.
“It’s a pretty major challenge in terms of surviving, but also the unknown — not knowing what business will come back and what won’t,” Noyes says.
However, the founder says she’s thankful in particular for Australia’s incredibly supportive community of female entrepreneurs, with the likes of Adore Beauty’s Kate Morris and others sharing her post on their own platforms.
“The connections I have with our customers, suppliers and community has just gone to another level of personal,” Noyes says.
“A little more humanity has entered into our commercial conversations … I always wanted to be in a business where things were more personal, so I’m in my element.”
Noyes isn’t the only small business owner battling through struggle street as the pandemic rages on, and her advice to others is to remember what is there, rather than what isn’t.
“It’s about making sure you’ve done whatever you can,” Noyes says.
“I’m alive, healthy, I have my friends and family, and I have somewhere to live.
“Fundamentally, whatever happens I will still have those things.”
This article was updated at 14:20 to clarify the pandemic “will” have a devastating effect on Madame Flavour’s business.