Daisy Orser, The Root Cellar

Photo: Rebecca Wellman

Daisy Orser and her husband Adam are the co-founders and owners of The Root Cellar Village Grocer in Victoria, a market set apart by its experiential shopping atmosphere driven by a passion for sustainability and a locally focused purchasing philosophy.

How is The Root Cellar coping right now?
We are doing okay actually. I feel comfortable saying that now, and the sun has been shining which certainly helps. The overwhelm seems to have subsided and we have survived the COVID-19 risk mitigation response phase. I feel very proud of what we have pulled off in a matter of a few short weeks, and our energy is now focused on refining new systems and catching our breath.  Our business has essentially been reinvented, staff roles have changed, departmental operations are nothing like they were a month ago, but our team has risen to the challenge and has really shone, and our customers have met us there.

How has the crisis affected your business, and how do you anticipate it will continue to affect it?
Drastically. That said, we get to be open, we get to provide an essential service hopefully in a way that brightens people’s days during this trying time, and we get to continue providing employment to our community. Our customer counts are down by more than half, and shopping habits and frequency continue to change drastically, so we are thinking on our feet and developing creative solutions to mitigate sales loss and provide previously non-existent services (like online ordering for contactless curbside pick up). We have always taken great pride in being a responsive business, and the fluency we have developed over years of engaging quite intimately with our customers has left us in a strong position to react quickly and effectively to both rapidly evolving consumer needs and regulatory expectations. We will continue to react as our customers and community need, our hope being that we each come out of this more resilient.

What advice are you giving yourself and your team for riding this out?
Our business will survive this and there is SO much opportunity for both personal and business growth. We are flexing muscles many of us didn’t know we had or didn’t value enough in the business context. Resilience: we know this is important and we are flexing this muscle hard, but compassion, intimacy, kindness …  they aren’t teaching these things in business school and these are the strengths that are serving us most now. Trusting your instincts has become vital. There is no guide book for this — we are building this plane as we fly it like all other businesses, and we will make some mistakes, but we have to have faith that as long as integrity remains the lens through which we make our decisions, we will come out the other side of this on our feet with our customers along side us.

What is the opportunity in the challenge for you and your business?
The calibre of relationship we have developed with our customers through this experience has been our big silver lining. We always cared deeply about our customer’s experience, and that experience has always been the driving force behind everything that we do here. But something has changed. Everyone’s comfort zone has been shaken, we’re all feeling pretty vulnerable, and maybe it’s just that our community didn’t expect a grocery store to meet them there, but the appreciation for our transparency and efforts has been outstanding. Our team has never been prouder to work for The Root Cellar and customers are openly communicating their gratitude for feeling safe, secure, and most of all just feeling normal under our roof. I think the consumers being along with us for this ride has really opened eyes to the value of small business in our community. I am hopeful that this allegiance will remain, and that all small businesses on the Island will get to experience this surge in loyalty that we are seeing when they reopen their doors.

What advice have you applied or are you applying from previous experiences coping through crises?
I was raised by hippies. I was taught to trust my instincts foremost, I was taught to lean into fear, I was taught to always choose the high road, to meet people where they are and to do all things with integrity. All ‘tools’ aside, these values are what serve me best right now. This is our reality, and it sucks, but no magic happens in crisis-mode. I’m not saying let’s make these lemons into lemonade, but I am saying, let’s control what we can, let’s honour what we can’t and let’s mindfully put our energy where it serves us, our businesses and our community best.

What are your resources right now? Do you have a mentor supporting you, peer group, books you read?
Um nope. There are no resources nor mentors for this, not in our industry at least. And find me a grocery store owner that has had time to read a book in the past eight weeks. Our resources are fresh air, nature, our understanding and supportive families, and I have never been more grateful to be in business with my husband.

What advice do you have for others experiencing this alongside you?
I think a lot of initial fear existed because of ‘unknowns and uncontrollables.’ It has been very comforting for me to acknowledge that I may not be able to control my external environment to the degree to which I am accustomed, but I am still the boss of me. I still get to control my internal environment, and I intend to reflect on this time with great pride. This isn’t a huge expectation of myself to be a hero, it’s merely a commitment to being mindful of doing my best, and to always, ALWAYS, be kind.