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Angela Barclay, owner and director, of STM Display Sales has been able to keep the majority of her staff employed during the pandemic.Thomas Bollmann

Figuring out how to solve a problem quickly is nothing new for the team at STM Display Sales Inc. in Mississauga, Ont. In fact, it’s how a lot of the products made by the 30-plus-year-old small business came to be developed.

In keeping with one of its slogans (“We help to sell”), the female-owned and -operated company manufactures and supplies just about everything retailers and grocery stores need for their displays – from shelving and signage to hanging clips and hooks.

“Breadth of products is one of our strengths,” says owner and director Angela Barclay. “We’re a 90,000-square-foot facility.”

But on March 27, work came to a grinding halt – a day Barclay will never forget.

“We’d been hearing for two weeks that some of our supply chain was shutting down because of COVID-19 and that delivery times were going to be crazy,” she recalls. “We knew we were going to have to reduce staff because we weren’t going to be able to make certain items.”

But within only a few days, the company had found a new way forward, pivoting from manufacturing display products to making protective equipment such as sneeze guards, face shields and acrylic standing counter guards.

“Having people say, ‘We need this, and we need it now’ pushes you to look at what you’ve got that you can work with,” says Barclay. “We’re very fast and have proprietary production lines that have been perfected over 20 years. What allowed us to ramp up so quickly was the fact we just had to use the material, machines and the people in a different way.”

That quick thinking enabled STM Display Sales to fulfill an urgent need: hundreds of thousands of face shields, for example, were shipped to New York City and allowed Barclay to recall some of her employees because of the demand.

Equally quick off the mark to help was the company’s insurance broker, Sydney Vince of Brookstone Insurance Group Inc. in Oakville, Ont.

According to Vince, the move to supplying protective products changed the company’s liability exposure.

“Small businesses don’t always understand the implications of change,” she says. “It’s important that your insurer knows what you’re producing and how it will be used to make sure you’ve got the right coverage in place. There may also be certain indemnity considerations when it comes to contracts you sign with your suppliers or distributors.”

That’s why Vince recommends always including your broker and insurance provider in the process. They can provide you with coverage options to fill any potential coverage gaps created from taking on more or different exposures.

Amanda Martin, an underwriting manager representing Northbridge Insurance, who insures STM Display Sales, agrees.

“We’ve worked really closely with our brokers to support and help protect customers during COVID-19,” she says. “It’s been a very collaborative process, thanks to good three-way communication.”

Martin adds that risk assessment should be an ongoing process for any small- or medium-sized business.

“We know it’s not always top-of-mind when you’re focused on running your business, but it’s especially critical whenever operational changes are involved, even if those are only temporary,” she says. “You don’t want to risk a potentially devasting loss.”

While business at STM Display Sales is not yet back to where it was pre-pandemic, the creativity of its staff and the flexibility and support of its broker and insurer made it possible for Barclay to keep the majority of her staff employed.

“It was the COVID-19 products that kept our doors open,” says Barclay, acknowledging that the whole experience has been bittersweet. “It paid the rent and the employees. And I’m grateful for that.”


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.