This interview is part of a series chatting with local business owners, artists, organizers and people in our community who are learning to adapt during COVID-19.
Melanie Harrington – Dahlia May Flower Farm
Describe your business.
Nestled in the beautiful rolling Murray Hills of southeastern Ontario, Dahlia May supplies fresh seasonal cut flowers and distinctive bouquets to farmers’ markets and specialty shops the greater Quinte area.
What does working from home look like?
There have been a few changes — it kind of feels like a hot mess right now. Where my farm is located, my commute is a 30-second walk, so that much hasn’t changed. It feels like we’re having zero work-life balance right now. My office looks like it’s exploded. I feel like we’ve been triaging everything and been in crisis mode. It’s less organized than it used to be, but we’re getting there.
How have you adapted your operations during the pandemic?
Everything has changed for us. We spent the last five years building a business that was based on customers coming to our farm. I wanted to bring customers directly to me; we trained everyone to come to the farm and buy items. We had a loyal following that would flock here on the weekends. We had a series of workshops that we were going to host, we had a lot planned and everything depended on the customers coming here.
Suddenly that wasn’t possible, so we had to do a big pivot because we have a fresh, perishable product. The flowers are going to bloom regardless, so we have to find a way to get that to the customer. Within a week, we moved all our ordering online and started doing a full delivery service. It was a big pivot, a big learning curve as we’ve never done delivery before.
How have you been supported by the community?
We’ve spent five years building a relationship with our customers, so we didn’t have to start from scratch — we had a really good basis. We’ve been communicating and letting them know how we’re changing. People have been really supportive.
A lot of people have been reaching out and asking how they can help. I think people understand that small local businesses are struggling and people want to help. Community outpouring has been unbelievable, we’ve been doing nearly 300 deliveries a day, five days a week.
What is something good that has come from this difficult situation?
For our business in particular, I’m using this as an opportunity, a way to learn. Our plan is to come out of this stronger than we went into it. We’ve had to make so many pivots, we’ve developed new procedures, we made a few new hires — it speeds everything up and we’re being forced to run a better business.
I feel like as our community is rallying around us, as we’re working as a staff, we’re going to come out of this better. One of the women who has been working here has no childcare and can’t come into work, so I’ve sent seeds and trays to her house so she can do the seeding at home and we can pick them up later. There are ways that we can work together and be flexible.
What advice do you have for other business owners/organizers/artists/etc at this time?
We all need to accept that we’re not going back to normal. I hear people saying, “I can’t wait for things to go back to normal.” Business owners need to prepare for the idea that things won’t go back to normal, this may be the new normal. My job as a business owner is to figure out how to best move forward, we’re not making any big jumps to get back to our regular operation. We need to be open to change.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I think we need to not be scared of change. It’s a hard time, people are feeling scared, certainly in business. Anyone in business knows the only consistent thing is change. I’m moving forward looking at things as an opportunity, and that’s helping me manage my stress.
Stay tuned as we share more local folks who are Makin’ It Work, and check out our weekly interviews (of the same name) every Friday on Instagram Live.