Linnet's Journey through a Year of COVID-19
In business, timing is everything.
Just ask Linnet Akol, whose Uganda-based fruit ice popsicle company, Krystal Ice, was taking off in early 2020. She was ready to hit “go!” on an ambitious four-year plan to sell 600,000 popsicles and expand her company’s reach across the country.
Then COVID-19 struck and everything for her business seemed to change in an instant.
Turning adversity into opportunity
As COVID-19 cases started to rise, the government instituted a nationwide curfew that closed nonessential businesses and restricted people’s movements. As these new rules took effect, demand from Krystal Ice’s primary sales channels — schools, events and supermarkets — dried up.
“Initially, I grappled with event cancellations. Then there were also schools and supermarkets closing down. And for the supermarkets which did not close, their demand decreased. So, I was grappling with all of these issues. In the beginning, I decided to focus my energy on scaling down the business,” said Linnet.
Soon, however, timing began to work in Linnet’s favor. As a winner of the Feed the Future Growing Women’s Entrepreneurship (GroWE) award through Partnering for Innovation, she had the opportunity in March 2020 to co-design a set of business development support services from Open Capital Advisors, a local business advisory firm. The timing could not have been better: as the pandemic worsened and the road ahead grew increasingly unclear, Linnet and Open Capital Advisors began to find a new way forward for the company. She said, “The pandemic was a loss for the company, but we kept on. I started thinking of how to stay afloat and rethink my business model.”
Linnet and Open Capital Advisors first identified cost-cutting strategies to help stabilize Krystal Ice’s cashflow and bring back its furloughed employees. They also focused on developing new sales approaches, such as piloting a home delivery service aimed at customers who were now spending most, if not all, of their time at home because of COVID-19.
Additionally, slow business meant that Linnet could spend more time focusing on developing other core business areas, such as marketing and rebranding, that would benefit the company in the long-term.
Going the distance
Home delivery service was one of the first strategies Krystal Ice introduced to compensate for lost sales from cancelled events and school closures. Extensive advertising on social media and WhatsApp generated a strong initial response as customers started calling the company to place orders. However, it soon became clear that the home delivery model was unsustainable in the long-run: the company needed to drive to each house individually to make a delivery, and customers were not placing large enough orders to break even on costs.
Once again, Linnet pivoted. She realized that while home deliveries were not profitable as a sales channel, they were useful in raising awareness of her products. People had seen her ice popsicles on social media and were interested in ordering them. Those passing by would notice her branded trucks making deliveries, while others would see their neighbors receiving popsicle orders and wanted to try them for themselves.
To make the model more efficient, Linnet limited home deliveries to locations situated along her regular supermarket delivery routes. She and Open Capital Advisors also used this opportunity to ensure the supermarket routes were as cost-effective as possible. With the development of a new delivery route planning tool, they identified three routes and specific delivery days each week that made the most sense for the company.
As restrictions begin to ease in Kampala and life slowly returns to a new normal, Linnet continues to rethink her home delivery model and explore strategies to make it even more cost-effective in the future, such as partnering with a delivery service like Safeboda.
New box, new ice pop
Rebranding Krystal Ice’s products had long been a business priority for Linnet. Doing so took on new urgency during the pandemic, as plummeting sales presented the opportunity to reinvent the brand and enable the company to re-emerge stronger than ever.
At Open Capital Advisors’ recommendation, Krystal Ice partnered with the local marketing firm Edutech Media Group to develop new packaging and marketing tools. Together, they worked as a team to develop a new brand manual, including a fresh company logo, packaging designs and marketing materials for both social media and in-person use.
Along with rebranding, Linnet also saw an opportunity to launch two new product lines tailored to different customer segments. In collaboration with the two firms, she rolled out a new Krystal Ice Family Pack consisting of six pops and a Mini Pack offering four pops.
Now one year into the pandemic, Linnet is feeling a lot more hopeful about the future of her company. Sales are slowly recovering and her furloughed employees have returned to work.
Armed with the strategic recommendations from Open Capital Advisors, Linnet plans to devote 2021 to marketing. Where will her company be this time next year? She says her goal is for Krystal Ice to emerge as “a strong, socially responsible brand” that has become a “household brand, a household name.”
Linnet says that, “Right now, I’m in a place where I know exactly what I want to do. This period that I’ve worked with Partnering for Innovation and Open Capital Advisors has motivated me to rise above the challenges I’m having now to continue looking toward the future.”