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Pandemic Pivot: The WSC Origin Story

Dark pink dashed line leading from a theater, to a stack of jam jars, to a sorry we are closed sign hanging from a virus particle, to a sandbox, to a movie screen featuring Mothra, and finally to a seedling Willow tree, all on a pink background.
Pandemic Pivot: The WSC Origin Story

You may have heard of the Ol' Potomac Two-Step, but have you ever experienced the Pandemic Pivot? We did, and to celebrate WillowSpoon Creative's second birthday, we're dialing up the wayback machine to share our origin story. Grab your party hat, beverage of choice, and let's go!

If you had a small business in The Before Times, you likely know that the economy was already struggling. No, really - it was. Then came The 'Rona. The world screeched to a halt and the normal uncertainty of being a business owner was now multiplied by a million. Our story doesn’t start there, though. Let's rewind a bit more.

Woman with dark hair and wearing a blue dress holds up a jar of jam and three spoons.

In 2015, I took my love of canning and turned it into a business. PinUp Preserves was the name of that company and I'm very proud of the brand I created. Our tagine was "Sassy, Sweet, Unique" - just like me! The food industry is brutal, though. As a maker of consumer packaged goods (CPG), I had a bit of help in that my product had a decent shelf-life, but every other challenge still existed: production costs, storage space, overhead, building wholesale client relationships (and getting those invoices paid relatively on time), marketing, event management, and we won't even get into the toxic and dangerous production spaces I had to deal with. Well, at least not this week!

Through it all, though, I believed in my business and my product. I loved to see someone's reaction when they sampled our jams. Grown men suddenly became 4-year-old boys reliving the sweet summer memories of helping their grandmothers and aunts can fruit. It wasn't just strawberry jam. It was a core memory they could taste - one that transcended time, touched their soul, and for that brief moment, they were reliving their fondest carefree days. You can't put a price on that impact.

Except… I did need to put a price on it. A price that was profitable and sustainable. A price that reflected the care with which each batch was made. A price that honored the years of honing my craft and the countless hours I'd invested in building this brand. That also had to be a price that people would realistically pay and that's where knowing my COGS, or Cost of Goods Sold, came into play. If you want to learn more about that part of the story, join us this week for our class How COGS Make the Money Go 'Round!

Throughout this time, I was still periodically freelancing in Technical Theater (where the backstage magic happens), which supplemented the slower times for jam sales. Having diverse income streams from theater, wholesale, and in-person events kept the lights on, so to speak, but it was exhausting. I had been working towards moving into a new production space that would be less expensive and closer to home, which would allow me to maximize profits. The planned move-in was March 2020.

We all know what happened in March 2020, so obviously that new space never happened, but that didn't mean I would immediately shut the business down. Having spent so many years freelancing, I was always prepared for the lean times and this was just another one of those…right?

Well, this is where my knowledge of history came in handy! I’ve always had a fascination with microbiology and had studied the 1918 flu pandemic. These things don’t pass quickly. I didn’t know exactly how bad it would get, but I knew how bad it could get, and that likely meant I wouldn’t see the inside of a theater or commercial kitchen for months to come. I had to pivot.

I relied on my sewing skills to produce high-quality masks and that helped, but it wasn’t sustainable. As imports began slowing and the supply chain fell apart, I watched material prices climb as U.S. inventories shrunk. If I were even able to go back into production, my COGS would be beyond a realistic selling price, and that didn’t even take into consideration the health risk of a production space and selling events. It was simple math - PinUp Preserves would not be financially stable for at least the next several years. Now it was time to not just pivot, but transition to the “what’s next”.

What’s next was something radical, at least for me. I’m a very decisive person. When I started PinUp Preserves, I put together the business plan, sourcing guide, website, social media, and branding in a weekend. This time would be different, though. I kept asking myself, “What do I want?” The only answer I got was, “This is what I don’t want.” I needed to sort out the “don’t wants” first and be very clear on how to avoid falling into those traps. It was not going to happen overnight.

