We’re inching closer and closer to the 1-year anniversary of the start of the global pandemic (things kicked into high gear in mid-March here in Atlantic Canada). Like most entrepreneurs, we’re feeling ALL the feels.

An entire year of worrying, navigating unpredictable shifts and changes, learning to adapt through full-on business pivots. So much time spent reflecting on the various seasons of change that have occurred throughout the past year, and we’ve learned a heck of a lot about ourselves – and about Schoolhouse as a business.

We’ve learned:

  • That the work we’ve put into developing and documenting systems, research trends and opportunities, forecast projections and customer needs – were absolutely invaluable;
  • How to understand our business inside and out, which has been essential as we adapt quickly to consumer needs and the new business climate;
  • To focus on finding new, creative ways to help our business model grow quickly and effectively during a global pandemic; a pandemic that has resulted in societal shifts and changes that won’t be going anywhere, anytime soon;
  • At the end of the day, to believe in the brand that we have created. To stand up and show up for the community of valued customers locally and beyond. No matter what the universe throws our way, we’ll do everything we can to keep Schoolhouse alive and thriving. We’ve learned that change seems to be the only constant, and that has become our new normal.

Reaching Goals & Meeting Milestones Through A Digital Strategy

We recently hit 3000+ orders processed in our online shop, and will soon reach 5000+ Facebook followers/4000+ Instagram followers, and we’re amazed to see how much of our business is now conducted by following a clear, concise online strategy.  This has been our #1 focus this year, that much is clear. All of our efforts to connect with customers, retailers to share our stories, products and promotions – 95% of that is happening online now.

Luckily, prior to the arrival of the pandemic, our website and online shop were set up and our digital strategy was in full swing. Having those foundations set in stone ahead of time allowed us to adapt, to tweak and to pivot our systems throughout 2020. We cannot imagine how difficult it would have been to start all of that from scratch during this global health crisis. So many businesses, small to large, were forced to do so, and did it successfully. Friends and small business owners without our own community made it happen. We feel for anyone out there who has been working tirelessly to make these digital adaptations, seeing as it’s not easy to do even during the best of times!

Looking Forward To The Future

With restrictions slowly lifting here in Nova Scotia and in certain parts on the East Coast, we’re continuing to find ways to push forward creatively and strategically – there’s a lot happening behind-the-scenes so far in 2021.  For us, this year feels a year of transformation and evolution.

It’s time for us to embrace the constant change, to choose to do whatever necessary to evolve our business in key ways that will allow us to become who we want to be, and to best represent YOU – the folks we want to and love to serve. It is all about looking through the lens of difficulty as an opportunity to persevere.

What’s Happening Next?

A big part of this transformation will see us taking the business to the next level of sustainability; from the ways we develop and package our products to the methods to how we run our production facility. All of these changes will improve the overall wellbeing of the communities we serve.

We are also conducting a review of our current packaging and will be implementing solutions to reduce the environmental footprint for our business, as well as for the customers who have chosen to add Schoolhouse products to their regular grocery budget. We are working to make the switch to a biopolymer-based packaging that will give us an opportunity to integrate more forward-thinking solutions that increase efficiency, while reducing plastic waste.

We’ll also be working in conjunction with Efficiency Nova Scotia to review our operations, in an attempt to reduce our environmental footprint with new energy efficient equipment and to find a temperature-regulated solution at our production facility. This will most likely result in future construction projects and changes to the way the Schoolhouse operates. We are excited to start the review process in the coming weeks and will aim to complete all renovations by the end of Summer or early Fall 2021.

Offering More Options For Dairy-Free, Vegan, & Plant-Based Communities

All of our products are and always have been 100% gluten-free, however, you may have been noticing change in the air as we’ve been working around the clock to develop and unveil new products weekly over the past few months. Our goal is to create a new plant-based product line of at least 6 (or more) vegan superfood offerings that will be added permanently to our regular production line.

The purpose of this new line is to offer more gluten-free, plant-based, refined sugar-free solutions for folks with more specific allergies and dietary restrictions. Not only do we aim to continue creating eats and treats that nourish the body, but we are always on the hunt for the most wholesome, organic ingredients that are as healthy as they are delicious. It is also important to us to offer our products at a price point that is fair and as accessible as possible.

We are super excited to have you join us on this journey, as we launch this new line-up of products one by one. We feel confident that you, our valued customers, will find something new and exciting to enjoy through this new line up. Your feedback and response to these offerings will  also help us to decide which ones get permanently added to the online shop.

In-Person Markets & Touch Points

All of these transformative changes have us asking ourselves an important question: do folks still want or need weekly market days? How can we maintain an in-person touchpoint even when traffic is at an all-time low?  Well, we’ve been attending the Halifax Brewery market some weeks, and others (when stricter rules around local travel came back into effect) we opted not to go. It’s hard to know what one week is going to look like when compared to the next, but we are determined to do everything we can to make market days sustainable and ultimately worth it.

We started back at the market this past Saturday and it was a decent success. While attendance numbers were still low, we are starting to see an uptick in customer traffic and with weather patterns improving and the atlantic bubble coming back, we hope the situation will continue to improve.

Our short term plan is to see how the market goes up until Easter and then we will reassess the future of weekend markets. If you are adamant about us staying and want to help keep this touchpoint alive – the best thing you can do is show up! For us, it’s about finding the most cost-effective, affordable, and convenient ways to get the products you love into your hands. Throughout the pandemic, online delivery has been, by far, the most efficient way to get products to our customers – and you’ve shown us that you love having this as an option!

In-person markets, for many years, were our GF bread and butter (pun intended). If it ever comes down the need to say goodbye to our market booth, please know that decision will be made with a heavy heart. Our business was born at Farmers’ Markets, of course, and it’s how we met so many of you over the years. It was our #1 touch point for customer connection. We’re not leaving the market yet, and we’re giving it one last shot before making any final decisions. Just know that if we do, it’ll be out of a need to shift our finances and resources to give us more time to focus on new, forward-thinking goals.

In the meantime, we are continuing to come up with new, fun ways to stay engaged and connected with you online – that means more blog posts and recipes, digital/video content, contests/giveaways, and so much more.

On top of that, our fabulous retail partners (many of whom are locally owned by hard working folks in our communities) will always be a local touchpoint for Schoolhouse products.

The Future Looks Bright

It may seem odd to say that the future looks bright (rather than bleak), but it’s truly how we feel. Even though life during the pandemic feels soul-crushing at times, in the end, we have found a way to keep our business afloat. You, our valued customers, kept showing up for us – and we can’t tell you how grateful we are for that. We also couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come.

The pandemic forced our hand to pause and reflect – and it also pushed us into action. While none of us are guaranteed another day, we owe it to ourselves to take breaks/to rest when we need it – and to continue doing our absolute best on all fronts.

We can’t thank you enough for staying by our side on this wild ride. There’s tons of excitement and delight in store for Schoolhouse (and for you) in 2021… let’s do this!

Onward and up,
Jen, Aidan & Team Schoolhouse

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