A Day in the Life of Pantry's Michelle Czarka
by Michelle Czarka on Feb 24, 2022
Greetings! In case you aren’t familiar with this face, I am Michelle, Founder/Owner of Pantry Products: a modern apothecary that has been handcrafting wellness products since 2015. I work alongside a team of 9 incredible ladies who produce nearly 100 products sold through our website, our brick + mortar store, and on the shelves of over 300 stores in over 40 states.
This week, our social media maven, Taylor, thought it would be interesting to give our readers a sneak peek at the life of a small business owner. So, here I am.
One thing that I’ve found with running a small business is I don’t work a typical schedule. Prior to starting Pantry, I spent nearly 20 years holding down a desk Mon – Fri, 8- 5 pm. It was draining to “have” to be somewhere and to build my life around someone else’s desires. Now, I work more than I did when I worked for others but I have a better work/life balance. Some days, I’m at work at 7 am and work until 8 pm. Some days, I‘ll take off to play outside but I’ll work all weekend. When I first started Pantry, I wanted to make all the things happen so I would wake up at 4 am and work until 12 am. This took a huge toll on me both personally and professionally. Now, I am working on a good balance of work and play. Here’s how a typical day typically looks for me….
6 – 8 a.m. Wakey-wakey!
I wake up sometime between these two times. If I wake up past 8, I feel like I’ve missed getting a jump start on my day and that I am already behind on my to-dos. While I love lounging in bed, on work days, I try to be up and out of bed within 30 mins of waking. I have a cup of coffee while checking in on emails, social, and my calendar before tossing on some clothes, making the bed, spraying down my million cowlicks, and taking the dogs for a quick walk.
6:30-8 a.m. Getting a move on.
After the dogs have been walked and more coffee has been made, I’ll turn on one of our two of our favorite local radio stations: KUER or KRCL while spending the next half hour getting ready. (I always have music on. Always!) Clothes are selected, a shower is taken, breakfast is either made or packed up for taking to work, and I chat with my partner, Heather, on the plans for our day: how our work days are looking, who will walk the dogs in the afternoon, what we’ll do that evening for dinner, if we can squeeze in a hike/bike, etc.
8:30 a.m. Head out for the work day.
We recently moved to Salt Lake City so going into the shop to work with my team happens only one week a month now. To ensure I don’t get cabin fever working from home and to help meet new folks in our new town, I recently joined Kiln, a co-working community. I go into “the office” at least 3 days a week and, since it’s a short commute from our home, I often ride my bike over. Before I leave, I load my backpack with all my tech items, my notebook and journal, my water bottle and my Keep cup, a few pieces of fruit, and my must-have Pantry work items: hand sanitizer, Get Sh$t Done roller ball, Honey + Lavender lip balm, and Nail + Cuticle Essential Oil. And of course, my Neverender face mask. Once I’m ready, I say goodbye to the family, don my helmet and cruise out the door.
9:00 a.m. Getting down to business.
Once I fill my coffee cup and water bottle and find a chill Spotify playlist, it’s work time! On Monday mornings, I make a weekly to-do list so I always know my main priorities for the day and week. As one who struggles with staying focused and not jumping from task to task, having a short list of high priority items helps me hone in on what I should be doing. If it’s not on the list, it gets jotted down for a later time. My general manager, Jessica, and I both post our weekly to-dos on a Slack channel so we can stay tuned in to top-level initiatives. Every morning when I get to my laptop, I review this list before I begin any other tasks.
9:15 – 10:00 a.m. Check e-correspondence.
With 2 business email accounts, 2 social media accounts, 2 third-party wholesale accounts, 2 Slack workspaces, and our assorted shop lists, I spend at least 30 minutes responding to messages, checking in with the team, and getting a feel for what the shop needs for the week. Action items are jotted down in my notebook for tackling when I need a quick break from priorities.
10:00 – 12:00 p.m. Let’s do that work!
As a small business owner, I wear many hats. On any given day, I can be found managing any/all of the following: web design + content creation, sales + marketing, graphic design, Human Resources, finances, product research + development, inventory management, and community engagement. When I announced I was moving to Salt Lake, people thought, that by not being in my shop, I was leaving my business. Moving is actually one of the best things for Pantry as I am not devoting 80% of my day to running the brick + mortar during the day and then trying to find the time to work on the lengthy list above. The shop always took priority over strategic planning but now I can focus on higher-level tasks. I am fortunate that my Pantry team members can keep the shop flourishing so I focus on growing the business.
12-12:15 p.m. Journal Time!
