COVID-19

Farmgirl Flowers CEO on how the PPP “failed” businesses like hers

Kai Ryssdal and Maria Hollenhorst Apr 27, 2020
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Farmgirl Flowers CEO Christina Stembel at one of the company's California distribution centers. Courtesy of Farmgirl Flowers
COVID-19

Farmgirl Flowers CEO on how the PPP “failed” businesses like hers

Kai Ryssdal and Maria Hollenhorst Apr 27, 2020
Farmgirl Flowers CEO Christina Stembel at one of the company's California distribution centers. Courtesy of Farmgirl Flowers
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Amid public outcry and urging by the Small Business Administration, some companies that received funding in the first round of Paycheck Protection Program loans — including Shake Shack, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Potbelly Sandwich Shop — have agreed to return the money. 

Meanwhile, a lot of smaller companies who missed out on loans in the first round are still seeking aid. 

Christina Stembel is CEO and founder of a direct-to-consumer flower company called Farmgirl Flowers. She told “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal that the Paycheck Protection Program “failed” companies like hers by not preventing companies that had other sources of funding from getting loans. 

“I think it’s failing all the way around,” she said. Not only did the government fail to prevent companies who may not have needed it from getting loans, “it also was a failing on the part of CEOs that didn’t have enough integrity to know that this was not set up for them,” she said.

Stembel told Ryssdal that Farmgirl Flowers only had eight weeks of runway when San Francisco (where the company fulfills 85% to 90% of its orders) issued a shelter-in-place order.

“With only 12 hours to shut down a whole facility, you know, we had to throw out $150,000 worth of flowers, we had to furlough almost 200 people, and then I had to figure out very quickly how to pivot,” she said. 

For Stembel, that’s meant scrambling to open new distribution and fulfillment centers outside of San Francisco to keep the company operating ahead of its most important holiday of the year — Mother’s Day.

“This holiday gets us through the very slow summer months,” she said. “Especially since we didn’t get the PPP loan, we don’t have any safety net whatsoever.”

In a video message posted to the company’s YouTube and Instagram accounts, Stembel detailed why bootstrapped e-commerce businesses like hers often don’t have close relationships with banks. That may have made it harder for them to get a PPP loan initially as banks prioritized current customers.  

If Farmgirl Flowers does not get funding from the Small Business Administration, Stembel told Ryssdal she’s hoping she’ll be creative enough to find another way through. 

But like so many businesses, her company’s success and survival also depends on the health of the broader economy.

“I’m probably on my 18th pivot by now,” she said. “But, you know, I don’t know what type of recession we may be going into, and there’s so much out of my control that I can’t plan for because I don’t know what it is.” 

Click the audio player above to hear the interview. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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