Business

Start-Up Spotlight: LoveKind Inc. Is Helping Hospitality Driven Companies Through The Pandemic

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have rallied behind small businesses. For LoveKind Inc., this has always been their mission.

LoveKind Inc. is a small business incubator with a focus on wellbeing. The collective of passionate and forward-driven hospitality and lifestyle brands aims to uplift entrepreneurs and accelerate their success. LoveKind Inc.’s CEO, Loren Shifrin, said that something of its nature was missing from the industry.

“We realized that there was a gap in the market for small companies with multiple stores, who had great big potential, but didn’t necessarily have the experience, the capital, or the infrastructure required to grow their businesses,” he said.

Eager to help take brands to the next level, LoveKind Inc. is expanding on the talents of Canadian entrepreneurs. Despite being less than a year old, LoveKind Inc. has built an impressive portfolio of brands that are well-known to Torontonians: Calii Love, Love Child Social House, Burgers n’ Fries Forever, ELXR Juicelab and Yellow Beauty. All at a time when the hospitality industry has been suffering the full effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Toronto received the green light to enter Stage 3 on July 31, 2020, but the last four months have been anything but predictable. For Shifrin, the LoveKind’s adaptability was key in helping their brands survive.

“I’m a firm believer that the companies that will make it out the other end are the ones who are quick on their feet,” said Shifrin. “And we’re nimble, we’re able to rethink almost the entire business model.”

LoveKind Inc. remains dedicated to helping their brands overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, and Shifrin is optimistic that the hospitality industry will recover.

For this week’s Start-up Spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Loren Shifrin, CEO of LoveKind Inc. about supporting small businesses, the importance of adaptability and his predictions for the future of the hospitality industry.

Q & A

What is LoveKind’s mission?

The goal of the company is to help small businesses with big potential to scale ethically, sustainably and profitably. Moreover, we try to do everything in such a way that all of the company stakeholders, whether they’re CEOs, employees or customers are all treated ethically in an ecosystem that’s based on mutual benefit.

And why is it important for LoveKind Inc. as a company and as a group to support and invest in the small business market?

As a company, there are multiple reasons. We help to create jobs, we help to give back to the community and we help our brand CEO’s to fulfill their dreams. Also if we back the right company at an early stage, we maximize our lifetime ROI, which as a company is always a good thing.

As a group, it’s very important for us to support small businesses because that’s how we all started. I myself remember, not that long ago, when I started my business, how much I relied on the kindness and support of my investors and of my backers, without whom I wouldn’t be where I am today. So, in some way, it’s a way of us kind of giving back, and doing for others what helped put us in the position that we’re in now

When deciding what type of small business to invest in, or to lend your support to, what are you looking for to take on with your brand?

There’s three things that we look for when we decide whether to bring a brand on board under the LoveKind umbrella. First we want to make sure that the product or the services are excellent. And we think we’ve done quite well at that so far. Second, we want to make sure that there is a cultural fit. That their teams can work with our teams, and that their CEO’s ethical values are aligned with our company’s ethical values. And again, I think we’ve done a good job thus far. The third thing is that we want to make sure that each one of the companies that we bring on board has a secondary focus on wellbeing. 

For example, Calii Love was predicated on good vibes and healthy living; Burgers n’ Fries Forever, our burger brand, has a strong focus on mental health; ELXR has a focus on clean diet and natural nutrition; Yellow Beauty on natural skincare and redefining beauty ideals. So all of that together kind of rounds off the whole portfolio.

Why do you think that small businesses in the health and wellness sphere have grown over the last few years? 

I think it all comes from the level of education of the average consumer. The average consumer knows a lot more than they once did. They know that sugars and fats aren’t good for you and they know that living a healthy lifestyle is more sustainable long term. So the focus is essentially a result of what the consumer wants and demands.

Obviously things didn’t go as planned with the COVID-19 pandemic. How did LoveKind and the companies that you work with have to adopt during the pandemic?

