As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Christie Lawler. Christie Lawler is the Founder and Owner of CJL CONSULTiNG*, a niche marketing agency specializing in national restaurant and “eatertainment” chains by focusing on their beverage marketing strategies and training programs. CJL CONSULTiNG’s clients include Alamo Drafthouse, American Social, Arcis Golf, Drive Shack and Flagship Restaurant Group. Christie is also the host of Lawler Out Loud: Mixing up the Mainstream — a weekly podcast featuring trendsetters and newsmakers around the hospitality industry. *
Over the course of her career, Christie’s consulting clients have included HMSHost, Consolidated Restaurant Operations, Darden Restaurants, Outback Steakhouse and House of Blues. She also spent seven years serving as the National Accounts Manager for both Sidney Frank Importing Company and Lavazza. After managing more than 200 accounts across the U.S., she was excited to bring her knowledge of the sales side full circle to help her company’s clients drive their beverage strategy forward. Before entering the world of sales, Christie worked as a newspaper reporter and went on to create the marketing office for MWR Europe covering Southern Germany while stationed overseas with her active-duty husband. In 2018, Christie developed the charitable side of her career founding The WITI Group, a 501(c)(3) foundation focused on empowering and supporting the women of the hospitality industry. She is also proud to serve as a CORE Ambassador as well as an advisory board member for “The Bar” with Datassential. CJL CONSULTiNG is WBENC Certified as a Woman-Owned Small Business. Christie also travels the U.S. for her speaking engagements covering marketing, branding, sales strategy and cultural development topics and is currently writing her first book.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I got my first taste of beverage marketing back in 2004 and was completely hooked. I had grown up in the restaurant and hotel business and the industry had my heart. I fell in love with the people and the work and decided that this was the career path for me. I started my company in 2009 while finishing my MBA, but didn’t fully engage in the business until I had seasoned myself on the sales side of our industry.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I am constantly laughing at myself and the mistakes I make. Although I have had many moments of absolute hilarity from those errors… my biggest mistake wasn’t necessarily funny, but it taught me so much that it was the most impactful lesson I’ve learned. It was simply realizing that I wasn’t trusting myself enough. I had so many people counting on my skills to help their companies grow, that I had never taken a clear look at myself until I realized that I really wanted to do more for the industry. So, I jumped off the edge and struck out on my own. It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my career and now I am able to help others to realize their true potential.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
The amazing men and women I have had as bosses and mentors over the course of my career have made the most impact. And I count myself as very lucky to have had more than one incredible boss to guide and shape me. But, one of my favorite podcasts is Freeman Means Business. I have been blessed to build a relationship with the creator, Susan Freeman, and she provided the inspiration for me to launch my own podcast. We have a great friendship and we volunteer to help each other. I find her to be an inspiration as a person, and as a business leader.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I definitely agree with this. Our 2017 relaunch was as a purpose-driven small business — our mission, vision and core values reflect our purpose. When we launched our philanthropic arm a few months later, we built it into the core vision and mission of CJL CONSULTiNG. Our company’s purpose is to build our relationships on the foundation of transparency and creating impact that goes well beyond our clients’ ROI.
And The WITI Group — our 501(c)(3) organization — supports 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 purpose is to give back in as many ways as possible to the hospitality business and to be constantly growing the ways in which we are able to support others.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Absolutely! Be kind. It is the genesis of everything. Kindness is free to give and a huge gift to receive. The ripple effects of one kind act are often unknown to the giver, but it is about the message of being a decent, honest and loving human. For our company, kindness is our guidepost as if we lead with that principle, we can avoid so many of the pitfalls that can come from losing sight of our core purpose and message.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
As for the majority of the global population, COVID changed everything overnight for our family as well as for my company. My husband just retired from 23 years in the Air Force on January 1st. He was excited to spend some time catching up on all the projects he wanted to complete around the house and spending extra time with our sons. My company was growing and had just taken on two new clients and I was busier than ever with my travel schedule, new product developments, my book in the works and speaking engagements.
That all changed in March. My husband became a school teacher to our young boys and I was grounded as all conferences, meetings and events I was scheduled to attend were cancelled. Within one week all of my clients had shuttered or drastically altered their operations, more than 200 restaurants, golf course, movie theatres and eatertainment locations closing and shifting meant most of my clients also furloughed or laid off staff.
