Charitees invests in itself with Digital Main Street
Michael Carrier felt a bit out of place applying for Digital Main Street. From the outside, it seemed to Carrier like the program, which leverages grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario to help main street businesses across Ontario strengthen their digital and online capabilities, was geared towards people with little-to-no digital literacy.
“I can code myself and I know all of these e-commerce tools already, I know how to use Google, I can do websites…” says the founder of Charitees – a Hamilton-based custom apparel and promotional products company that gives 10 per cent of the proceeds from every order directly to a registered non-profit or charity. “I (knew) I really wasn't the target market for this.”
But after digging in a little deeper, Carrier started looking at it differently. Sure, the training videos for the program sparked a few ideas but Carrier had his eyes on the grant as a springboard for further learning.
He wanted to get deeper into the world of social media marketing, search engine optimization and Google Ads. “It’s an absolute rabbit’s hole,” says Carrier. “But a lot of business owners don't know the incredible potential.”
The entrepreneur saw the grant money as a way to invest in himself and his knowledge-base by taking more courses on the subjects. “Whether we like it or not Google has a stranglehold on a lot of the internet and learning how to play within their rules to get your business out there is a lifelong tech skill.”
The other part of the grant Carrier earmarked for his website which was in need of an update from a web developer including features that could accommodate the customization aspect that formed the backbone of the business.
“Let's say a client wants this particular shirt in this colour with this printed on it, there's a lot of variables there, so it's very difficult to work around those variables for e-commerce… you can't just go and start a Shopify store and start taking orders,” he says. “We had to actually redo our entire website and hire a developer.”
Carrier had designed the website back in 2015 when he launched Charitees alongside fellow McMaster University student Ron Kapcan.
“I wanted to start a business as part of my informal education,” he says. And spinning the for-profit model of larger printers into a small-scale operation with lower overheads and the ability to send a portion of profits back into the community seemed like a good place to start.
But four years on, he still has more to learn.
“The Digital Main Street program has done a great job of forcing me to focus on planning and executing steps to get to a certain point with metrics,” he says. “Having to stay accountable to the steps that I laid out in that in my proposal for the grant has really been a really big benefit for me.”
His strategy has paid off, Carrier says he’s now more comfortable with the digital marketing side of things. “The SEO is the one I'm seeing a lot of traffic in now, just organic traffic from Google based on the SEO that I've done,” he says. “And I’ve learned how to do it myself.”
Written by Andrew Seale
Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Microsoft, Facebook, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, Yellow Pages and Lightspeed.
This case study was completed during a prior expansion of DMS in partnership with the Province of Ontario and Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
In June 2020, a $42.5-million investment from FedDev Ontario and an additional $7.45 million from the Government of Ontario brought together the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech, Invest Ottawa and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association to expand the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital as a response to the impacts of COVID-19.