Riding the pandemic bull: How to survive tough times (without losing your shirt)

When Connor Curran decided to start his own clothing company, he had no idea where to begin. So he took out his laptop and Googled ‘How to start a T-shirt company,’ and watched a YouTube video. Soon after, Local Laundry was born. Since 2015, Connor has used his company to do more than just sell clothes.  He builds community through five guiding pillars: representing where you come from; sharing stories from the community; collaborating with others to make a positive impact; giving back through local charities, and producing Canadian-made clothing. Local Laundry donates 10% of its profits to local charities and is committed to donating more than $1 million to charities across Canada by 2030.

When the pandemic hit earlier this year, there were no YouTube videos to help Connor and other small business owners navigate a new wave of challenges. For someone who truly wears his heart on his sleeve, the pandemic has presented numerous challenges in supporting his employees, suppliers and the community.

 

Connor Curran – Local Laundry

What has been your biggest challenge during this time?

Retail typically accounted for between 60 and 70% of our revenue. When stores shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, nobody knew what was going to happen. Stores stopped placing orders, and we lost more than half our sales in one fell swoop. We had to figure out a way to stay afloat. In these kinds of situations, cash is king. We needed to have as much cash on hand as we could, so we immediately cut all unnecessary expenses. We offered 25% off everything on our online store with free shipping.  We kept the cash coming in, and then we looked at new sources of revenue. We started to take a deeper dive into the B2B custom garments space for clients like the Calgary Flames, Righteous Gelato, Wild Rose Brewery and ATB. We wanted to build community with other like-minded organizations that share our values for wanting to give back. We created Canadian-made garments that told stories and used our various channels to help share those stories. That program has grown extensively, and it’s helped us recover the revenue we lost from the retail side.

 

What are some of those organizations that you have been able to help and share their stories?

My wife is a nurse and works with COVID-19 patients. Every day, I would drive her to the hospital, and she had no idea what the day would hold for her. She inspired me to create something that shed some light on what life was like for frontline workers. Something that would give them comfort and showcase the care and comfort they bring to patients’ lives. These healthcare workers are there for us in our time of need, so I wanted to show them some love and appreciation. It came to life with a bamboo zip-up sweater with a healthcare design. We launched it as a pre-sale because we didn’t have any inventory or money to produce it. We thought, ‘let’s create this and see if there’s interest. We’ll give 100% of the proceeds to the United Way Covid-19 Community Response Fund’ It took off almost immediately. We’ve sold hundreds of sweaters and raised nearly $20,000 for the United Way so far.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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What have you learned about your customers and clients during this period?

The biggest thing that we’ve learned is that people want to support local. They want to support small businesses, and most importantly, they want to support Canadian-made. At Local Laundry, we want to support a diversified economy. We want to keep people working in safe conditions. We want people to buy products made responsibly by workers being paid a living wage by companies who adhere to strict labour and environmental laws.

About three years ago, many people gave us the side-eye when we decided to switch to only using only Canadian manufacturing because of the increased costs. We knew that people wanted to support their neighbours. We knew it back then, and it’s been reaffirmed during the pandemic. Customers want to support a diverse Canadian economy. They want to support goods and products that are being responsibly made by fellow Canadians. They want to know that every dollar they spend goes back into the local community.   

 

What advice would you give to small businesses right now who are struggling?

My first piece of advice is for entrepreneurs – the aspiring business owners who want to start a business but don’t know where to begin. My advice is to stop talking about it and just do it. We’re often trying to build the perfect business plan and spend a lot of time planning and preparing but never launch anything. By the time you create the perfect plan, it’s already too late. Your time has come and gone. You have to launch it today; launch it ASAP. Please stop talking about it and do it!

The second piece of advice for business owners who are getting started: get a proper email. The number of small business owners using addresses like ‘SuziesDogWalkingCompany@gmailcom’ is quite shocking. As soon as we see business owners with Gmail accounts reaching out to us, we know they’re not serious. Get a proper email! It takes ten minutes.

The last piece of advice reflects the times we’re in. Yes, these are scary and stressful times. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next. But here’s the thing – do something. Take action, even if it’s a tiny thing. Our philosophy at Local Laundry is action cures anxiety. As long as you take action every day, even if it’s baby steps, you’re going to be okay. But if you sit in your basement crying, wallowing in your own pity, you’re not going anywhere. And even if you fail, you’re going to learn something new.

 

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