tonia kiteboarding school

How to run a food biz

How to run a food business while running a (gulp) kiteboarding school

by:  Tonia Farman
October 20, 2020

I’ve been keeping a secret.

You probably didn’t know that I have a second business  that I’ve run every summer for 13 summers….a kiteboarding school! This is really what took up my summer. In a typical summer, I have 12 employees, 10 instructors, 6 jet skis and hundreds of clients. Yesterday was the last day of the summer season (huge sigh of relief) but this summer did not land as planned. Here’s how I got there.
Early in 2020, I set a goal to get Queen of Hearts into 100 stores by Q2. I had a demo and event strategy to drive interest and sales.  I laid out a new brand strategy and plan that I was excited about. Everything was on track. Then COVID hit. We were scheduled to launch into new stores. That cancelled. I was headed to Natural Products Expo West in early March. That cancelled. Everything was turned upside down. Like many other businesses, I had to make some difficult decisions of what to do and where to focus.
I made the decision to pause key parts of the Queen of Hearts including production and marketing so that I could slow down and take the time to work on core fundamentals of the business – looking closely at COGS, pricing strategy, and an area I thought I knew best – our brand story. I invested in food business mentorship and accelerator programs. I took workshops, listened to hundreds of podcasts, watched many zoom webinars, read books and met with other successful food business owners. It was like going back to school!
Meanwhile, I made the decision to open the kiteboarding school this summer to help bring in income so that I wouldn’t feel so financially stressed with Queen of Hearts. I just didn’t realize when I decided to open the school that it would be our busiest summer in 13 years, with extremely challenging circumstances (COVID), having to develop and adhere to prevention & safety protocols (that we developed) with our largest number of out-of-town clients ever. I had half the staff as normal. I normally have three admin staff but could not find anyone who could run our admin this summer, so I did it myself. I enlisted my husband (who also does our production, packaging and many other roles for Queen of Hearts) for maintaining jet skis and gear. Then the fires blew through Oregon, which was an extra layer of challenge!
Most Saturdays entailed me working our booth at the Farmers Market while answering the Cascade Kiteboarding phone, checking the wind, coordinating with instructors… all while selling hemp milk. Some customers would hear me talking kiteboarding lessons and want to book a lesson after buying their hemp hearts.  😀 I felt like a bad juggling clown. I dropped some balls, then would scoop them back up and throw them back into the juggling mix. All with a crooked smile!
That was my summer.  Needless to say, it was incredibly stressful. It wasn’t pretty, but it was necessary. It also happened to be the best thing I could have done. Though I had to spend a lot of time on the kiteboarding school, I took every other moment available to focus on learning the food business better and how Queen of Hearts can be successful in it. I slowed down in a sense, took a breathe, and soaked up so much information I had never made the time to absorb before. I virtually surrounded myself with incredible thought-leaders, food biz founders, and business experts who enlightened me with best practices, mistakes to avoid, and stories of vulnerability and failure. The experience ended up being a game-changer for my business. I am grateful to many amazing mentors that helped in this process, and it’s still in process.
What my COVID summer taught me: Slow down. Be patient. Invest in doing it right, whatever IT is. Ask for help. It’s ok to break down at times! Do your best. I did my best. Some days my best was off the charts, other days my best was mediocre. I feel this is just part of the journey of running a food business.
Ok, enough of that summer. Done with that chapter (which felt like years!) and now diving back in to focus on making Queen of Hearts more successful than ever.  Thank you all for your support – I couldn’t have made it through it without you all. Now, onward with making more dressing flavors!
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