In this series, ActionCOACH Mary Ann Hauser (MAH) and team virtually sit down with business owners to learn how they are working through COVID-19. Check out their inspiring stories for tips on how to cope with and successfully recover from this pandemic as well as ideas on how to avoid making common mistakes. And be sure to look at special offers from these businesses – we can all use a little extra help right now!
SC: Our parent company, Le Caselle, was founded in 1992 in Italy. The current owners of the business are the descendants of the founder, who started the first breakfast cereal manufacturing company in Italy. He developed that company and eventually sold it to Kellogg’s, with plans to start another company. Unfortunately, he couldn’t finish the project because he died in a car accident. His family stepped in, and almost by chance, they stumbled upon the technology for making a snack pellets, which is a semi–finished product in the food industry. More than likely, you have eaten them if you’re familiar with Veggie Straws. One of the first US customers they had was actually in Greensboro, NC. I started out with Le Caselle in Italy as a consultant—now I’m the CEO of the American branch of the company. In January, 2010 I had my first trip to Greensboro and other locations that I was scoping out in the US. With the approval of the board of directors in Italy, I chose Greensboro as our American site.
MH: How would you describe your target market?
SC: We sell business–to–business. We sell to other manufacturers – owners of familiar brands and other co-packers for one of those brands. Because our product is pre-consumption, we don’t have our own line of consumer products, but we work closely with other manufacturers.
MH: What has been the biggest impact of COVID-19 on your business?
SC: At first, the biggest impact was in Italy. Our parent company was in the epicenter, and they experienced very difficult times in the early days of the pandemic. A lot of their employees were infected, so they had to close the company for a couple of months completely. Then they eased back into production slowly, one line at a time. It took another couple of months to go back to business full-steam. Before COVID came to the US, we tried to help them out by moving some production from Europe to the United States. We have had a few employees that unfortunately have been affected directly or indirectly by COVID, but knowing what was coming from Italy, we have been very prepared. We were among the first companies in the United States to start using protective equipment, and putting policies in place, educating our employees and making sure they had access to tests before anybody was talking about it here.
MH: What are one or two actions you’ve taken because of the pandemic?
SC: One action is scaling up production quickly to help Italy, and another is educating our employees on safety. We tried to get organized, move all of our meetings online, and introduce rules for social distancing in the company, but we were also aware of the impact that COVID was having on local businesses. Because of that, another action we took was to offer free lunch from local restaurants for all 50 of our employees. We did whatever we could to keep our employees safe and motivated. Besides their physical safety, our employees were also impacted psychologically, so we tried to give them some benefits that could somehow fill the gap and give more of a sense of stability and support.
MH: What have you learned through COVID-19?
SC: We’ve all learned the importance of flexibility and resilience. We saw that those traits that are woven into our DNA as a company, but in this moment, they have been particularly important. We try to help out the community as much as we can. For instance, right now we are partnering with a local company in the Triad. We have an apprentice program at our maintenance shop, and right now all of the young men and women in the program are involved in the production of hand sanitizer stands. These dispensers in huge demand right now, and we had the capacity in our maintenance shop to produce them, so we are helping a hand sanitizer distributor with this project.
MH: What has been inspiring to you these days?
SC: The capacity of companies of all sizes to help, adapt, and evolve. Some were forced to adapt because of the loss of their business, and some are devoting their businesses to services that are greatly needed by the community. I believe this is a great example of flexibility and resilience that the business community can show when there is a crisis like this one.