Reflections on Five Years in a COVID World

In May of 2015 the original owners of TerraLoco approached me and asked if I would be interested in purchasing the store. With little hesitation, I figured out a way to make it happen. I could finally take action on my dreams, and no one could stop me.

During the first two years I learned many valuable lessons, such as “Don’t take checks from out-of-towners for $1200” and “Always follow up on marketing opportunities that you paid for.” I made a lot of mistakes, but over the years, I’ve come to rely on a few key phrases/mottos that guide my entrepreneurial spirit.

1) Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk OR You Can’t Change the Past (otherwise known as “Let it Go”)

2) Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way OR Make it Happen; and

3) Keep Moving Forward

“Let it Go” is probably the most important lesson, followed by “Keep Moving Forward” – as those two concepts go hand in hand.

When I (against my better judgment) took the check for $1200 and it bounced, we tried to contact the check-writer and the bank. We did what we could, but at a certain point, I had to let it go. There was no point in getting upset over it or beating myself up over it. Those $1200 were gone, and I wasn’t getting it back. The only thing I could do is “Keep Moving Forward” – which meant: changing our check policy.

As a business owner, I quickly learned that if I stressed over every missed opportunity or mistake, not only was I going to burn out in spectacular fashion, but I’d never be able to grow past those mistakes.

I also quickly learned that owning a business is much, much harder than most entrepreneurs make it look. Perhaps they, like me, had learned how to let things go and focus on the future. Most entrepreneurs are positive people – if they weren’t, no one would ever do it!

“Make it Happen” has always been one of my strengths… And this is a strength that you can see in almost all entrepreneurs as well. We work with what we have, because we know that we can’t rely on what may or may not happen in the future.

“Make it Happen” was how I came to own TerraLoco in the first place. I didn’t have the money to buy the store, but I found a way (granted, I now realize that the way I found maybe wasn’t the best financial decision, but again, live and learn!).

Over the past five years, I have strived to focus on the “Keep Moving Forward” piece. What is next for TerraLoco, I kept asking myself. What are we not providing for our community? How can we better serve Rochester? What needs are we missing? How can we improve customer service and the in-store experience?

Owner Tiffany in a Pre-COVID Time

Looking back, I should have seen the writing on the wall. In February we knew there was an outbreak of this new virus, but I never imagined that it would affect the entire country the way it has. We carried on as normal – I kept my mind focused on a new space, we planned for big spring and summer events, and I was looking forward to my five-year anniversary of owning the store.

Luckily, in early March I had the foresight to cancel orders and postpone Ladies Night. At that point, I knew things could change rapidly, and I wanted to get myself into the best position to navigate this potential crisis. (Unfortunately it was too late to cancel some of our spring orders that had already arrived in mid-February, and too late to cancel our track & field spike orders – which ended up costing us in the long run since the few spikes we did sell ended up being returned in May).

But, using my three mantras, I focused on what I could change, instead of focusing on what we couldn’t. The product was already here – I needed to sell it. When we closed the store to the public, the obvious solution was mystery grab bags, live videos, and in-town delivery.

I contribute our survival to our quick response in mid-March. So many stores around the country shut down for days or even weeks. We shut down for one day, and then re-focused our efforts. What COULD we do? Then, we just DID IT.

Maybe it wasn’t pretty, maybe we didn’t actually make any profit, but we survived.

And we KEPT MOVING FORWARD.

Five years ago, when I took over the store, I knew it was going to be difficult. I knew there would be situations that I wouldn’t know how to handle. I knew it was going to be a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of hours in the store. But I never could have imagined a global health crisis that shut down the entire economy and forced us to close our doors.

Line Drawing by Tiffany (done during Quarantine)

So what’s next? How do we move forward from here? How do you grow when the economy is shrinking? How do you move on from a crisis that no one could have predicted, and that no one knows what will happen next?

Moving forward may not technically be possible right now, but that doesn’t put my dreams on hold.

Every vision that I have for TerraLoco’s future includes a community element and a charitable element. How could it not?

I have been so blessed to call Rochester my home, to have been supported by incredible teachers at Century High School and Winona State University, to have been carried (sometimes quite literally) by friends and family during my darkest moments, to have been supported by customers who have a choice as to where to spend their money (but they gladly spend it at TerraLoco), and through all of that, I have also seen the beauty of community.. of people coming together to support local non-profits through our $5 5K program, people volunteeringtheir time to lead and grow our run groups, people stepping up everywhere, every day, to show that they care about more than themselves…

This rich history of selflessness in our community gives me hope for the future.

While the world is full of anger and mistrust and selfishness right now, I KNOW that we can get through this and that a better future is in store for ALL of us, because I’ve seen it happen first-hand.

I have seen a woman who just started running, win a training package at one of our events and not only become the fiercest runner I’ve ever seen, but also become a loyal ambassador and then a valuable staff member. I have seen people lose weight through running, gain it back after an injury, and keep running despite it all, focusing on what their body can do, not what their body can’t do. I have seen runners’ groups rally around injured and ailing members, literally carrying their fallen comrade back to the car. I have seen runners stop, mid-race, risking their own PRs to provide life-savingCPR to a fellow runner. I have seen running heal the soul and help manage anxiety and depression. A few weeks ago, a customer bought gift cards and left them at the store, just because he wanted to support us.

These people prove to me that it’s not about what YOU can do for ME, but what I (TerraLoco) can do for YOU (our community).

So my long-term plan, though it may be on hold for the time being, still includes a community space for runners and walkers alike, a place to hold community meetings, a small gym and locker room for those that can’t afford the high-end fitness facilities, access to physical therapy and personal training and nutritional services …. a place to call HOME. My long-term plan includes more $5 5Ks, more opportunities for giving back, and long-term partnerships with organizations like The Landing and Bolder Options and Project Legacy.

But I know I can’t do this alone. That’s why I’ve surrounded myself with capable and incredible co-workers, and why I rely on your support to make our community efforts possible.

As the future unfolds, we know there will be more needs in our community, and I want to help fulfill them. We’re working on a plan (for example) to support The Landing’s need for footwear on a more consistent basis. We’re working on a plan to create a more inclusive running space in Rochester. And I’m still looking for a new place to call HOME because I know this can’t last forever.

In my wildest dreams I could never have imagined that I’d be celebrating my five-year anniversary this way, masked and social distanced. But I hold my mantras firmly – we keep moving forward, despite the pandemic, despite the economic downturn, despite the waves of uncertainty that wash over us every other week.

In the end, I guess if this grand experiment fails, I know that I’ve done my best and I will know that every single second, every pinched penny, every sleepless night, every heart ache, will be well worth it, if I’ve been able to make a difference in someone’s life. That’s all I can ask.

And that’s all I’m hoping for from you as well – help me make a difference in our community.

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