What I did know is that I enjoyed teaching and creating engaging graphics, I was passionate about accessibility and inclusion, and I wanted to help other small businesses grow, but how to put all of that together and in what direction? That’s why I named my company WillowSpoon Creative - I wanted a container in which I could be creative and try several concepts without being niched into any one. I gave myself a 12-month sandbox period to try a variety of avenues to figure out what sparked my soul.

Throughout all this time, people kept asking, “So what does your company do? When are you going to launch a website? Why is it taking so long? Have you thought about [insert terrible idea here]?” I ignored them. The radical action for me was taking my sweet damn time to really listen deep within my soul for what resonated.

Then there was the unsolicited advice and judgment: “You’re hiding behind your fear! You need to push yourself! You can’t take this long to start! You should [insert another terrible idea here]!” Orrrrrr…. You can fork off into next Tuesday and I will trust that I know what I’m doing because this is my path, not yours. K.Thx.Bai.

Throughout all of this, I did have clients and did keep busy with a multitude of projects. I just wasn’t ready to build out the more public side of WSC and frustrating as that was to me (and apparently to others who had absolutely zero skin in the game), I knew that the waiting was part of the process. Like a chrysalis, it only looked like I was dormant.

In reality, I was undergoing a massively overdue and often painful transformation, shedding what - and who - no longer worked and morphing into a whole new being. I called it the Year of Mothra. You read that right - MOTHERFREAKING MOTHRA! (IYKYK. Not a kaiju fan? Just look it up.) Hey, I wasn’t going to come through all of this upheaval just to be some damn delicate dainty-ass butterfly. I was going to be an epic powerhouse of legend that left a trail of radioactive glitter in her wake and could level Tokyo with a single flap of her thousand-foot wings!

Becoming a powerful entity is exhausting, though. It’s messy. It’s ugly. It takes time to understand how these new wings work. It takes time to build up the strength to use them and navigate with precision. There are falls, and fumbles, and failures. The hardest part for me was to embrace that part of the process as not only inevitable, but as necessary. To find the beauty in it all without denying the pain. To be imperfect and not give a damn.

During this year-ish in the sandbox, I allowed myself for possibly the first time in life to bring ideas to fruition for the simple reason that I wanted to - for the joy of it. In fact, I ended up beta-testing many of the classes that are now being rolled out, but I didn’t know if they would lead to anything at the time. Giving myself the permission slip to not be perfect was… huge. It was a rebellion against every unrealistic expectation I’d been bound with since birth.

Slowly, these new wings became stronger and sturdier, and I found my focus. I still loved to teach and was still passionate about inclusion. I was also tired of watching the Haves get richer off the Have-Nots. I was sick of the exploitation I’d witnessed and experienced in toxic work environment after toxic work environment. I was furious at the financial sabotage and exclusion that kept too many people stuck in those toxic spaces without any real options for escape or protection. I had always been focused on Resources - Time, Energy, Money, Body, Mind, and Soul. That is where my power lay and where Mothra needed to do some demolition work. It was time to create new, accessible, fun, and informative ways of smashing the patriarchy to a million pieces and empowering others through financial literacy, strong boundaries, and more than a little bit of history.

So, as WillowSpoon Creative celebrates its second solar return, I am proud to look back over this journey that seems so much longer than 24 months and congratulate myself for embracing the mess, the delay, the imperfection, and the self-trust it took to get here. Since October 2022, we’ve launched a signature course on credit scores, will launch an abridged credit scores workshop this summer, have presented a series on the multiple facets of financial exclusion, as well as new workshops for small businesses, and there’s more to come!

This work is a culmination of the skills and experiences I’ve collected thus far in life and I’ve only begun to put my plans into action. So, as this little sapling of a Willow tree grows deeper roots and stretches her limbs to the sky, keep an eye overhead. You just might see the legendary Mothra soaring through the clouds, keeping watch from high above.


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