Scoop Marketplace is a zero waste grocery store in the Central District. They offer a variety of package-free groceries and personal care supplies, via bulk and plastic-free purchasing. The store was still in its first year when COVID hit. What started as an interview about the unique challenges their business has faced over the past five months quickly and surprisingly shifted into a bigger conversation about launching a new business line and supporting other working moms.
Community: Central District
Interview with: Stephanie Lentz
At the beginning of March, sales started to drop.... I assumed we were going to have to close....And then things just got crazy
I knew from the beginning that I would do this differently. I do not want to be responsible for opening all of the zero waste stores in this country. But I do want to be part of the movement, by empowering other people to provide this service in their communities.
Deciding to launch Scoop Intelligence it in the midst of a pandemic, while I was pivoting my business, while I was building a digital book, while I was building an online shop and while our sales were quadrupling – I did it because I decided to make it a priority.
I'm ready to build the full-service, package-free shop.
It's become really important to me over the last year to show other moms that they can have a business and still live their life the way that they want to.
As a fellow grocery entrepreneur, I’m always interested in new formats and approaches in the space. Why did you start Scoop - what did you feel was missing in the marketplace and what problem were you seeking to solve?
I'm from Seattle and I've always thought of myself as being environmentally friendly. You know, I recycled, which is not actually a solution. But, I kept digging into the topic. We switched to plant-based eating a few years ago and that snowballed into everything else: minimalism, plastic free, and then zero waste.
I had begun to learn about plastic pollution in the form of microbes, plastics and even chemicals leaching from packaging directly into our food. And the whole thing really freaked me out.
Though I didn't know how to solve our pollution problems, I knew could I personally stop contributing to it. We had reduced waste in our home but, I still found it really difficult to go grocery shopping and not come home with a lot of trash. It seemed weird to me that, in Seattle, there wasn't an easy solution - because it is easily fixed. It’s how we used to shop.
I noticed that there were zero waste stores out there…in Europe…which made me wonder, do I need to open my own? So that's what I did.
You opened your shop in the Central District in April 2019, which means you were still in your first year when COVID hit. Take us back to January – how was your business doing?
January was interesting because we had just had the holidays, which are of course, our best months. And I was expecting a big drop in January, which was freaking me out because we were not in a great place financially.
Surprisingly, we benefited from the New Year's resolutions and January stayed strong. But, yes, our money situation was not good. And after the holidays, I was completely out of all of our best sellers and I couldn't restock them. It was frustrating because, on one hand, I'm trying to acknowledge and appreciate our slow and steady growth but, on the other hand, I was deeply concerned that it wasn’t really working. We were barely making it.
And then, at the beginning of March, sales started to drop. I started to get nervous. I assumed we were going to have to close. I was doing the math - my obligations are pretty minimal, my rent isn't too crazy, I only have a couple employees - we could just close it. That would have been hard but, we could have done it.
And then things just got crazy. I’m not even sure what switch was flipped, but I think it was because all of the conventional grocery stores were out of flour and yeast, but we had it. The store got way busier. And I started to understand that there was there was an opportunity for us to fill a need and to provide value in a way that we hadn't been previously.
So I built an online shop pretty much overnight. I kept expecting someone else would do it for me. But, there was no one else. I figured: I know this can be done. I'm just doing it. And I did.
That's when things got really crazy.
In March, we more than doubled our February revenue. And April was quadruple our February revenue. I just wasn't ready for that – it was really stressful and a huge burden on the team. I was making mistakes left and right and I felt like I was having to apologize all the time, because we kept running out of inventory. I think I cried on social media.
But it's amazing how quickly that has passed. I'm feeling so much more settled right now. And this month is on track with March so way below April, but still so much better than where we were at the beginning of the year.
You and I spoke back in January and your energy now is so different than it was then. How are you feeling?
I'm feeling really good. In fact, I just noticed that yesterday. For the first time in several months, I was able to get up before my kids and do some journaling, be by myself. I looked at my journal - the last time I had written was in February and things were bad. My manager had resigned unexpectedly and I got sick immediately. I think I was experiencing trauma. I was feeling a lot of pressure to make another hire, but also feeling very aware that I couldn't even think straight - the brain fog was really intense. Fortunately, I had a couple of really strong team members, who really just took care of things for a while.
And our money situation was barely working – it was not a pretty picture. I have always been conservative with money but that all goes out the window when you are an entrepreneur - you just do what it takes to make it work. But, now it's working and I can step back and see that it was all part of the journey. I'm thankful for a lot of the investments that I made, especially in regards to personal development and business development. And I am I'm feeling really great about my team. It just it feels like we're in a really good spot - everyone's working together and we're heading in the right direction.
