The WHO announced on March 11 that the world was facing a pandemic with the novel coronavirus. At that time, Canada had just 103 cases compared to the approximately 128,000 confirmed cases globally. The provinces of Ontario and Alberta declared states of emergency just six days later on March 17. The country’s other provinces would follow in the days to come, as would strict social distancing, and the closure of non-essential businesses. On March 19, the Federal government announced CA$55 billion in credit to help the nation’s families and businesses. Even with government intervention, however, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) predicts that one-third of the nation’s small and medium-sized businesses who have been forced to close may not reopen again.
In what seems like a global waiting game, Canadian family businesses who can’t afford to wait are taking action, and even many of those who can afford a hiatus see adaptation as preferable – an opportunity for growth. Dine-in restaurants have shifted to curb-side, take-out models. Brick and mortar retailers have bolstered their online presence, and remote workflows have become the norm for many of the country’s family businesses. The following businesses have used their creativity to adapt to the crisis in ways that will not only benefit their operations today but are also likely give them a competitive advantage in the uncertain future to come.
In the battle to contain COVID-19, the 52-year-old family-owned fabric and yarn store was forced to close its 11 retail locations in March after the Ontario provincial government deemed their services non-essential. Third-generation owner, Peter Menary, soon saw the urgent need for protective gear to support medical professionals, including gowns and masks. He recalled many of his staff, and shifted the company’s focus back to the clothing manufacturing roots his grandfather, Len Menary, first built the business on over half a century ago.
By the first week of April, The Len’s Mill team had designed patterns, and sourced and cut enough material to assemble 8,000 reusable gown kits. Hundreds of online orders began to flood in, and by April 7, the company had sold enough of its mask kits to assemble more than 30,000 individual units. Len’s mills is quick to point out that their products are not medical grade, but brisk sales have highlighted a need that the family firm has been able to fill through creative thinking and nimble adaptability.
Men In Kilts
Founded in 2002 by transplanted Scotsman, Nicholas Brand, the window cleaning business became known for the kilts its team members wore when providing their services on Canada‘s West Coast. Franchises followed, and so did a partnership with family business owners, Chris and Robyn Carrier, whose Calgary-based window cleaning company was one of the largest in Canada. Today, Chris Carrier serves as CEO of Men In Kilts, and oversees the company’s North American expansion.
In response to the pandemic, the company’s Edmonton-based franchise changed its focus from cleaning to providing deliveries for those self-isolating. Customers can send the Men In Kilts team a list of supplies that they will purchase and leave outside on the doorstep at a prearranged time. Customers pay for their items through e-transfer or cash, but the delivery service itself is completely free. The shopping and free delivery service is being replicated by the company’s franchise locations across Canada and has firmly established Men In Kilts in the eyes of their customers as a brand that supports the community.
HomePro Pest Control
Specialising in pest control services, the Ontario-based family-owned firm launched a new service in response to COVID-19. Now, offering hospital-grade disinfecting services to homes and businesses, the company has generated a novel source of revenue and is considered an essential service. Additionally, the company has found a growing market in apartment buildings where proper resources and protective equipment rarely exist to sterilise high-touch surfaces.
Mine & Yours
The luxury women’s consignment shop located in Vancouver offers second-hand designer brands in a high-end boutique environment at a fraction of the price when new. Entrepreneur Courtney Watkins closed the doors to the business she started in 2013, as many were required to do in response to the pandemic. Through her creativity, however, the company has actually increased its weekly online sales by 60 per cent.
Innovative new one-on-one virtual shopping experiences, a Virtual Shopping Spree contest and the fact that Watkins donates 10 per cent of all profits to supporting frontline healthcare workers have all helped drive Mine & Yours’ online success. Additionally, the company has made efforts to connect with the community, especially those who are feeling anxiety, confusion and the fear of isolation. The retailer has increased its social media output to focus specifically on fun, upbeat, cheerful content – an alternative to the dire statistics and uncomfortable economic forecasts elsewhere. Mine & Yours hopes its surge in online sales reflects a promising trend for other small businesses facing similar COVID-19 related challenges.
Spirit of York Distillery
Known for its premium, spirits, the Toronto distillery owned by entrepreneur Gerry Guitor, was quick to pivot its distilling resources to begin producing hand sanitiser in response to the global pandemic. Not only was the company hoping to help mitigate the growing shortages, but they also wanted to counter the price gouging reported by many trying to purchase the essential item. Using a formula supplied by the WHO that consists of ethanol, glycerin and hydrogen peroxide, the company leveraged its pre-existing resources to create a quality hand sanitiser that cleans hands safely.
The company has also created a pricing structure that gives back to the community their products serve. All proceeds from Sprit of York hand sanitiser sales are donated to local food banks – CA$4,000 was raised on the first day the sanitiser was offered alone. The company has extended the donation model to its usual artisanal spirits, where $1 from every bottle sold will also be donated to local food banks.