At the start of March 2020, two and a half years after launch, Velodrome Coffee in Marquette, Mich., was growing at a rate the owners hadn’t expected. Business was up 40% over the previous year with a number of incredible opportunities on the horizon beginning to unfold.
When COVID-19 came to the U.S., owners Brice Sturmer and Paul Vafa had no idea it would impact their business so significantly. Following the lead of businesses in Washington State, though in Michigan, they immediately updated their cleaning procedures and communicated with staff. “Our hope was to support staff on payroll through any situation that occurred, a week later we were shell-shocked and laying off the entire staff with no idea what would happen next,” said Sturmer. “It was the hardest day of being a business owner, laying off the staff, turning off the lights, and not knowing when we would turn them back on … if we would turn them back on.”
Sturmer summed up his early experience in seeking financial support for his business. “In the midst of the chaos, there were a few that seemed to wade into the uncertainly with us, one being Northern Initiatives. Northern Initiatives offered financial assistance right away and the process was seamless and swift. The assistance helped restore some of our confidence and allowed us to get vendors paid and continue operating our wholesale roasting and online business.” Northern Initiatives Business Services staff worked with the owners on D&B ratios and comparisons, as well as cash flow, projections, and profitability, including templates and tools from the Initiate online learning portal.
Northern Initiatives first worked with Sturmer and Vafa on their original SBA Microloan in 2017, then a bridge loan in April 2020 to help them through COVID shutdowns. This critical support enabled them to bring back full-time employees and begin offering pick-up and delivery for beverages out of their downtown cafe. They also have a coffee kiosk at the regional international airport.
“We think of our coffee producing partners across the globe who are also being severely impacted by the is situation and we feel it’s our duty to do everything we can to keep our purchasing volume the same,” Sturmer said. “If we’re doing everything we can to sell coffee safely, it’s the only way coffee farmers at the beginning of the supply chain can move forward.”
“Lastly, our community has been the biggest support of all! Customers have easily adapted to the changes in service and have continued to seek out ways to support our business. They have been incredibly patient and understanding as well… it goes without saying but the only reason we’ve ever been able to open and turn the lights on each day is because of the customers that believe in our brand and want to support the concept of personally sourced, directly traded coffee.”
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