Stephanie: I also launched my digital course. Did we talk about the course?
Me: No! When did you have time to launch a digital course in the midst of all of this?
As you know, when you’re starting up you seek out mentors - someone who has opened a business similar to yours. But, when I launched Scoop and was reaching out to other folks for mentorship, I was met with some scarcity mindset and competitive vibes - they didn't really want to help.
That affected me - I knew from the beginning that I would do it differently. I do not want to be responsible for opening all of the zero waste stores in this country. But I do want to be part of the movement, by empowering other people to provide this service in their communities.
Then a year ago, I took a digital course called the Knowledge Business Blueprint with Dean Graziosi and Tony Robbins. That was when it occurred to me that I didn't have to do one-on-one mentoring and I didn't have to go out and help people build their stores. I could just create an online course to provide support to many people at one time.
I started at the beginning of the year and was excited to dig into it, but then put it on the backburner because the store needed me and my team needed me.
But I kept coming back to it – I knew it was really important. In addition, I had also taken Amy Porterfield's Digital Course Academy so I knew I could do it.
This is completely astonishing. Just a few minutes you were saying how you didn’t want to set up a website – which you did – but, then you went and set up an online course.
I still don’t want to do that! But, I couldn’t pay someone to do it and the courses I had taken had shown me how to do it – so I had no excuse.
And, it’s interesting because in January, I felt like I couldn’t do this because I needed to focus on my store. And then in March, when things got crazy, I just decided, this needs to happen. And if people are going to be staying home, this is the perfect time for them to create their business plan and take the steps to get that plan into motion. So I did it.
I recorded all of my videos on an iPhone at the very end of March. And they sent it to a friend who’s been editing them and uploading them for me. And then I launched at the beginning of May.
I launched the course and I didn't do any paid ads, but I sent a note to my list of 70 people and posted it wherever I could. And I have nine students taking the course, which is really exciting. I'm halfway through the course right now and it's going really, really well - I'm getting a lot of really good feedback. I'm already looking forward to doing a second launch later this year.
To go back to your earlier question, when I was journaling yesterday and I read back to my February entry, I could see how much I was struggling - I was feeling that I needed to do this course. This is the thing that I'm passionate about and it is weighing heaviest on my heart right now.
Deciding to do it in the midst of a pandemic, while I was pivoting my business, while I was building a digital book, while I was building an online shop and while our sales were quadrupling – I did it because I decided to make it a priority.
I’m almost afraid to ask: What are you thinking about your business now? What are you looking forward to?
I've been thinking about marketing and how do I get those new delivery customers to be repeat customers. I’m realizing that we're lacking in the fresh food department. And of course, if it could be more of a one-stop shop, that would be really helpful. I would love to partner with some farmers at some point this summer when the produce is more abundant. to offer a produce box with our delivery.
And, now that I feel like we have stabilized, I want to move our store. I know that we need to move, in order to grow and that we'd like to find a bigger location. I do I feel very limited by our space. And especially, with the growth over the last few months, I keep thinking what could that have looked like if I was able to sell X, Y and Z or if we had parking available or if we could spread people out?
I'm ready to build the full-service, package-free shop and have things like plastic free tortilla chips, fresh pasta, and frozen veggies that you can scoop into your own container. I want to do it right and have Scoop be the only store that, my family and my customers, shop. Maybe we could have a very small indoor farmers market, vendors rotating through, a platform for local makers or even food trucks. I'm ready for that to happen.
Is there anything else that you want to make sure gets told about your story?
Yes, there is. It's become really important to me over the last year to show other moms that they can have a business and still live their life the way that they want to. There are big expectations for female entrepreneurs - we have to be everything…a super mom and a super businesswoman. At the same time, we are expected to choose: family or profession.
I met with someone at the SBA, when I was very early on, who told me that I chose to prioritize my family, my business would never succeed. And, they were a woman. I cried about that experience for probably three days. I've said from the beginning, if having a business requires me to not be present at home, I will stop doing it. I kept looking at other role models and could only see how much they were working and sacrificing and I felt that, if I didn’t do the same thing, then I didn’t deserve to own a business.
But that has changed. I've managed to change that story in my head and allow myself to believe that I am trailblazer: I am deciding how my business is going to be run and how I am present with my family.
So, that’s what I want to share – I want to make sure that other moms know that they can do something like this without having to sacrifice motherhood to do it. We can do it differently.
Hey, Seattle, here's how you can help: