When it comes to coffee or tea, “a freshly brewed cup in the morning can change the course of your day,” emphasizes INI Sips Co-Founder Davina Ismail. And, a good cup is a must-have for many of us, whether we’re remote workers or first responders.
Davina and Co-Founder Gulaid Ismail found this especially true when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and they recognized the benefit of using curbside service to continue offering hot beverages. With its location next to City Hall, the INI Sips café had brought in many city workers, including the police and fire departments.
“With Gulaid being an essential worker, we recognized firsthand the sacrifices many others in our community were dealing with during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 quarantine. We wanted to give essential workers, first responders, and other community heroes that moment of peace in the morning before heading out to work,” says Davina.
The concept of community has always been a driving force for INI Sips, which intentionally opened a café with community tables that encouraged visitors to “enter as strangers and leave as friends,” notes Davina. When COVID-19 forced most businesses to close, INI Sips continued to offer curbside service for packaged goods but Davina and Gulaid knew they needed to build on their online presence to keep the business afloat.
They increased their efforts and the effect was good. INI Sips expanded sales from out of state; however, the local focus shifted and INI Sips wanted to a way to reconnect with the community.
INI Sips decided to launch a Buy Two Donate One program where, when customers buy two 12-oz coffee bags for $22, INI Sips donates a 12-oz bag to first responders, healthcare workers, or community workers.
“COVID-19 moved forward plans for many different businesses, including ours,” admits Davina. “We always knew we would have a giving element to our business, but we didn’t know exactly what it would be. We also recognized how helpless everyone felt and wanted to give our community, friends, and followers a chance to be a part of something,” she explains.
“I think we all wanted—and want—to feel like we’re making a small difference in the world. Donating coffee while drinking coffee seemed like a straightforward way to get people involved,” says Davina.
“INI Sips is an inspiring example of the interconnectedness of small businesses and their communities—and how they can grow and thrive together,” seedership Co-Founder Jennifer Smithberger affirms. “Their Buy Two Donate One program has enabled the business to attract new customers during unprecedented times while creating an opportunity for people to give back and help those keeping us safe and healthy.”
With a simple plan to “build it and (hope) they will come,” the Ismails moved forward with their Buy Two Donate One concept, figuring they’d test the waters and see how it evolved. The concept quickly resonated with customers, who were eager to give back to hardworking members of their community.
“The program launched in what we thought was an uneventful way,” Davina admits. “We thought of the idea and put it out there. Of course, we had to determine the numbers and if we could really pull it off.”
Cost was obviously a factor, and something the Ismails thought about carefully.
“We had to ensure that—even with a donation of one bag—we were still able to absorb the cost of that one donated unit. The obvious thought is: Donating anything cuts into your profit margins. And yes, it does. However, you must consider whether the impact you can make on your community outweighs the difference between your retail costs and your cost of goods,” explains Davina.
“For us, it made sense to go forward with the program until the quarantine was over. And, the program brought us back to the community. It was a way to reconnect our business to the community in a unique way we felt great about,” Davina adds. “If other businesses were to consider doing community donations, we would undoubtedly encourage it.”
Even before the pandemic, INI Sips knew small things make a big difference with customers, whether it’s taking the time to include a journal entry with each shipped purchase, recognizing other local small business owners—and supporters of small businesses—via their social media, or simply saying thank you.
“Dropping off coffee to those who, in some cases, are separated from their families due to work shows that someone out there is thinking of them. It’s a reminder that, whatever a businesses’ product or service, someone directly in their community can benefit from it,” says Davina.
“Researching organizations within the community to receive donations has been a lot of fun, too,” she adds. “We’ve received recommendations from customers who nominate non-profits, first responders, and nurses to receive coffee.”
What’s more, Davina notes that customers are so excited about the Buy Two Donate One program, some have been donating additional funding for coffee to go to essential workers.
“Together, INI Sips and their customers are spreading kindness for those on the frontlines of COVID-19. It’s a simple gesture but it helps them know their community appreciates them,” acknowledges Jennifer.
The feel-good effect of doing good caught on. INI Sips’ customers were quick to share about program, reinforcing how making a difference in their community— and sharing about doing good—does good.
“Word of mouth customers bring a completely different vibe to the business,” she underscores. “Many customers have spread the word about our business and our program and changed us from a local business to a national business.”
Davina estimates INI Sips has donated about 150 lbs. of coffee “all because of our amazing customers.”
The customer appreciation doesn’t go unnoticed. INI Sips continually recognizes their customers and community—and the feelings are mutual.
“Not only is INI Sips’ organic coffee amazing, but their community impact is second-to-none locally,” says Annisa Teich, Co-Owner of West Hartford Coworking and Founder of The Small Business Collective.
“It has been incredibly rewarding to see the recipients of our purchase. We thought about the first responders who were enjoying a cup alongside us—but from afar. It’s an awesome feeling and a way to truly keep our community connected during these challenging times—and beyond,” adds Annisa.
The Ismails experienced a profound sense of joy in giving back and plan to continue the program indefinitely. Giving back has not only become a part of what INI Sips stands for as a business, it has brought in new customers and reinforced the company’s brand and place in the community.
“There may be times where the donations will be distributed to different types of organizations throughout the community, such as teachers or veterans,” Davina explains.
Learning to acclimate to the changing business environment and sharing about doing good helped drive growth for the business, which launched in August 2019.
“We often feel like we’re continually in a startup phase; however, we pride ourselves in being able to adapt and pivot,” says Davina. “It’s not something we thought we would have to do but, the changes we have had to make have changed our business forever.”