In early March, custom photo booth rental startup the SnapBar held its two-day all-staff company retreat. Co-founders and brothers Sam and Joe Eitzen chose "Change" as the event's theme, though still unaware of the effect the coronavirus was about to have on their business.
The Gig Harbor, Washington-based company returned from the retreat to a flood of event cancellations. Almost overnight, its main sources of revenue--selfie stations, photo booth rentals, and photo, GIF, and video booths for events--were no longer in demand. The brothers quickly developed a virtual photo booth app and started selling selfie equipment to make up some of the shortfall, but they knew it wouldn't be enough. They needed to make a more radical move.
"I had a really late brainstorming session thinking, if live events are gone, we have to pivot," says CEO Sam Eitzen, whose 41-employee company was No. 473 on the 2019 Inc. 5000 list of the country's fastest-growing private businesses. "I stayed up until 2 a.m. writing out 50 different ideas for pivots we could make."
The next day, March 12, he presented his ideas to the leadership team. They whittled the list down to about 18 concepts, from which the Eitzen brothers chose one: Keep Your City Smiling, a new arm of the SnapBar that sells direct-to-consumer gift boxes packed with goods from local businesses, such as snacks, artwork, coffee, mugs, and candles. The operation was up and running in just a week.
So far, Keep Your City Smiling has assembled city-specific boxes for nearby Seattle, as well as for Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland, where a majority of the SnapBar's clients are located. It has also made a collection for recent graduates and one designated for health care workers.
To find products for the boxes, the team cold-called local companies they found through Etsy and Google. They also asked those businesses to refer other struggling startups that had suitable goods. Now, Keep Your City Smiling relies on word of mouth and its social media outreach to find vendors.
"It's been really good exposure for us and a nice way to move some product right now," says Roberta Intrater, founder of San Francisco-based homemade snack startup Bert's Bites. Intrater's products were sold in specialty stores and airports, but shelter-in-place orders eliminated those revenue streams. Since Keep Your City Smiling has featured Bert's Bites, other gift box companies have asked about including them, Intrater says.
Keep Your City Smiling initially priced the boxes at $75. The team posted on social media and emailed the SnapBar's corporate clients explaining the change in direction, strategies that helped generate about $10,000 in online preorders within the first few days. It used that money to purchase products and packing materials for 250 boxes, paying vendors wholesale prices for items. Now, Keep Your City Smiling has a warehouse full of inventory ready to ship and has dropped the price to $65, Eitzen says.
After a month, Keep Your City Smiling had sold about $100,000 worth of boxes, which includes corporate orders that range between 25 and 200 boxes, Eitzen says. The following month, it increased sales to $237,000. Those numbers are promising, but Eitzen is unsure if they will get the business close to the $3.1 million in revenue it made last year. To drum up more business, he and the team recently started working with a social media advertising firm.
As Keep Your City Smiling grows, Eitzen plans to expand box options to New York City and Austin by next week. "It was a very fast pivot that started as just an idea," he says. "Weeks later, it turned into a business that could easily stand on its own in the future."