Praliniere: online sales as a lifeline

The coronavirus pandemic is changing everything for local entrepreneurs who suffer from it, but who also bounce back from the storm, stick together with their employees and, sometimes, spark new ways of doing things. We are going to meet them in this series “Managing the crisis”. Managing the crisis
Company: La Pralinière (Lac-Etchemin)
Type: chocolate factory
Contact: Simon Pépin, CEO
Q The situation before the crisis?

A About three weeks ago, we were entering the best of the season. That’s why we work all year long in the background. Easter chocolate sales account for about three-quarters of our processed chocolate sales. We imagined La Pralinière on March 30 with four branches full of Easter chocolate. We also had to settle in two shopping centers [Saint-Georges and Thetford Mines], in premises that we rented for the Easter period, and open a pop-up shop in Sainte-Marie. About thirty people were to be part of our team to help us serve chocolate lovers well.

Q What was the collateral damage from these closings?

A We had to postpone the official opening of La Pralinière de Saint-Prosper. And we ended up with an impressive amount of Easter chocolate [several tens of thousands of pieces]. We were also forced to make the heartbreaking decision to fire our employees.

Q How are you coping with the crisis?

A Certainly there were small moments of discouragement. We knew that it was always possible to have to close a shop or two for major reasons, but we never thought we would have to close them all in favor of a single virtual shop [], which went online on March 22 and which we are promoting, where people can go and find the vast majority of their favorite chocolates. This store allows us to catch up on sales that we will not make in our branches. But it’s quite a challenge considering that we are not Amazon. People are therefore encouraged to order as soon as possible, contrary to their custom. In the past, 50% of our store sales were made in the last four days before Easter. But if this year, people are all waiting for Good Friday to order, it will not be possible to deliver all the chocolate across Quebec in two days.

Q How to keep the morale of the troops?

RWe are proud to have implemented an interest-free loan assistance program to support our employees who needed income before government assistance arrived. Yes, the government has been very proactive, but it still takes a few weeks before receiving the money. My job is to ensure the sustainability of the business. But to ensure the sustainability of the business, we must ensure that the employees are also going through the crisis and that they are not too helpless because when things are going to start again, we will need them. Our employees had already given back to the company by volunteering a day to support us. For us, it was essential to help them.

Despite what is happening to us, we are still lucky because unlike other companies, we have options. We can sell online. We also have a small network of retailers who sell our products in grocery stores and which we can continue to supply. We will therefore do our best until Easter and after, we can assess the final score. The wave of love that the people of the region have served us by demonstrating their intention to encourage local businesses allows us to keep hope.

Q What will never be the same again?

A It is clear that there will be major changes when the crisis is over. But it’s a bit early to assess how it will go. If we go back three weeks, not even half of 1% of our sales were made online. There it will be the vast majority.

Q An idea born from the crisis?

A There are all kinds of ways to organize yourself internally. All our 300 gram chocolates were packaged to be sent to our kiosks, but we did not know if the boxes contained cars, rabbits, chickens … To sell online, we need to know how many copies of every model we have. The situation will force us to change our internal logistics, because online sales are clearly something that we want to keep and continue to develop. And the beauty of it all is that it will give us the opportunity to offer customers who ordered Easter chocolate our future promotions for Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

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