Lezlie Karls of Mid-Day Squares | Womxn Supporting Womxn In Food
What’s the status of your business? Did you have to pivot, go online, temporarily close?
In March, when COVID-19 first started to hit hard in Canada, a lot of businesses around us were being mandatorily shut down by the government for safety. As this news was coming out, some businesses, like food, we’re considered “essential” and Mid-Day Squares was able to stay open and produce.
At this same time, I had just gotten back from a sourcing trip in Peru. I managed to get home right before all borders closed but was forced into a mandatory quarantine given the situation. I was pretty sick while in Peru, so I took a test, which came out negative. During this 14 days of quarantine, my team kept showing up and that was hard for me. When they needed me most, I was not able to physically be there.
As I was home, I needed my team to understand that I may not be there now, but we were in it for the long haul, and that I would do everything and anything to keep them safe. Having my team safe was always #1 for me, and I wanted them to feel it too. As a business, the grocery division was down 60+% - this was a huge hit for us. Mid-Day Squares are a convenience product and something you enjoy on-the-go, and this part of grocery was really suffering as people found themselves shopping for the essentials, and their routines drastically changed. We knew that we needed to do everything in our power to make it through and support our team.
Jake, Nick and I sat down and decided to reallocate our budget to digital efforts and give our customers the best experience online, given our resources, and be able to get chocolate to your doorstep in a safe way.
Nick comes from the digital world and really understands it and brought on someone that can execute this strategy. We focused a lot of our energy on that. The reality is before COVID, we weren't really focused on online sales, as retail was fuelling us. Once the pandemic hit, we took a risk and shifted our resources to digital marketing. This allowed us to reach a larger target and refocus our efforts online. This gives us the opportunity to also control the message and information out there on the bars and the brand.
What’s been the hardest part of this pandemic for you?
From a personal aspect, the hard part was to accept it. At the begging of the pandemic, I battled with a lot of depression and sadness because our world was suffering. I don’t think this ever went away, but after a few weeks of feeling down, I knew I needed to push forward and accept the situation for what it was. I needed to live the best I could, given the circumstances, and stay focused.
I realized that at Mid-Day Squares we were fortunate to be able to stay open and continue operating and that for many other people, the circumstances were very different.
The toughest part at Mid-Day Squares was - and always is - surviving. We needed to continue to be out-of-the box thinkers as the grocery division was rebuilding. We couldn’t do so much of what we had previously done to grow the brand and brand awareness - demos, panels, events, etc. We needed to get people to engage in a different way, as many of our efforts from before had to come to a full stop.
From day one, my brother and partner Jake were dominant about showing everything and to share our story with whoever wanted to engage with the brand. The strategy and focus continues to be storytelling on our platform. COVID didn't change that, we actually took a step back, as it was a sensitive time and we wanted to be fully conscious of what others were going through and experiencing. It's all about being aware and reactionary on our platform. The retail decline did affect our retail sales but we accepted the situation, identified the problem and activated on the solution. The DTC (direct to consumer) was able to accelerate revenue and growth, and the risk we took was the right one for our business.
What can we as a community do for you?
If you like the brand and the product, engage with us. If you don’t, then don’t. We’ll respect you for it. The beauty about food is it’s subjective, it’s personal. There wouldn’t be a whole industry if we all had the same taste buds and liked the same things.
What advice would you give women?
Block out the noise, believe in yourself, and be okay with failing. Nike says it best “Just do it.”
What is your greatest hope right now?
My biggest hope is to inspire people around me. When I started this, I had no training in food and limited knowledge in this business. What I did have was a passion for a product, and a will to do it - at any cost. I really want to inspire everyone to be a trailblazer. Part of this is me believing that our company will be the greatest snacking company: the Nike of food.
I hope to build a legacy as a young woman about a woman’s meaning, worth and presence in this world. With MDS, I have taken on a role, trying to be an inspirational female CEO in the world we live in. I pride myself on trying to operate MDS with a value system that speaks heavily about equality. My hope is to inspire anyone to do whatever their calling is, to tackle it head on.
What are the 3 things keeping you sane?
1. Being in Nature: Going up to the country and enjoying simple things like fresh air, the bonfire, being in the lake. This has really helped reenergize me.
2. My Saturday morning coffee routine with Nick (My husband.) I make it a point to get up and go to my OG coffee spot, Cafe Mercanti on Monkland St. here in Montreal. Even though COVID has changed this routine a bit, I just love getting my coffee and the ritual around it. It’s something I look forward to doing every Saturday.
3. My business coach and therapist: This is a safe place for me to speak freely and understand myself and others around me more. Have hard conversations and grow.
What’s your favorite plant-based recipe?
We are committed to representing a much greater diversity of BIPOC womxn in this series and we are now asking every female food founder we feature to spotlight a BIPOC womxn from their network.
I get really inspired by artists, fashion and music so naturally I think of Cardi B. She is someone I freak for. She's a true trailblazer, she's unapologetically herself, grinded to get to where she is today and I respect that! She’s a fucking star!