Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pullman’s Palouse Brand has seen a sharp uptick in online sales of its agricultural products, necessitating dozens of new hires. Employees have been working around the clock to fill and ship orders across the United States.
“Some of our products experienced 4,000-percent growth in a week. We had to pivot very quickly,” says Sara Mader (’00 Busi.), co-owner of the family business. She’s the wife of fourth-generation Mader family farmer, Kevin Mader (’00 Ag. Tech. & Mgmt.), and manager of consumer product sales as well as the company’s Palouse facility. Of their approximately 80 employees, about half have been hired in the wake of the novel coronavirus and its impact on their brand.
“Our largest month of sales ever—we were doing that in a day,” says Mader, who makes a point to hire WSU alumni and students as well as single mothers and women in the community who need financial stability, such as those who recently lost jobs due to the lockdown.
For Palouse Brand, the spike in online sales during the pandemic has meant increased brand awareness, thousands of new customers—and packaging problems.
“We didn’t have enough bags,” Mader says. “For a while, we couldn’t supply Amazon warehouses. We would send (what was normally) six weeks’ worth of inventory, and it would last four hours. For us, this is a total change in how we operate.”
Palouse Brand has grown field-traced, non-GMO garbanzo beans, split peas, lentils, and wheat berries with direct-seeding and no-till since 1982. Since the start of the pandemic, they started shipping directly to customers and added in-person pick-up in Pullman for local customers. “We had to put our export side off completely for months. We were that back-logged,” says Mader, noting their children—ages 5, 9, and 10—helped out in the pinch. “The 5-year-old was putting shipping labels on people’s packages. The 9-year-old was labeling the back of bags. The 10-year-old was filling orders.”
They sound like future Cougs. “Oh, for sure,” Mader says.