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James Boicourt-Charm City Meadworks

An Interview with James Boicourt

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Owner

Charm City Meadworks | Baltimore, MD

Connect with James on LinkedIn

1. What are the goods/services offered by your primary business?

We make mead, an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey.

2. What did you launch in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

We collaborated with friends at Mount Royal Soap Company to make hand sanitizer large volume. Within a couple days after we started to work on this, the Mayor's office called and asked if we could make it, which was great because we were able to say, "heck, we already are making it, how much do you need."

3. What steps did you take to develop and promote your new initiative?

Mount Royal Soaps was making batches in 5-gallon buckets before we started this. In the last 8 weeks, we've used our existing credit and infrastructure to build 2 packaging lines capable of producing as much as 40,000 gallons a month capacity. The staffing and supply chain to support that production has been just as big of a challenge as engineering and installing all the equipment. Promoting it has been mostly word of mouth, as we've been working hard just building capacity. Baltimore City, local hospitals, and other community projects have helped support us as initial customers.

4. What or who inspired you to undertake this effort?

Our team. Austin Haynes, our sales manager (and previous production manager) suggested the idea. Almost immediately after we started moving production over to our space, the Mayor's office called to see if we could make some for city seniors. What initially seemed as the best method to keep our team intact without layoffs or major pay cuts has now turned into enough activity that we are hiring to keep up with demand. Every single person who has been part of Charm City's team has really risen to the challenge in ways I couldn't have imagined before this.

5. What results have you seen so far from this initiative?

We're growing and providing employment in a time when layoffs seemed imminent and the risk to our business seemed pretty serious. The hand sanitizer we're making is helping keep people safe and filling a community need that includes not only Baltimore City, including local hospitals, but even the local fire department in my hometown on the Eastern Shore.

6. How do you define success for your project?

I think if we can keep our team paid, intact, and ensure that both Charm City Meadworks, and Mount Royal Soap Co. have enough business to guarantee these same folks have a business that's healthy enough to survive into the future, that's the goal. To be able to do that, serve our community's needs, and actually employ more people in a time like this is pretty exceptional.

7. What are the biggest challenges for you to meet your goal?

Financing, heavy growth, building a new supply chain from scratch, engineering a new packaging line, learning how to make a new product, helping organize staff from two companies to deal with long hours, and numerous other challenges have all taken place in 8 weeks. I'm super high risk due to a pulmonary condition and my wife and I are expecting any day now, so all of my part in this has involved 12 hour days working from home. Good thing I bought a new computer and improved our internet right before all this...

8. How long do you anticipate continuing this effort?

It's hard to know exactly how long it will last, but we're figuring out new ways to grow every day. I think the most important thing is building new internal staffing structure to deal with the growth, so that our team can begin to relax a little after weeks 12 hour days on end.

9. What have you learned by undertaking this project?

The most important thing I've learned is just how strong and capable our team really is. We've spent years building this, and we're in our moment to shine. I'm taken aback at just how well they have risen to the challenge, and if we can get through this, we will be able to get through anything together.

10. How can others learn more about your COVID-19 response efforts?

If you have a chance to pivot and get some positive momentum at a time like this, it will be worth it for you, your employees, and everyone around you. What do you have to lose?