As the company does so, it is testing new business models that RISE leaders say they hope will bring along as much of its staff and food service partners that previously distributed its products to offices and schools before they shuttered.
“We recognize that people are no longer going to be in the office. They are going to be in their homes or in their grocery stores. And so we have put together a bunch of programs that essentially will replace or act like that office pantry where people used to get their coffee during the day, but obviously we are using the mail system instead,” said Grant Gyesky, co-founder and CEO.
“We are coupling that with pretty heavy discount programs,” and an affiliate program designed to help build RISE’s business while still recognizing the negative financial impact of COVID-19 on other companies and individuals, he added.
RISE COO Melissa Kalimov explained that before the novel coronavirus hit the US, RISE “approached our business by trying to find people where they were in the day time, which used to be in their offices, which was a massive part of our business. Now, not only are we no longer in offices, but we also have a lot of really strong partnerships [with distributors that filled office orders] whose businesses are being turned upside down faster than almost anyone.”
With that in mind, she explained, RISE is taking three different angles to maintain sales and its partnerships.
“The first is we are trying to figure out how we can support those office coffee distributors direction, by setting up direct shipping, but allowing them to invoice their customers directly just as they would have [before COVID-19] so that they can maintain some sort of invoicing normalcy,” Kalimov said.
Under this system, she said, RISE will provide distributors with discount codes that it can give to its office customers. Those offices in turn will supply the code to its employees, who can use it to order RISE coffee sent to their house at no cost to them. Using the codes to keep track of the orders, RISE will then bill the distributor, which will collect from its office customers.
“The second strategy is for our friends and our network. We are setting up direct office discounts. So, for example, I discounted my husband’s company so that his employees or his colleagues can order coffee to their homes … as they are stocking up,” she said.
She added that RISE is ideal for pantry stocking because it is shelf stable at room temperature for a year, and can be “popped in the fridge to enjoy” when people are ready.
“This is actually a pretty good solution for having an equally delicious on-the-go or at home coffee option compared to the coffee people used to drink at their offices or from coffee shops,” many of which are now closed, she said.
“The last approach we are taking is thinking through the different target groups that might need us the most. So, we created a number of different discount codes for these groups, such as health care professionals, hospitals and other organizations [on the front lines]. … Other main targets are discount codes for parents who are homeschooling or caring for kids while also working from home,” Kalimov said.
Redirecting field teams and creating opportunities for un- and underemployed
RISE also is looking at new ways to reach customers who haven’t tried their products before while also keeping as many people employed as possible. Previously, the company relied heavily on sampling, demos and giveaways at events – all of which are currently off the table.
“Candidly, that has been one of the most challenging parts of this situation. Our company has been growing well over double the size of the business every year, and our expansion time is usually from March through October when we are out marketing the products and at events. So, we just did some fairly aggressive hiring on the sales and marketing side,” Gyesky said.
“We have decided to transition the focus of that marketing team largely to some of these sales program. So they are going to be the ones that are making the outreach and contacting offices and really to a certain extent cold calling to sell coffee at this point in time. Our hope is that we can get enough traction through that to keep the team together for as long as this lasts,” he said.
Recognizing that layoffs are on the rise more generally, RISE launched an affiliate program to help some who lost jobs or whose hours were reduced.
“The affiliate program is only a teeny tiny Band-Aid, but I think it is another way we are trying to figure out how we can create additional revenue streams for those who are working less and also drive our company forward at the same time,” said Kalimov, who noted that people can earn $5 per case of RISE they help sell.
While much of the company’s focus is on driving growth despite the changes related to COVID-19, it also has an eye towards the future when, Kalimov and Gyesky say they hope things will return to normal.
“It is not all COVID-19 to be honest. We have a lot of product development work and I think we debated whether we should pause it because product development costs dollars and cash is certainly going to be a precious commodity for all young brands over the next year, but we decided this was a really good opportunity to push through with a lot of our product development projects,” Gyesky said.
He explained that “if we are able to continue developing, continue innovating and coming up with new products, it might also allow us to move faster in terms of our innovation compared to the field itself.”
That same logic prompted the company to go forward with new product launches that would have debuted at Natural Products Expo West, which was cancelled due to coronavirus concerns.
One launch was a nitro-infused London Fog with oat milk, which is the company’s first foray into tea. Gyesky said the inspiration for the beverage came from his wife, who drinks tea but not coffee and “probably asked me 365 days straight for a year when are you going to make a tea.”
He says there is significant market potential which the tea option because the tea space has largely been bypassed by the nitro and oat milk trends, both of which are extremely strong.
The second new product is a vanilla oat milk latte, which along with the London Fog, will come in the same cans as RISE’s other products.
A light at the end of a very long tunnel
While Gyesky says he is optimistic that RISE will survive COVID-19, he also acknowledges that “it is going to be hard, and we don’t think it will be fast.”
Rather, he said, “we are not planning to be back to business as usual in August. We think this is 12-18 months before we can really even begin to shift back towards what we used to see as normal. And so that is what we are preparing the business for and that is what we are preparing the team for. Hopefully, it is shorter than that and we rebound quicker, but we certainly do see this as a very large material impact on society at large for quite a long time to come.”