Event summary produced by The Globe and Mail Events team. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.
Small businesses are facing steep challenges through the COVID-19 pandemic. Those that remain open have had to adapt to social distancing and altered supply chains. Businesses required to close are losing revenue and clients. Yet, many small business owners are working to respond to the situation – tapping into new markets, setting up e-commerce platforms and using social media to stay close to customers.
The Globe and Mail, in partnership with Purolator, hosted a webcast on June 2 to showcase some of these companies and provide small business owners with strategies to survive the pandemic. Highlights from the discussion appear below the recorded webcast.
Highlights from the discussion:
1). Tap into new markets and customers
Legends Haul Supply, a food supply company in Coquitlam, B.C. had been serving restaurants and other foodservice customers. That changed when the pandemic hit and restaurants closed. But company founder and CEO Craig Sheridan spotted an opportunity in home grocery delivery, recognizing consumers weren’t getting prompt deliveries from overwhelmed retailers. Mr. Sheridan and his team quickly set up an e-commerce platform and began home grocery delivery. The company’s employee count has since doubled.
2). Make the best use of downtime
Chris Castillo, a serial entrepreneur and professor of entrepreneurship at Algonquin College, discussed how his restaurant in Ottawa had to close. He kept staff busy and invested in the business by using the time to invent a new dish – gluten-free ramen. Chris advised entrepreneurs to try to stay positive and look for opportunities during the shutdown. He said small business owners should look after their mental health and try to use the time to be creative and reflect on potential next moves.
3). Prepare your business for online growth
Tricia Chapman, director of inside sales with Purolator, recounted how her team worked quickly to help small businesses set up e-commerce platforms in the earlier days of the pandemic. Ms. Chapman anticipates online sales will continue to grow over the coming months as more businesses embrace e-commerce and social distancing measures remain. Traditional bricks-and-mortar shopping will return at some point, but not to the same degree as before the pandemic, she noted.
4). Use social media to stay close to customers
The entrepreneurs agreed social media is invaluable for customer relationships and marketing. Mr. Castillo used social media to say thank you to customers for their support. Mr. Sheridan said Instagram was a vital tool to get the word out about the company’s new home delivery service. Legends Haul went from having a few hundred Instagram followers to more than 5,000 in one month. Ms. Chapman noted the pandemic has created more interest in local businesses and social media is an important platform for these businesses to market themselves and build community engagement.
5). Develop a digital-first mindset
Ray Reddy, co-founder and CEO of Ritual, an app for food delivery said a ‘digital first’ approach is crucial to small business. Mr. Reddy remarked how businesses using online technology have fared better than their counterparts through the pandemic. Over the past years, retail slowly made the shift to online and e-commerce platforms. Local businesses are at the same critical juncture. Small businesses with no web site should build one. The web site should have some ability for customers to transact or interact, if not order online, he advised. Social distancing will remain for the longer term. Mr. Reddy expects about 50 to 60 percent of downtown office workers will return – the remainder will work virtually for some time to come. As a result, small businesses need to provide customers with the opportunity to engage online.
View the full webcast above.