THE PANDEMIC AS EXPERIENCED BY THE VENDERIA
It's been a year since the pandemic hit hard. March 15 decided to stop servicing my machines for a while. The next day all non-essential business were made to close. My business as I knew it ground to a halt. No money coming in. So much uncertainty.
I felt extremely untethered. I wavered between feeling immense calm and joy being with my kid and husband in the spring, riding bikes and hanging out in the yard, care free, nothing to do; to feeling totally panicked and doomed and scared. The disconnect between the daily relative ease and the overall looming fear was disorienting.
I don't relax easily. Despite growing up in Costa Rica, I am not a chill person. I am a woman of action, furious, tedious, constant, squirrel-like action. So I found ways to stay busy:
1.) Moved out of the studio/artist warehouse space I'd been working from for 2.5 years. This was a cost-saving move and a reduce-human-contact move.
2.) Cleaned, reorganized, and wallpapered my garage with concert posters in preparation for moving my business operations back IN. It had to be done. Nonetheless I felt EXTREMELY cramped in the garage. And that feeling led to my 1st pandemic pivot:
3.) YARD PARTIES. To move inventory and other random stuff cluttering my garage, and to get out of the house (safely), and to bring people joy, I started offering "yard parties." Customers would choose a day and time, fill out a survey to let me know what they liked, and I would hide stuff in their yards and decorate with streamers. And piñatas
4.) I have long loved making piñatas. Piñatas and vending machines have a lot in common- they are exciting vehicles for getting something out of, usually that something is unhealthy food, that something can be anything. I made so many piñatas over the summer, I wound up opening a piñatería inside my favorite store, Cargo Inc.
5.) I also dabbled in a variety of direct online sales to customers.
In the summer a lot of my locations reopened. Revenue was up to about 40% of 2019. I was running my route, buying new inventory. Summer felt good. I liked my pace of work. My family was happy. We went swimming at Sauvie Island a lot, hung out with neighbors at a distance, fell into a easy groove. It was the mellowest summer ever.
Yet, I was still uneasy. You can't really be comfortable when your baby, the business you created and nurtured for years, is on life support. The success of my business pivots gave me a lot of confidence though. Throughout the spring and summer I felt extremely supported by my community, customers, friends and family. People wanted yard parties. They wanted mystery packages in the mail. They wanted piñatas. It was uneasy time but I felt very loved. I received local grant funding, as well as EIDL and PUA and that made me feel supported too. When bars reopened and my machines came back in service, my fears mostly faded.
And then came autumn. With school back in session, my daughter and husband were both in school in our home. Juggling childcare and running the business became harder. Being at home became less pleasant. Cases were rising. The weather got colder. A lot of bars closed again. There was an election and the constant worry that Trump might be reelected. Biden's win was a welcome victory, but with the virus raging out of control, it felt hard to celebrate anything.
I hate winter every year, but the pandemic winter was awful. Dismal. Lonely. My garage is cold so even working on Venderia stuff was a drag. I was so grumpy and bummed. And then, Anne Parmeter and I decided to do something we'd talked about a year earlier- making an online course for creative vending.
Once we got rolling with the course, I had plenty of work to sink my teeth into- scripts to write, a vision to bring to life, a purpose. The timing of the project was perfect (except for he masked filming, which is not a cool look). The pandemic gave me an opportunity to get distance from my business and see it with a new perspective. I had more time to devote to the course content, than I ever would have otherwise. It's been all-encompassing, from digging into the deepest WHYs of why my business is successful to making sure my nails look good for the button pressing footage to starting a creative vending fb group to installing a new machine and documenting it start to finish. Working on Creative Vending Revolution saved me from pandemic burnout.
What I learned from the pandemic is that my business operating vending machines, but even when those machines are trapped in shuttered locations, I can do a lot.