Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
Two lines of cars, at times numbering in the dozens, rolled briskly past Blade & Timber’s Town Center location Tuesday — each driver eagerly awaiting a bottle of highly-sought-after Rieger’s Remedy Hand Sanitizer.
“We were serving a customer every 10.8 seconds through our distribution,” said Matt Baysinger, co-founder of Blade & Timber, describing the controlled operation with nearly zero personal contact amid spreading concerns over Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Displaced from their day-to-day roles at Blade & Timber — Kansas City’s first and premier axe-throwing venue — the crew has temporarily pivoted: now acting as the consumer-facing distribution network for J. Rieger’s new limited line of hand sanitizer.
Click here to learn more about J. Rieger’s effort to meet growing needs for the product.
Just days ago, the popular Kansas City distillery shifted its entire production to the cleaning agent amid surging demand, Baysinger said. And while priority is given to hospitals, other medical facilities, and government agencies with workers who must continue interacting with people face-to-face, J. Rieger wanted to also offer the product to the public.
“I’ve been close with Andy [Rieger] for four or five years,” Baysinger said. “We both kind of started our businesses around the same time and, in short, I said, ‘Hey, Andy, we’re great at setting appointments with customers and creating efficiencies and processes — and we don’t have a whole lot to do right now. Would you let us take this burden off your chest?’”
Rieger agreed. And customers started lining up.
Here’s how it works: Potential buyers sign up online to receive notifications of when a limited number of products become available. Once the hand sanitizer is in Blade & Timber’s hands, presales begin online and customers can schedule a 30-minute pickup slot outside the Leawood axe-throwing location. With a digital receipt, they can expect to receive the hand sanitizer about 30 seconds after checking in, Baysinger said.
But presales go fast. An entire stock of 500 bottles sold out in 27 minutes.
Click here to signup for availability updates from Blade & Timber.
“It’s basically contactless,” Baysinger said. “That’s the way to keep customers safe, keep our staff safe, but also make sure that we have a really clean, safe, fast distribution channel.”
Partnering with J. Rieger was an opportunity the Blade & Timber team couldn’t let slip through its fingers, Baysinger said.
“The nitty gritty details aside, it’s just been so fun to get to serve people and keep our business alive,” he said. “This is helping us keep at least a trickle of an income, and make sure that we can keep benefits and a couple folks on staff through this — you know, while we’re waiting for the world to reopen.”
Because of COVID-19, all of Blade & Timber’s locations — in addition to the interactive escape rooms at its sister concept Breakout KC — have been shuttered until entertainment businesses are allowed to resume, Baysinger said. A new mini-golf bar, Sinkers, planned for the Power & Light District, is still moving forward — pending the allowance of commercial construction, he said.
“Blade & Timber is entertainment, restaurant, bar — all of those things you can’t do right now,” he continued. “We’re a company that’s built on social nearness. So this social distancing thing right now is certainly a challenge for us.”
Click here to see why Blade & Timber/Swell Spark was named one of Startland News’ Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2018.
The partnership with J. Rieger is open-ended, Baysinger said, with the Blade & Timber team planning to continue distribution as new product becomes available.
“Like a lot of the world right now, we’re just taking it one day at a time,” he said. “We’re going to keep doing this until there’s either not a need to do it or there’s not an ability to do so. … We’re working really closely with J. Rieger to see how else we can help. We’ve been over there helping put labels on bottles and things like that as they get their feet under them and are able to get some of these big orders done. And as these hospitals prepare, we’re hoping there’s going to be more product available for the general public.”
Baysinger has been impressed overall with Kansas City entrepreneurs’ ability to pivot and embrace change amid the COVID-19 disruptions, he said.
“Small businesses in general are usually pretty well set up to adapt and maneuver quickly,” Baysinger said. “So it’s been pretty cool to see how malleable a lot of this has ended up being as people try to keep serving customers and fulfilling their needs.”
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Over the last week and a half, we acquired more than 8,000 gallons of ethanol. We used this to produce more than 10,500 gallons of hand sanitizer for Kansas City. This is not the business we ever wanted to be in, but it’s the business we need to be in right now not only for the safety of our community, but for job security for our staff. 52 people remain full-time on our payroll, despite our distillery losing nearly all of our normal sources of revenue basically over night. We’ve donated more than 4,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to those most in need in our community in less than 10 days. We are fighting for our business, and for our staff who we consider to all be our family, and to make a difference where we can during these times. And don’t worry- we are still distilling whiskey 5 days a week because we intend to be here in 5+ years when it’s ready to drink. As a reminder- @bladeandtimber is handling distribution of hand sanitizer for public purchase for now so we can focus on continuing to make product as fast as we can. While they do sell out of their daily allotment quickly, they are always getting more inventory so check their site frequently. Limit 1/ person. To order, visit: bladeandtimber.com/sanitizer If you order though Blade and Timber, you will pick up at Blade and Timber Our pals at @cavakc also have hand sanitizer available, along with to go wine! You can find more info here: http://www.cavakc.com/products If you are a medical professional, first responder or critical infrastructure business in need, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you order though us, you will pick up at the distillery. Thank you all for all of the support during the wildest week and a half of our lives. We are going to keep making sanitizer as long as there is a need. #osogood