Event summary produced by The Globe and Mail Events team. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.
How are small business owners adapting to the pandemic? The Globe and Mail hosted the Small Business Summit on October 7 to bring entrepreneurs and experts together to share strategies for resiliency and growth in a turbulent year.
Below are video recordings and highlights from the event, for those who missed the summit and for those who would like to watch the discussions again.
The event began with a panel of three Canadian business founders sharing their pandemic experiences and advice for other entrepreneurs. Highlights from the conversation appear below the video.
1). Don’t take on outside debt
When the pandemic hit, sales dropped by 90 percent at Paramount Fine Foods, the fastest-growing Middle Eastern halal restaurant chain in North America. CEO and president Mohamad Fakih struck a deal with suppliers to defer payment on orders received before the pandemic. The agreement allowed Paramount to maintain its cash flow safety net. At the same time, Mr. Fakih supported his franchisees by cancelling royalty payments. To help the community he lowered prices in his restaurants. The approach is allowing Paramount to lean on its suppliers while his franchisees lean on him, he said. Paramount has retained its workforce and through monthly repayment plans to suppliers, is solving cash flow challenges from within.
2). Use downtime to hone your strategy
Katherine Homuth is founder and CEO of Sheertex, a manufacturer of indestructible pantyhose. She shipped her first order 18 months ago, grew out of the factory within six months and moved into a new manufacturing plant in Montreal, rapidly growing to 200 employees. Then the pandemic hit. The factory was shut down from March to late July. Ms. Homuth took the opportunity to analyze her business operations, invest in automation, new product development and dashboard tools to track profit margins in real time. Because Sheertex is a digitally-native brand, it began to win new customers who preferred to order products online instead of going to bricks-and-mortar retail, Ms. Homuth said.
3). Future-proof with digital tools
In the midst of a global pandemic, contactless payment and e-commerce have never been more important. Dax Dasilva, founder and CEO of Lightspeed galvanized his team to help small business clients such as restaurants and retail adapt to shifting consumer behaviors. Clients adopted online ordering, curbside pick-up, order-ahead and contactless payment. As the pandemic continues, many small businesses will need to shift to omni-channel business models instead of relying solely on bricks-and-mortar, Mr. Dasilva said. Lightspeed also provided employees with $500 each to spend with small business clients – boosting morale while providing support to small businesses.
Small business marketing in the digital economy
The summit also included a panel discussion among entrepreneurs and marketing experts, focused on growing your brand and connecting with customers in the digital era.
Watch the video below for insights on:
- How Bunny Ghatrora relies on useful content to connect with customers at Blume, the Vancouver-based self-care products company she founded with her sister.
- How Sara Lynn Cauchon (The Domestic Geek), grew an online community of two million food enthusiasts via social media and effective partnerships with influencers.
- Why it’s important to keep your customers informed through the pandemic and how small businesses can streamline their social media marketing, from Garrick Tiplady, managing director of Facebook Canada.
- How small businesses can develop and communicate with authenticity, from Rahul Raj, founder and CMO of 5&Vine.
In conversation with Jenn Harper of Cheekbone Beauty
The video also includes an interview between Jenn Harper, founder of Cheekbone Beauty Cosmetics Inc. and Robyn Doolittle, investigative reporter with The Globe and Mail.
Ms. Harper shared the story of how she left a job in sales to launch a cosmetics company with sustainability and social purpose at its heart. Cheekbone supports Indigenous education and operates with a mission to help Indigenous youth see themselves in a beauty brand.
Watch the marketing panel and keynote interview below:
Pivoting to e-commerce
Top of mind for many small business owners this year is how to shift to online sales. The summit featured a panel of entrepreneurs and experts offering advice on getting started with e-commerce or expanding your online presence. Watch the video below for the following insights:
- How Aaron Labarre, president and owner of Popeye’s Supplements (Ottawa, Southern Ontario and Tri-City area) moved quickly to launch an e-commerce web site that is allowing the business to grow its customer base beyond bricks-and-mortar retail.
- How Steve Beauchesne, CEO and co-founder of Beau’s Brewing Co. pivoted to home delivery when his taproom closed, navigating a new supply chain and logistics considerations.
- The advantages of remote working and digital tools for entrepreneurs in rural areas. Dakota Brant, co-founder and CEO of Sapling & Flint, a retail, online and wholesale jewellery manufacturer explained how the shift to digital means she can look further afield to find talent as her business grows.
- What the future holds for small businesses in the post-pandemic era. Mike Monty, director of enterprise sales with PayPal Inc. discussed long-term changes to consumer habits and preferences. Bricks-and-mortar will never go away but online channels and e-commerce will continue to grow in importance.
Taking care of yourself and your business
Resilience was a dominant theme of the event as entrepreneurs opened up about the pandemic’s business and personal impacts. During a breakout session, two entrepreneurs and a small business expert relayed how they are coping, supporting their employees and changing their approaches to suit new realities.
Watch the session below to hear stories and strategies from the speakers, including:
Debra Goldblatt-Sadowski, CEO and founder of Rock-It Promotions. When the pandemic struck Debra lost 70 percent of her business in 48 hours. Ms. Goldblatt-Sadowski relies on a ‘mental health toolbox’ to stay resilient though the uncertainty and is supporting her employees through initiatives such as guest speakers focused on health, nutrition and wellness.
Marie Chevrier, CEO and founder of Sampler. Ms. Chevrier’s company provides direct-to-home samples for consumer goods businesses. Her sales skyrocketed when the pandemic arrived and in-person sampling was paused. Rising sales meant new hires so she created Sampler University to onboard employees virtually, helping them to learn the culture and get to the know the company through online channels.
Andrew Turnbull, senior vice-president of business banking with CIBC. Mr. Turnbull advised entrepreneurs to get stress under control by focusing on cash flow - perhaps the top concern this year for small businesses. He and his team are noticing small businesses pivoting in response to the pandemic. Many are accelerating plans they had in mind before the pandemic, such as entering new markets or optimizing their business models.
The Small Business Summit was presented with support from PayPal, CIBC, Staples and Facebook.