Small Business Stories with Gusto is an ongoing effort to collect stories from small businesses across the country during COVID-19. We hope these stories can be a resource for other business owners, providing inspiration, ideas, and insights as we navigate this new economic reality. If you’d like to be spotlighted, share your story here.
Latched Mama is a clothing company that provides affordable nursing wear for active mothers. Melissa Wirt, who now has five children of her own, founded the company in 2014.
Back then she was a mother of two, and on an outing with her two boys, she realized that to nurse her newborn son, she’d either have to run home or peel off layers down to her nursing tank top in the freezing winter air. Realizing there weren’t many apparel brands out there for nursing moms, she created her own e-commerce site in her living room.
These days, Latched Mama is headquartered in a 16,000 square-foot warehouse outside of Richmond, Virginia, and employs 32 workers—the majority of whom are moms with kids under the age of five.
The impact of COVID-19
Prior to COVID-19, Latched Mama was on track for a record-breaking year of revenue with a rapidly expanding global customer base. But, with shelter-in-place orders taking hold across the US, Latched Mama faced challenges on multiple fronts, like changes in consumer spending behavior and disruptions to their manufacturing supply chain.
“Because we manufacture overseas, we have very real supply chain issues at the moment,” says Wirt. “We normally send much of our inventory via air freight and we have had to pivot to sea freight. Although much less expensive, we will not see more inventory until mid-June.” In a matter of days, Latched Mama’s revenue dropped 40%.
Pivoting towards people
Wirt made the decision to shift her focus away from profit to prioritize keeping her people on payroll. Instead of relying on new inventory making its way to the warehouse, Wirt chose to make do with the apparel they had on hand—selling through her existing stock and teaming up with a local screen printer to make some of her well-stocked styles feel new and exciting to consumers.
“We’re fortunate to own all of our own inventory,” says Wirt. “So we are increasing our ad spend, dropping our margins, and running as lean as possible to take care of our overhead and ensure we have enough cash on hand to weather whatever is to come.” That strategy, coupled with a successful Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan application, has enabled Latched Mama to avoid layoffs and keep its workers on staff.
Supporting core customers
With the slowdown in manufacturing, the Latched Mama team also came up with creative ways to engage its core customer base, strengthen brand loyalty, and ultimately, fulfill its brand mission of supporting moms. The team doubled-down on supporting its network of new moms by bolstering its existing social media communities and offering a host of free online resources, from Zoom support services with doulas, social workers, and teachers to an all-day website chat feature manned by lactation consultants.
“Motherhood can feel isolating even during ordinary times, and even more so during this time of sheltering in place,” says Wirt. “We had always had social media communities online centered on getting our apparel in front of customers. But we launched separate online communities this year to give new moms a safe space to come together to share tips, challenges, triumphs, and struggles. There’s a real bond that forms amongst moms, especially right now, when they’re feeling particularly isolated and alone.”
Until Latched Mama’s next shipment of apparel comes in, the e-commerce site is staying the course with reduced emphasis on revenue and continued focus on its people. The company is also using its connections in manufacturing to make and provide much-needed personal protective gear. So far, Latched Mama has purchased more than 5,095 face masks from its suppliers to donate to groups who need them the most.
Wirt and her team are also staying focused, disciplined, and creative for their customers and online audience. “Moms are greatly impacted by current changes in lifestyle,” says Wirt. “We’re remaining optimistic, doing what we need to do to meet our daily cash requirements, and then focusing our time and energy on supporting moms in every way possible. On the other side of this, it is going to be the brands that showed up for their customers who will stay afloat.”
- Work with what you’ve got: Flex your creativity to make the most out of the resources and talent you have on hand.
- Run a lean machine: Reduce overhead and adjust fixed costs to ensure you have enough cash on hand to keep the lights on and your people on payroll.
- Tighten up your core: Getting your product in front of customers isn’t the only way to build brand loyalty. Create online communities and offer free online resources to help your customer base get through these uncertain times.
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