Stafford's Finds Sweet Success
in Trying Times
In some ways Rob Taylor had been preparing for this his whole life. A serial entrepreneur who has owned businesses that have endured crippling environmental disasters and recessions, he says it was like training for the major leagues — the COVID-19 pandemic. "I've been in business a long time," says Taylor, who purchased Stafford's Chocolates in 2011 and turned the Porterville staple into a regional and digital favorite of chocolate lovers. "Over the years I've seen a lot and I was ready for this. It's not something I was looking forward to, but I've spent a good portion of my business life down in the trenches."
Amid the chaos and confusion in mid-March when mixed signals from government agencies and mis-information ruled, Taylor says he and his team at Stafford's made a difficult decision — they were going to keep the chocolate flowing to their customers across the US. "The challenge was that nobody knew what was going on," says Taylor. "Unlike a lot of other businesses, we decided we were going to stay open until somebody tells us we had to close."
He admits that this wasn't welcome news to everybody on his 15-17 person staff in Porterville. Some employees didn't show up to work and others expressed their concerns for their family and the risk of contracting it from customers. Taylor says he knew if they were going to remain open in this climate, the company would have to take extreme measures to protect the employees and he would have to prove he had their best interest at heart. "We looked at how we can make them more comfortable and feel safer," says Taylor.
"We are in this thing together and we have to keep each other safe."
Taylor called on his insurance company who offered training on best practices during the pandemic and he leaned on his accountant and bank for advice on navigating the potential financial challenges ahead. "If I was giving one bit of advice it would be to have a good relationship with your insurance company, bank, accountant and even attorney," says Taylor. "You can't put a price tag on those relationships and it gives you peace of mind."
The training, unfortunately, came into play when three of his employees were exposed to COVID-19 (outside of Stafford's). They responded appropriately by notifying appropriate authorities and sticking to the guidelines by staying home until cleared to return. Taylor says the training early was critical and continued communication has helped them thrive during these uncertain times. Stafford's also backed up their commitment to employees well-being by trying to express their appreciation for their commitment to the team. Taylor says they would have taco Tuesdays, give gas cards, and provide giant bags of movie theatre popcorn to the staff.
"It makes them happy and helps a local business as well," says Taylor. The outcome of Stafford's rapid and bold response in the face of uncertainty is nothing short of amazing. Taylor says they've seen tremendous uptick in their online sales and it's opened up new opportunities for growth. "There's no reasonable way this should have happened but it did," says Taylor, who a few years ago invested in a modern e-commerce website which has stepped into a starring role for the company. "It has changed us forever. We knew this was going to be a game changer forever, and we asked ourselves how might we come out of this further ahead than when we started."
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