In this series, we connect with a diverse group of small business owners across the country to hear their stories – from overcoming hardship to the achievements that have allowed them to grow. There is no doubt that this past year has been a challenging time for business owners, and through elevating their voices we aim to provide advice, support and inspiration for small businesses everywhere. More resources like our Community Business Directory can be found here.
Today we are speaking with Gulaid and Davina, owners of INI Sips.
INI Sips is a veteran and family-owned premium coffee and tea business that was started in 2019 by husband-and-wife team, Gulaid and Davina. The name INI Sips, comes from the first letter of our three children’s first names. Our kid’s love this and have even given themselves titles in the business.
Our business was born out of our love for coffee and tea and our desire to develop flavor profiles to share and enjoy with those around us. We began our journey by bringing our product to various farmer’s markets and fairs around Connecticut during the Fall of 2019, including the Berlin farmer’s market, Meriden farmer’s market and the Know Good Market in Hartford. We were lucky enough to gain repeat customers early on before even deciding to open a small coffee shop in New Britain, Connecticut in January 2020.
Once we made the decision to open the INI Sips Cafe, we wanted to make sure that it was a place that exemplified the idea of community and conversation. In our small space, we had two long tables that conveyed a family feel. We wanted people to chat with each other like neighbors do.
Pivoting During a Pandemic
Shortly after opening our shop, and two great months of small business meetings and community gatherings later, we unfortunately had to close due to the pandemic. We spent a few days determining how to best serve our customers safely during the indefinite time frame of the pandemic. We came up with a few ideas and began to implement them. With Gulaid working as an essential worker, we knew that we wanted to do something to help those individuals in the front line of the pandemic.
We implemented a plan to donate one bag of our USDA Certified Organic coffee for every two bags bought by customers on our website, INISIPS.COM, to first responders, essential healthcare workers and other community heroes. We believe the coffee donations resonated with our customers, because it was an opportunity for them to feel like they were doing something for others during a time when many of us felt helpless.
Over the remainder of 2020, and through early 2021, we donated over 350 pounds of coffee, over $3,500.00 worth. We owe the success this program to the commitment and involvement of our loyal customers both here in Connecticut and across the country. Donations went to Hartford Hospital, Midstate Hospital, The Hospital of Central Connecticut, New Britain Fire/Police/EMS, CMHA, Hunter Ambulance, and many more community heroes.
Our business continued to grow including an opportunity to sell our coffee in eight Big Y grocery stores and several family-owned small businesses around Connecticut. The pandemic showed us how integral community giving was to our success. Although the transition from being a coffee shop to an ecommerce location was an unexpected one, we welcomed the transition and the opportunities it brought.
We have now expanded our efforts to give back to include month-long projects benefiting various organizations helping the community. During the month of April 2021, our donations went to to Work Vessels for Veterans, an organization that provides equipment to service-disabled veteran entrepreneurs and in May 2021, Kits to Heart, an organization that provides cancer care kits to both cancer patients and their caregivers. Giving back to our local community will always be a part of INI Sips’ core values.
Partnering for Success
Our relationship with our local Staples store is extremely high in importance on the list of our day-to-day operations. Staples has been a part of our growth at every step. For us, and many other small businesses, buying office products and marketing supplies can be difficult. Mainly because many companies want small businesses to order in extremely large quantities, which can be challenging for smaller businesses. Staples makes it possible to order products easily and with a fast turnaround. We typically visit Staples four to six times a week to drop off UPS packages and order various supplies all in one spot.
Over the last year, we have ordered boxes, label printers, printer cartridges, envelopes, bubble wrap, signage for our stands at Big Y grocery stores, business cards and much more. One of the best parts is that the staff is helpful with accommodating quick turnarounds and custom orders.
Importance of Community
Support from our community has, and will continue to, positively impact our business in several ways. Most importantly, by allowing us to give back to those in our community who are leaders. The more support we receive from our community, by way of shopping and spreading the word about INI Sips and our efforts to help those around us, the more we can grow as a company and give back, which is our goal.
Advice for Business Owners
If we could give advice to any organization, both in our industry and otherwise, we would say that community should always be your starting point. You will be surprised how that sets you apart, and how rewarding it can be. Also, remember this lesson that 2020 gave us, “Always be ready for change”.