I pivoted my business model immediately to support them. I donated $12k in one week to three other non-profit foundations that could support our industry’s most vulnerable and their families. We launched a free weekly webinar series to support and educate others around our business. I promised my team that while the work we do would be shifting — it would be sustaining as no one was taking a reduction in work or pay.
While my husband handles the schooling, I am working to sustain my company and grow new products and services to keep our team paid and working full time. We are treating this s an opportunity to not only spend more time together as a family, but for me to create a stronger company to support and impact as many families as possible.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We are a remote-based company as our team members live across the U.S. and Canada. So, working from home was not a challenge for us in the sense that it has been for so many others. However, having other members of the family home while we were working was definitely new. I personally found it to be terribly distracting to be recording a podcast episode or hosting a webinar while my 7-year-old son was upstairs excitedly and very-loudly playing Fortnite with his friends via Facetime. To combat this challenge, I often work outside or sitting in a park alone or even in the woods behind our house. Anything to remove the distractions and stay task-focused. I have actually come to enjoy my new office scenery and find it a relaxing way to stay productive. AirPods, personal hotspots and bug spray have been the answers to most of my challenges.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
It is entirely understandable. Information is a double-edged sword in a situation like this. I actually had to give myself permission to not take in too much information and give myself days to focus on work instead of the news. My husband was a little more panicked than I was at the beginning, so we managed our stress levels as a team. Taking turns watching the news, reading the research and sourcing the facts behind the information. The strategy has worked well for us.
To those that are overwhelmed by the pressure and stress and uncertainty of the current state, I would suggest taking in the information from your source of choice and then doing your own research to make sure you understand what you’re taking in when it comes to the information. We have so many options out there to choose from when gaining information, just make sure you are helping yourself and not allowing headlines to dictate how you feel about the uncontrollable variables.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
As with any trying time, human nature is to come together for the greater good. And with physically coming together being an option that is not on the table, I am inspired by the new and unique ways humans are helping and supporting each other while distant. I see the renewed inspiration to help and support others as a huge opportunity. I also hope that the new currency to come out of this crisis will be good will toward others. This is not a time to be greedy, but to be selfless. And for every story of opportunistic greed, there are 100 stories of human acts of kindness and good will. Large, small and even new businesses are showing up in ways that have never been seen before. From pivoting operations to create products and services that help those affected in the worst ways, to small acts of charity and hospitality. The best of humanity often comes to light in the most dire of times. And truly, for the first time in our lifetime, we are all in this together. It’s really beautiful. So, I urge others to look for ways to create the positive stories that will become the fabric of our collective recovery.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I think it already has changed everything. Not because we are wearing masks and gloves and washing our hands until our skin dries out…. But because we all genuinely care about our neighbors, colleagues and communities. I think as a global society, we have learned so much about each other and that our differences are not insurmountable mountains. Kindness and patience and understanding have come to the forefront. I hope we will be forever changed not because of what we survived, but how we survived it! And let’s hope that we all appreciate our teachers and first responders and medical personnel a little (actually… A LOT!) more than we did before COVID.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Personally, my annual gifts to the kids’ teachers are going to become a lot more generous. But then for my business, we started our pivots immediately. We have been able to use this time to expand three new lines of services and we are looking forward to supporting our clients as they emerge and grow into their “new normal.” We don’t expect our industry or revenue to return immediately, but we are in this with them for the long haul. We are simply going to continue what we were doing, while growing further to be able to build our team further and provide more opportunities for more people. There will be a ton of talented individuals looking for work, I would like for our company to be an option for them.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would encourage everyone to look outside of themselves as much as realistically possible. This is the time to find ways to help others, because as bad as it seems for one person, that could be a best-case scenario for another. We never know truly what is happening in the lives of others, so pay attention. Listen closely. Figure out how to help. We all need help at times, and often we are to proud to ask for it. So, offer what you can to help others… and it doesn’t have to be financial. It can a listening ear, a volunteer to help with tasks or a simple, “I care about you, how can I help?”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have so many favorite quotes. But with what is going on right now in the world… Maya Angelou may have said it best… “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
How can our readers further follow your work?
Here are the ways to reach and follow us:firstname.lastname@example.orgOn Facebook @cjlconsulting, @thewitigroupOn Instagram @cjl_consulting_llc and @witigroupOn LinkedIn christie-j-lawler, CJLCONSULTiNG LLC and The WITI Group