For many small business owners like me, the last two years have been full of hurdles—from navigating the Covid-19 pandemic to lower demand for the goods and services we work so hard to sell.
And, to add to the financial hardship, one year ago my business almost lost everything.
A business owner’s worst nightmare
On December 12, 2020, the North Country-based bakery and headquarters of my pretzel business burned down in a fire. Martin’s Handmade Pretzels has been in my family for four generations, and when I woke up to see flames surrounding the building, I feared for what this would mean for our future.
I am proud to say that just one year later, my pretzel business is not only back, but thriving. We continue to sell pretzels nationwide and across New York—from farmer's markets in Syracuse, Watertown, and Old Forge to New York’s Greenmarkets. We also recently opened our new bakery in Moira, northern Franklin County, to the public.
Two things helped us back on our feet
There are two reasons my small business was able to rebound while many others around me have not been as lucky: the support of my community and my willingness to embrace innovative technology.
First and foremost, for small businesses like mine, a base of loyal customers is essential. Since we do not have the resources of larger businesses, we mainly rely on word of mouth and social media to attract new customers. We are also lucky to have faithful customers who have been eating Martin’s Handmade Pretzels for years and are incredibly supportive.
When my bakery burned to the ground, our customers overwhelmed us with their generosity. They chipped through a GoFundMe page, which helped us raise enough money to get back on our feet. Some of our suppliers also generously offered to delay their payment terms and donated services for free.
But rebuilding after experiencing unimaginable tragedy was also made easier by the fact that we had not shied away from innovation.
Outdated technology is holding businesses back
When I took ownership of the business, I knew that our outdated technology was holding us back, not in the way we made our pretzels, but in our back-end operations. I turned to Latitude Bookkeeping Services in Plattsburgh to see if there was a better way to keep track of our cash flow and other important information like margins, cost per product, and overhead. Among other technology platforms, they recommended online payment system Melio, which allows small businesses to send and receive payments digitally, quickly, and easily.
This has played a critical role in helping my business bounce back. When the bakery and headquarters burned down, we also lost all of our business’s paper checks. While that may seem like a small loss, we needed to continue paying our vendors each week and could not risk missing payments. Luckily, we were able to send out all of our payments on time.
Without this platform, I would have had to order new checks and write them all by hand, which would have been very time-consuming. I have reduced the time I spend on administrative work by half, which has allowed me to spend more time growing and rebuilding the business.
Digitization is key to the success of small businesses
Many small business owners are often wary of adopting new technologies, fearful that they might not see a return on their investment. But in my case, I wish my family-owned pretzel business had started the digitization process sooner, saving us both time and money.
During this last year of immense challenges, I am grateful that I had the tools to get my business back on track. I urge other small business owners to consider embracing digital technology that will help their business enter the 21st century.
Josiah Martin is a Melio customer. He owns and operates Martin's Handmade Pretzels in Moira, New York.
This article originally appeared in Democrat & Chronicle.