Recently, I started journaling again. While this was something I did religiously in my younger years, I stopped writing around the time my OCD and general anxiety disorder started increasing as I found it easier to avoid my thoughts than to acknowledge them. I thought I had everything under control but, in reality, I was stuffing everything which led to even more anxiety, less sleep, and increased avoidant behavior. Upon seeking professional help and actively working on my anxiety, I know it’s better to tackle my worries head on. By setting aside the time to journal every single day, I can communicate my concerns and insecurities before my brain has a chance to catastrophize them. But journaling is not only for working on the negative thoughts. It also allows me to “talk” through ideas with Pantry, plot out plans for my future, and celebrate my wins (both personally and professionally).
12:15-12:30 p.m. Quiet Time
It is rare that I have time to myself to do absolutely nothing. Most of the time, this is my choice. As an ambivert, I feed off of being around people and have been known to be blue if I spend too much time alone. However, sometimes I become too overwhelmed by the constant stimulation of others. Recently, I discovered the Relaxation room at Kiln which features an essential oil diffuser, mood light lamp, and the most incredible Kyota massage chair. While I’d prefer to be out on a bike ride, going for a hike or taking a yoga class, sometimes my schedule/the weather/COVID won’t allow it. Taking these few minutes during the day helps to recharge my batteries while working out muscle tension.
12:30-1:00 p.m. Lunchtime
While I try to eat what I bring from home, the best part about being in a new city is discovering their food culture. And Salt Lake hasn’t disappointed. From their wide array of Greek/Mediterranean restaurants to handmade arepas, crispy curry fried chicken, housemade mole, and gluten-free pizza.
1:00-4 p.m. More work.
Having the time to dedicate to Pantry‘s growth has allowed me to take on tasks that have been on my list for years. Recently, I have tackled the following:
– Restart this blog – there’s so much wellness product info in this head of mine. I now have the time to get it out to you.
– Work through ongoing website issues that affect sales. These include fixing the shipping rate calculator, adding more subscription options, improving website copy and SEO, more in-depth product descriptions, offering gift wrap, Skin Care by Skin Type
– Roll out new products – keep a look out for new offerings such as more cleaning products, a new mens’ line, virtual workshops, and festive holiday offerings
– Pursue more wholesale business – more Pantry Products to more people
– Find a business mentor – I don’t have a background in Business so it’s important to work with a mentor who can help guide me in my journey. SCORE is the best resource I have found.
– Develop a dedicated production facility – Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to see the team crafting your favorite products. This location would handle our wholesale production demand.
4-4:30 p.m. Head home.
4:30-5:30 p.m. Catch up with the fam.
This usually means Heather and I walking/hanging out with the dogs while discussing our workdays. You wouldn’t think an associate professor in Chemical Engineering would have much crossover with running a small business but Heather’s experience running her research lab and leading her team of students is very relatable to what I experience as Pantry’s leader. I cherish the time we get to spend together discussing our respective days, challenge, and achievements. Even if most of the time she’s helping to peel me off the ceiling because I’m overwhelmed.
6-8 p.m. Enter Chef Czarka
I typically end the work day around 6 p.m. and start in on one of my favorite activities: making dinner. I would say I spend the majority of my free time thinking about and/or talking about food and my love for spending time in the kitchen is what helped spawn Pantry. I cherish taking ingredients from my kitchen pantry and combining them into something delish. Bonus: Pantry creations are also WAY better for my waistline!
7-10 p.m. Dinnertime
While Heather and I well aware that we shouldn’t eat late dinners, our schedules often result in dinner closer to bedtime. Other times, it’s not our schedules but the fact that I (once again) have spent too much time creating something nourishing. Once dinner is ready, we set aside work, social media, and other other distractions and select a spot to continue catching up on each other’s lives.
Between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. Time for bed!
Since my days can be long and I cannot stand/afford to be dragging through a workday, I am usually in bed by 10:30 p.m. Sometimes, we opt to “rot our brains” which consists of watching an episode of Monk that Heather will last 10 minutes into. I’m not one of those lucky folks that falls asleep quickly and I struggle with shutting my brain off. In the instances where I need some assistance finding slumber, I load up Sleepcasts on the Headspace app or tune into Nothing Much Happens for one of Kathryn Nicolai‘s soothing stories. These two have changed my bedtime!
And that, folks, is a sneak peek into my days. It’s exciting to reflect back on how my schedule has changed in the last 5 years and I’m excited to be able to reflect back in 5 years again.
Want to more about what it’s like to run a small business? Comment below!
Thank you for reading along!