Thousands of small businesses across the country have entered a time of unprecedented uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A true test of resilience and perseverance, many of these said small businesses have been forced to adapt to this new reality, and Melanie Fernandez is no exception.
When Melanie first started House of Lilac, a flower company, she never imagined her business would grow into what it is today. Melanie, a Cuban American lawyer from Miami, FL, who was less than thrilled with her job as an attorney, was also experiencing the stress that came along with planning her wedding. Eager to source someone who could assist in the design of her wedding-day menu, she had a hard time finding the perfect match. Ultimately, she decided to take matters into her own hands, thus sparking the idea for a new business. After purchasing all the creative tools necessary and teaching herself how to make the invitations, she left the familiarity of her job as an attorney and focused her energy on developing her own venture.
Initially, Melanie focused on the paper goods side of the business, and soon expanded the offerings into the curation of unique special occasion gifts, and thus the House of Lilac brand was born. In recent years, the company has continued evolving to now include curated floral designs, actively producing beautiful, affordable arrangements for a variety of clients.
Like many small business owners, while building the branding and product lines at House of Lilac, she also found herself exploring different technology platforms that would support her growth and operation. The business needed to run as efficiently as possible to allow production of orders, effective and gracious customer service and communication to ensure repeat transactions. Communication between the team was lacking and messages were falling between the cracks. In order to profit and grow her business, Melanie needed to take her company from handwritten notes to a digital platform, and after testing several programs, Microsoft was where she found the perfect combination of peace and functionality.
“Using Microsoft technology has allowed us to further expand our business and increase the value of our work. Outlook and Teams have changed everything for me. I’m able to manage both sides of my business in one place,” explains Melanie.
House of Lilac uses Microsoft Office 365 – specifically Excel, Word, Outlook and Teams – to consolidate everything under one application. Using Office 365 has organized the company, reduced costs, increased efficiency and productivity. “Microsoft is exactly what I personally needed to feel comfortable leaving my team to work on their own,” she explained.
In the face of complete uncertainty, House of Lilac’s digital transformation was the pivotal factor that propelled the company’s ability to adapt and act swiftly in the new reality we live in as a result to COVID-19. From their outset, unlike the norm, the company invested in their digital presence as a flower retailer and the payoff shows.
Having to temporarily close the retail side’s storefront, they are now relying on eCommerce to ride them through the storm. Through this channel, they have been able to keep its “virtual” doors open at a time when most of the country has been staying home. They’ve even expanded offerings to include more shippable products, dried florals and quarantine care packages with contact free delivery and pick up options as well.
The flower house, in many ways, had the structure in place to work remotely thanks to being set up on Microsoft Teams. In this new reality, organization, communication and collaboration are more important than ever, and Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Outlook have made that possible for Melanie and her team.
According to the Microsoft Work Trend Index Report, dated April 2020, Microsoft Teams saw a growth of 1000 percent in March for video calls. And more recently, a new record of 4.1 billion meeting minutes in a single day was set, rising from 900 million on March 16.
In addition, people are turning on video in Teams meetings two times more than before many began working from home full-time, growing video calls by over 1,000 percent in the month of March.
Technology has also helped Melanie connect with her following on social media since starting her business, by being open and vulnerable about what was going on in her personal life as she struggled opening her business and raising her children, which appealed to her audience. Her women followers were captivated by what she had to say as a mother running a business and started attracting more women with questions.
“Throughout the past few years of my life I chose not to be hard on myself. I asked, ‘What if we started this space for women to gather and discuss how they feel?’, which evolved into establishing a membership club where women receive weekly emails empowering them in some way.”
Through what is now known as the Flower Club, Melanie has successfully taken her company beyond creative design and florals to host a community that brings women together. Particularly valuable during these difficult times. Microsoft has become indispensable in the development and management of the Flower Club and House of Lilac. Whether it’s assigning tasks, brainstorming on chat or planning and reviewing content, Microsoft Teams allows her to manage any side of the business and collaborate with her team.
Melanie’s advice to her fellow Latinx business owners in this current reality is to use it to strengthen their business. “Figure out what it is about your business that isn’t working and what they’re not happy doing! If this happened again, could your business survive it? Build and tweak your business so that it can withstand times like these.”
She also explains that it is important to focus on the things that make you happy. “As business owners, we get caught in the mundane everyday hustle of revenue, and profit, and other boring financial terms, and we lose focus on the reason why we started the business in the first place. So, it’s this delicate dance between building a sustainable business that is strong and resilient, and one that you love.”
Melanie’s resilience and work ethic has shined through during this global pandemic and her ability to thrive even in the most challenging of circumstances should give hope to those in a similar situation. Her ability to pivot as an entrepreneur has allowed her to make the best of the current situation and get her company through these incredibly difficult times.
For more information about House of Lilac, visit www.houseoflilac.com.