The simplest acts can create the biggest smiles. And, since the beginning of this COVID-19 shutdown, Westerlay Orchids has been doing everything it can to put a smile on the faces of those who need it most — frontline workers.
In mid-March, Westerlay Orchids partnered with two of the industries largest organizations, The Fresh Produce & Floral Council, and the Produce Marketing Association and began running the 100,000 Orchid Challenge.
“We haven’t worked with them as a company for quite some time, but on this particular project which was the 100,000 Orchid Challenge, we worked with them from pretty much the very beginning,” Director of Sales and Marketing for Westerlay Orchids, Jeffrey Karpman, said.
Mr. Karpman knew March 14, his birthday, was a celebration. But, in 2020, March 14 marked what he described as “D-day” as COVID hit and suddenly there was a major disruption with supply chains that Westerlay shipped too.
“We just thought we could take it on the chin and ride it out or we could turn lemons into lemonade,” Mr. Karpman said.
From that day forward, Westerlay began working with its partners and got things prepared to ship out orchids to frontline workers.
Not even a month later, on April 6, Westerlay successfully donated about 7,000 orchids to local Kaiser branches and to the Los Robles Medical Center in Thousand Oaks.
Since then, Westerlay has donated more than 92,000 orchids across the entire state of California from San Diego to San Francisco. According to Mr. Karpman, about 60,000 of those have been donated to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties.
And, as one could imagine, the recipients have been extremely grateful.
“I’ve listened to so many people who are crying over the phone and writing messages of hope and sincerity,” Mr. Karpman said.
“People are hurting, they’re struggling and it’s across all ethnicities and ages and demographics. People in general are just really going through a tough time right now, so just the small little impact that was unprovoked and sort of landed on their front door, that really was the scope of our project. To just do something good and make a sincere attempt to want them to be happy, and lift people’s spirits.”
Westerlay hopes to complete its 100,000 challenge by July 15, something that Mr. Karpman believes they will be able to accomplish.
“It’s been one of the more rewarding things of my whole professional career. I’ve been in the manufacturing and wholesale industry for over 20 years and I can’t think of a time that I’ve been more fulfilled by what I’ve done. I would do it over again in a heartbeat,” Mr. Karpman said.
Simultaneously to running the 100,000 Orchids Challenge, Westerlay was also running another challenge, this one for the local community to try to get or even give a smile.
Westerlay launched boxoforchids.com, where community members could go and ship a box of orchids to anyone in California or the four adjoining states and ship the flowers overnight.
“This is also an effort just to spread that feeling of giving to a larger audience and from having no e-commerce and no .com, we’ve shipped over 1,300 boxes of work to people in California, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona, and it’s been amazing,” Mr. Karpman said.
The idea was so successful, Westerlay has hired an e-commerce manager and the company will continue to offer the service for the foreseeable future.
The same goes for the donation of orchids to not only frontline workers but other people as well.
“This prompted us to even assign responsibilities within the office for donations in the future, so we’re going to carry this forward and make it part of our part of the Westerlay way,” Mr. Karpman said.
With the county opening back up, Westerlay Orchids has been one of the businesses allowed to reopen and has been able to recoup some of its losses.
Westerlay opened Mother’s Day weekend and has been doing well ever since.
“On the positive side, it’s been really good for the past four to five weeks and all the industry metrics and all the information from all of our peers are pretty much in line. I think people have a desire to return to a sense of normalcy. Even though you’re in your home and you’re sort of stuck there and people want things in their home that connect them to nature that adds something to their environment and there’s been many many studies about how house plants and flowers improve mental health productivity,” Mr. Karpman said.
“It also just improved the overall environment within the home. So I think the combination of just people wanting a sense of normalcy and also the positive impacts of what plants and flowers can have within their environment has really made a big difference.”
While the sales won’t quite hit 2019 numbers, Mr. Karpman said that Westerlay is happy for the support they have received since reopening and hope to continue providing going forward.
And, while making money is important, one of Westerlay’s biggest goals is to make sure no employee gets COVID-19 while working.
“Quite frankly that’s number one. We have massive safety protocols. We have PPE standards that are required for staff and also any guests that are joining the property, whether its logistics people or retail store attendees so it really is our top priority,” Mr. Karpman said.
It also makes sense that a company that wanted to put smiles on the faces of frontline workers and community members when it was in a tough moment, would also want to put those same smiles on it’s workers.
“The vast majority of all our initiatives are based around the health and wellness of our employees because we really feel that if you take care of our employees and we make sure that they have a safe environment where they can be productive,” Mr. Karpman said.
“We care about our employees and we know that just by us doing our jobs, we’re going to be successful, and we’re going to get out of this.”