There wasn’t a single, sudden moment when Paula Masters, the chief executive officer of the Coppell-based bean bag company Fatboy USA, and her staff realized the effect that the coronavirus outbreak could have on a business.
“It slowly set in that there would be a change,” Masters says.
Masters says she first heard about the pending outbreak in January. So she kept one eye on the news and the other on her business on areas such as expenses and employee safety to guide her decisions.
That’s when she and her team started noticing the effect on their sales line, and they quickly realized it was going to be far more devastating than they originally thought.
“That’s when it really got real,” Masters says.
At that time in March, Texas had seen a 1.2 percent increase in its unemployment rate, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly a month later, unemployment claims nationwide climbed to 12.4 percent, making it the “highest level of the seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate in the history of the seasonally adjusted series,” the U.S. Department of Labor reported.
A month later, unemployment climbed to 14.7 percent, the largest over-the-month increase in the 72-year history of collecting the data.
Fatboy USA’s sales started showing a similar erratic pattern with a sharp drop in purchases in early March followed by a steep increase as unemployment rose and the shelter-in-place and work from home orders went into effect in places like Dallas, McKinney, and Plano. “As people started getting furloughed and the work from home orders came in, I think people went, ‘Wow, I need to set up an office at home and have a place for the kids to play,” Masters says of the steep increase.
Masters has been the CEO of Fatboy USA for the last 13 years when the global brand from the Netherlands tapped her to lead its first American brand for its furniture line. Masters worked in the apparel industry for her entire career before she joined Fatboy USA. She previously worked with the extreme fashion brand Gadzooks in the late ’90s at a time when the company’s sales were “really struggling” thanks to changes like the rise of e-commerce and customers’ purchasing patterns.
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The challenges that Masters faced during her tenure with both companies may have come from different circumstances but she says the goals are still the same.
“One of our core values has been about our customers and people and that enduring value continues to guide us,” she says. “My main concern was safety and the well being of our team members.”
Fatboy sells indoor and outdoor furniture for every part of the house from the living room to the swimming pool with items like designer bean bag chairs. Most of the company’s orders and purchases were already conducted through e-commerce channels as opposed to brick-and-mortar retail stories. They shipped FedEx instead of the U.S. Postal Service. Masters says the disruption of production and deliveries to customers hasn’t been too noticeable since COVID-19 hit.
“Production stayed the same but we just have two shifts, which we’ve never done before,” Masters says.
The biggest challenge was finding new ways to market products by offering assistance to customers who are sheltering in place and having to set up home offices for the first time in a while. “One of the things we’ve had to be mindful of is what we’re communicating and how we’re communicating,” she says. “Outside of that structure, we’ve been focused on digital and online shopping and have the infrastructure built to support that.”
Masters says their newest marketing campaigns are focused on calming customers during these uncertain times like how they can “relax at home,” even in a home office.
The changes have even inspired Fatboy USA’s staff to help shape its new messaging.
“Since the pandemic started or became increasingly more important meaning we knew it was going to impact people’s lives, we sent out a newsletter every week,” Masters says. “Internally, there’s been a lot of changes. We’ve had people coming out of their shells and being a little more creative, people who haven’t been involved in marketing.
“I’ve said it’s not going to be easy and we’re all going to work together and get through this and if anyone has any ideas, just bring it to me and more people started bringing ideas to the table,” she says. “It’s really inspired my time to think outside the box and we’re going to see that continue.”
Masters says she hopes her company’s changes will have an affect on much more than just its bottom line.
“We want to make everything we’re designing and offering to customers is that it makes you smile,” Masters says. “I believe we’re all going to come away from this with more grace and gratitude.”