While COVID-19 is altering nearly every aspect of life, small businesses are being hit especially hard. These changes are forcing business owners to adjust, but their uplifting stories of perseverance and creativity are showing what Iowans are capable of in difficult times.
Little Woods Herbal founders, Kristin Roach and Jason Shaw, have exuded resiliency and innovation both in the face of the pandemic and ever since they started the business back in 2013.
Roach’s passion for tea first sparked in 2011 when she did a yearlong apprenticeship with a certified herbalist out of Cedar Rapids, inspiring her to delve deeper into the world of herbalism. Her fascination grew stronger when she and her husband had a tea-centric experience while studying abroad and began dreaming of the day when they could retire and start a little tea shop in Ames.
With the encouragement and support of their friends and family, their “retirement plan” quickly turned into something on which they would take a leap of faith. In 2013, they decided to start selling bulk herbs online through eBay and Etsy before creating the Little Woods Herbal website. Two years later they began attending the Ames Farmers’ Market and any indie craft fair within 70 miles to get the word out, which Roach states was a turning point for their business.
“It’s been wild since we started, but the Ames Farmers’ Market was truly our launching pad and kind of served as our business incubator,” said Roach. “We didn’t think there was an interest for a tea shop or Apothecary Tea Bar in Ames, but our community proved us wrong and we’ve been amazed by their support ever since.”
Because of the support at the Ames Farmers’ Market, in 2016, Roach and Shaw opened their own brick and mortar store on Main Street with more than 450 culinary herbs and spices, loose-leaf teas and medicinal herbs. Roach said her favorite part of the business has been getting to interact with her customers and guide them through their journey with tea and herbalism.
“The one-to-one connection with our customers allows us to share our back story and passion, helping them understand why we created this business, which was simply to fulfill the niche and allow herbalists to explore their passion, take charge of their health and wellness for their family and bridge the gap for them,” Roach said.
Though they had to temporarily shut their doors due to the pandemic, that hasn’t stopped Roach from interacting with and serving her loyal customers.
They began focusing their efforts on online orders and immediately started offering free local delivery and curbside pickup. In celebration of their four-year anniversary, they held a virtual tea class and sold a brew-along tea party in a box, complete with snacks from the shop and the tea they would brew in the class. They expected 10 people to purchase the tea party in a box and attend the online tea party, but they were overwhelmed and elated when more than 75 people attended. The event brought a variety of people and tea-lovers together from across the country, including a family of five who each live in a different state.
Following the online tea party success, they held online mixology workshops and apothecary workshops, allowing them to connect with long-time customers or reunite with past customers who moved away from Ames but miss coming to the shop.
With their doors reopened, they’ve started offering no-contact pickup, requiring face masks and providing hand sanitizer to customers. Through the many challenges in the past few months, Roach said they’re excited just to be able to see their customers again.
“We are so thankful for our customers’ patience and kindness as we figured everything out along the way,” said Roach. “Every business has a unique set of circumstances, especially small businesses like us, so for Iowans to continue supporting them with grace and patience is so important and appreciated. We’re all in this together, and we’re excited to be reopened and serve our customers again.”