There’s been a lot of adaptation during the pandemic. I’m a firm believer that the companies that will make it out the other end are the ones who are quick on their feet. And we’re nimble, we’re able to rethink almost the entire business model. Again, for example, Calii Love had to change their focus from dine-in to, to take out. ELXR had to change their focus from their beautiful retail stores to a beautiful eCommerce website; they had to shift the sales focus from business to consumer to a wholesale model. Love Child Social House was one of the brands under our umbrella that had to do the biggest adaptation. What was once a booming nightclub is now completely empty. So we’re actually in the process of completely changing what Love Child is and turning it into a pizza parlor and a sort of beer garden since we’ve got all that space.

And with all these changes, how did LoveKind help with this new adaptation? What was your guidance or your support for them during these times?

When all of these companies were on their own, there was a lot of pressure being put on the brand CEOs to wear a lot of hats. They’d have to make a lot of decisions, and have to do most of that in a silo because of lack of access to a team, to opinions, to strategists. So, now decisions are made in a more communal setting. We’ve got a team of almost 20 people with sales backgrounds, marketing backgrounds, supply chain backgrounds and operations backgrounds, and we all—especially during COVID—sat together and brainstormed and came up with strategies and adapted those strategies. As a team we were just quick on our feet, but we did it together. There was no one secret to the sauce. It took all of us.

Obviously you guys worked together and made these changes in real quick on your feet, but to the best of your ability, where do you see the future of hospitality then past COVID-19? 

I’ll caveat by saying that this is just my opinion. I don’t know if it’ll be true or not. Short term, I think there’s going to be more turbulence. I think that especially as the government subsidies start to run out, there’s going to be unfortunately, a lot more closures of small businesses, especially in this industry. I think it’ll take a long time for hotels to bounce back, for nightclubs to bounce back and for fine dining to bounce back. I do think that, again, those companies in the industry that are quick on their feet that adapt and are ready to adapt will do well. Most of our Quick Service Restaurants are actually doing surprisingly well. And that’s because of overwhelming support from our communities to whom we’re eternally grateful. They’re the ones who are essentially keeping us in business.

Long term? I actually have a very positive outlook. I honestly believe that once we’re out outside of the confines of living with COVID, I think things will relatively quickly start to go back to the way they were. I think that most consumers, especially in North America, tend to forget quite quickly, which will be good for the industry. We’re already seeing signs of that. Like, when we were still in phase one, I believe it was, and, Trinity Bellwoods was packed. We’re still in the middle of the pandemic and already people are dying to gather because human beings are social creatures and that’s long term. 

Awesome. And LoveKind is still fairly new. It’s still under a year old. Have you had any favorite memories within that time?

It’s been about eight months roughly, and the whole thing has just been such a thrill ride and an adrenaline rush. It’s all been great. It would be difficult for me to pick a favorite memory just because I haven’t had the time to stop and look back. We’re still all very much looking forward towards the future. All of our brands are extremely ambitious, they’ve all got crazy plans for the future. I’m excited to see where they take us.

Where do you hope to see LoveKind Inc. in five, 10 years?

Ten years is too far out for me to guess, but all of the brands have their five year plans in place. I see Calii Love having a location at every major city across North America. Burgers N Fries Forever is poised to become the new Shake Shack—so watch out world. I really do see ELXR being a leading voice in the wellness community, and more importantly, we want ELXR to be a first to market innovator. So, when it comes to new wellness and beverage products, we want them to be the guys who are setting the bar for the rest of the industry. Yellow Beauty already has a lot of interest overseas. So, we want them to be a globally recognized brand within five years. The success of LoveKind is very much predicated on the success of the individual brands. So as they grow, we will grow with them. 

Do you see LoveKind Inc. taking on other brands under your wing during that time?

I’ve told everyone we’re not taking on any more brands, but God knows if the right brand shows up, of course we’ll take them, grow the team and extend the portfolio. What I can tell you is that we’re actually—which is very exciting for us—in the process of building a new brand from the ground up. It’s a coffee shop with a kind of social lounge aspect. It’s called Nava and it’s going to be a specialty coffee shop by day and a kind of really cool wine bar by night.