Friday, January 19, 2018

refresh, reset and recover : navigating running a business through natural disaster

I had the wonderful opportunity to tell the story behind The Grapeseed Company this past week on Indie Cruise in Ixtapa, Mexico.
Sunset in Ixtapa, Mexico
 This could not have come at a better time for me, as I was feeling beyond hope due to 6 weeks of crazy and historic natural disasters in the Santa Barbara area, where we are based. We lived through the largest wildfire in the history of California...
Downtown Carpinteria      photo credit: Alain Julfayan
Followed by the aftermath of horrific mudslides in Montecito -- a small, gorgeous town located right in between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria. We are extremely fortunate that our entire team is safe, and did not lose their lives or homes. Many were not so lucky. Our community is grieving heavily as over 20 have died, and hundreds have lost pets, homes and businesses due to the fire and mudslides. People are still missing. Our community has also been divided by the physical devastation of the mudslides shutting down all road access between Carpinteria and SB.
Montectio and the 101 freeway     photo credit: unknown
The 101 freeway is flooded with mud and has been closed for 11 days with no reopen date. The only way to transport product between our stores is a 5 hour drive around the mountains (it's usually 15 minutes!) The Grapeseed Co. has 3 physical locations: our flagship store and scent bar in downtown Santa Barbara, The Guilded Table collective shop in the Funk Zone in SB, and our warehouse store and production kitchen in Carpinteria, CA.

Our staff has been stuck on either side of this disaster trying to keep the business running the best we can as we usually move product between locations and ship wholesale and online orders daily. It's been stressful as we try to keep perspective of those that have lost everything while we operate day by day trying to keep things going with the roads blocked off. Transport has been limited both shipping our product and receiving ingredients and packaging to continue manufacturing, which we do daily.

I didn't think I'd even be able to make Indie Cruise due to the roads being closed to LA right after the mudslides hit. While the 101 North remains closed, they luckily opened the freeway South out of Carpinteria the day before our flight out of LAX. I felt extremely grateful, but also guilty leaving my community when we are hurting so badly. There was also little I could do staying here a week ago. First responders are the only folks being let in to help right now as the aftermath and cleanup is so dangerous. We've donated both as a business, and personally monetarily, but that didn't feel like enough with the great immediate needs in our community.

Leaving home turned out to be the best possible way for me to refresh and reset my mind so I can help Santa Barbara recover, both personally, and with the power of my company. Honestly, I showed up to Indie Cruise a bit in shock. We went out sailing together the first day. We got to know each other, went snorkeling and even saw whales! Water (especially warm ocean water!) has always been a healing force for me. Being in this beautiful, cleansing environment with such amazing entrepreneurs started to help me breathe again. Instead of just feeling thankful we were alive and didn't lose everything, I began to start thinking how I could help Santa Barbara recover.
The theme of Indie Cruise was Emerge, Engage, Evolve and Expand. My talk was about the Expand Phase. With the craziness of the past 6 weeks, I felt, "who am I to go speak about expanding when I made these huge decisions, signed leases, had to close our stores and now we are floating in the world of unknown in the aftermath of these natural disasters?!" 
We have been in business since 2004, and opened 2 more retail locations in the past 6 months; The Carp location opened at the end of the summer, and The Funk Zone location right before Thanksgiving. I had visions of this being a great growth move as our company is so rooted in the community with what we do upcycling grapeseeds to create our natural skin and body care products. 
I had recently moved from SB to Carp, and was excited to open our 2nd shop in my hometown where we needed to get our own warehouse since we'd grown out of our SB office and had been subletting warehouse space prior to fit our growing company. The Funk Zone is the new "hot spot" in SB that tourists and locals alike are flocking to. I had a grand plan of this being the best holiday season ever! 

