Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Christie Lawler and I am the Founder & Owner of CJL CONSULTiNG, a niche marketing agency that serves the restaurant, hotel and entertainment chains across the U.S. I also am the Founder of our philanthropic arm – The WITI Group – a 501(c)(3) organization that aims to promote the future female leaders of our industry through mentorship as well as financial and emotional support when they find themselves in abusive or otherwise hostile work environments. Our foundation is more than 65 female volunteers strong across the country. We are all either founders or CEOs or sitting at the VP and Director level of our national/global organizations. To fund our foundation, I created and host the only non-profit, female-only, invitation-only conference in our business which we host annually on a working farm in the heart of Sonoma.
How has COVID affected your business?
The Coronavirus has decimated the hospitality industry and as a service provider, it has hit us hard as well. In just one week, our clients were all shuttered and we had to pivot our business model to stay afloat while we wait to come to other side of the crisis. I often joke that we are dealing in the currency of good will toward others as our sole revenue stream. That is not a stretch to describe our situation… in order to keep our team employed, we have collectively created six new lines of services and products while also sharpening our skill sets and adding new levels of expertise to the organization. I also asked the team to present their ideas that we could fund to turn them into a realistic revenue generator. It hasn’t been an easy road, but it has been so rewarding.
What have you done to help others during COVID?
As part of our outreach to help others, we have donated $12,000 in recent weeks to other philanthropic organizations that help our industry’s most vulnerable – the kitchen, bar and restaurant staff that have found themselves without income. But we knew we had to do more as a company with its ethos grounded in helping others.
As part of our efforts to use our business model as a positive change agent, we are offering free weekly educational webinars to support our industry as one of our ways to give back. We are also donating 10% of our sales from one of our products, Wake Up Wineto our foundation as an effort to fundraise through sales. As the North American Wholesaler for this wonderful innovation, we are able to help our industry by giving back and promoting a better guest experience. We have also pivoted our business to also serve the healthcare space by using our expertise in food and beverage to create customized, nutrition-focused and celebrity-chef curated recipes to serve both patients and caregivers. Even our podcast (Lawler Out Loud: Mixing up the Mainstream), features the varied and fascinating journeys that our industry leaders have taken in their career journeys. We use our podcast as a visibility platform for our company and our philanthropic arm, as well as for the people we interview and to promote new clients as a value-add for their companies. We also place a heavy focus on the positivity that leaders have found in overcoming troubling times. That was our format prior to COVID, but now we also add a focus on how our interviewees are handling this crisis.
What is next for your business?
Our company pillars are marketing, support and transparency. So we work every day to improve the lives of others and make a positive impact through our business and our personal lives. Our next step is to continue to grow to allow employment opportunities to others affected by COVID. We are also entering the final planning stages for our annual WITI Conference as we have to shift the plan for the event to make sure we keep safety top of mind. Luckily, all of our attendees and speakers are behind us wanting the conference to go on as planned. So I see a very bright future for my company as well as what we can do to help our industry return to profit.