Amy and Ben Wright recently temporarily shut down their five coffee shops in Wilmington, North Carolina, laying off over 120 employees, and moving their entire business online, all in one week. For the Wrights, it was a painful decision, especially because many of their employees who have intellectual developmental disabilities had difficulty understanding that the layoffs were not their fault. But despite all the changes, they are staying connected to customers and their mission, while keeping their eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel.
Four years ago, the Wrights founded Bitty & Beau’s Coffee with a unique staffing mission: “a human rights movement disguised as a coffee shop.” They are advocates of the value, inclusion, and acceptance of people with intellectual developmental disabilities, including their two children, whom the coffee shop is named for. In 2017, Amy was honored with CNN’s Hero of the Year award. The business expanded quickly, opening its fifth location in Annapolis, Maryland earlier this year. But that was before COVID-19.
“I think the whole world is going through this time of figuring it out,” Ben Wright told me on today’s ‘Leading Through Change’ live show. “It’s what we do on a daily basis. When we started the coffee shop, we just had to figure it out. With this COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is just having to figure it out.”
He went on to say that Salesforce tools have enabled them to respond and pivot from being a “within-six-feet-of-one-another retail business” to primarily online.
Here are three tips they offered to fellow business owners on how to chart uncertain territory and keep moving forward:
Tip 1: Be true to your purpose
In order to adapt to the changing demands, you need to support your team and meet them on a personal level. “I look through the eyes of being a mother when I have conversations with my employees,” said Amy Wright. “I think about them as family members and treat them as such. It really does make a big difference.” As such, the Wrights are continuing to make accommodations for employees with disabilities and without disabilities, knowing this approach will bring out the best in employees, as it always has.
Tip 2: Communicate often
You don’t need all the answers to communicate with your employees or customers. Start by communicating with honesty and the appreciation that we are all in this together.
“Everybody is in the same boat, just trying to figure this out,” said Ben Wright. “[You’re] not always going to have the right answer or even a good answer. Let people know what you’re trying to do.” – Read more
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