Then we were hit by natural disaster and shut down for a great portion of December due to the Thomas Fire, and the heavy smoke and ash that lingered afterwards. Santa Barbara is a huge tourist destination, and tourism has basically stopped since Dec. 5, 2017. Even with 3 stores, we didn't scratch the surface of what we normally do in December sales. Again, perspective... we have our loved, ones, home and business locations still in tact. I learned no matter how much you plan, you can never plan for natural disaster. While I was listening to the 4 other speakers, and even to myself up there telling my own expansion story, something started happening...
@grapeseedco on instagram "Such an pleasure and honor to tell the story of expanding #grapeseedco this week on @indiebusiness @indiecruise and share the stage with these lovely ladies! Together we represent 4 important stages of building your business: emerge, engage, evolve and expand. Each story was amazing, heartfelt and inspiring!"
I felt a new sense of inspiration from this amazing tribe of people in the room with me. I sat alone late that evening on the deck of our room listening to the healing waves lap on the shore, reflected, and made a small step from Mexico to help those that lost everything.

@grapeseedco on Facebook & instagram: We are beyond heartbroken for our community and the tragic loss of lives, homes and businesses in #Montecito ❤️ We’re giving anyone that lost their home a free #organic #shampoo and #conditioner set at our #Carpinteria or #santabarbara stores! If you are stuck on either side of the #mudslide, visit both our main #Grapeseedco locations in Carp or #downtownSB and we’ll hook you up, and give you a hug! #montectiostrong #santabarbarastrong #carpstrong #sbstrong #805strong #community #locallove #givingback
On the trip home yesterday, I knew I needed to research what else we could do to help. Everyone who lives and works in the area is struggling and in different levels of trauma right now. Most have not been as fortunate as I was to escape the madness and are still in day to day survival mode. In addition to the greater loss mentioned above, people have lost their jobs, can't get to work and are worried how they are going to make it. Businesses have had to lay off their entire staff and close. We luckily are healthy enough right now to make it through with our current team in tact, and will actually be hiring another employee and providing a job in the area. Another little step to help the community. Small, local business like Grapeseed Co. provide jobs! 

I spent the travel time reading stories of amazing ways people are coming together and helping our community heal, from candelight vigils, to the Montecito Mud Angels, to registering to become a Red Cross helper. I'm coming back renewed with more energy I can put into recovery efforts. Part of that is sharing my perspective and ways you can help here. I shared my research on how we can help with some of our staff this morning. It touched my heart to see they wanted to volunteer and register with the Red Cross to help or find locations to donate clothing and personal care items. Each person doing what they can, and this is what it is going to take! Each and every one of us reaching out, lending a hand, giving a hug to our neighbors and helping in any and every way we possibly can. 

Since many of our wholesale and retail customers don't live in the area, this is to help you understand what's going on, and why we have been slower in response. We are also extremely grateful for you, right now (and always)! 

I am listing some resources on how to help the recovery efforts here, including ways to donate for those not in the area. Please LMK others in the comments as you come across them.

Register for training and volunteer with the Red Cross: Sign up for a disaster bootcamp- emotional advocate, crisis management, and shelter training.

Direct Relief International- This locally founded non-profit is providing relief fund directly to locals affected by the mudslides. 

Search Dog Foundation - The search dogs have been critical in the mudslide recovery efforts. They lost their building in Santa Paula during the Thomas Fire and are in great need.

United Way of Santa Barbara - In Santa Barbara County, the Fund will serve the long-term needs of Santa Barbara County families and individuals, as well as the short-term needs of Santa Barbara County nonprofit organizations helping evacuated individuals displaced by the Thomas Fire and floods caused by the fire scar. direct donation link HERE

Montecito Mud Angels - I've known Eric since he started the first TedX conference here in 2010. This guy knows how to rally and has a big heart. He is making sure donations go directly to those in the greatest need! The stories of how they are helping will bring a tear to your eye.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and your concern. To our wholesale partners and online customers, thanks for your understanding! Please be patient and kind with each other as we wade through this. The road to recovery here will take years, but I'm staying positive as I see our community coming together in beautiful ways. We will come out so much stronger from this! 
my baby... photo bombing our Indie group shot
And lastly, a special thanks to everyone at Indie Cruise for listening, sharing and helping get me out of that deer in headlights feeling, finding ways to take action, loving my baby, and motivating me start blogging again ;)! You are all amazing people and I'm lucky to have met you.



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