Trenton boosts Downtown BIA engagement with Digital Main Street
For Lisa Kuypers-Schroedter bringing Digital Main Street to Trenton’s Downtown BIA seemed like an easy sell. The program aims to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities. After hearing about it and sitting in on a few talks, she figured it was time to export the concept to Trenton and neighbouring Brighton.
But her excitement wasn’t reciprocated. “Lots of our merchants really didn't bite… at first, they thought it was just another government funding rigamarole,” she says. “We maybe got 30 per cent of our membership on board.”
She points out that there’s a certain leeriness small business owners tend to hold, especially with the onslaught of consultants coming through their doors to offer digital services and updates to their websites. It’s hard to sift through the noise, says the DBIA director, even when it’s a free program where the only buy-in is the time commitment to watch the skills videos.
“I think the ones that applied, received it very, very well even if they were a little hesitant at the start,” she says. “But I think we have close-minded people… they think they're getting scammed or they think there's something more to it, there's just so much solicitation going on.”
Since rolling out the program, the Digital Service Squad lead has engaged with 120 businesses in Trenton and over 50 in Brighton. “The only ones she didn’t go into were banks and not-for-profits,” says Kuypers-Schroedter. She admits that the biggest hurdle has been demographics on the two town’s main streets. “We have a lot of young entrepreneurs who didn't want to participate in Digital Main Street because they know (this stuff) and an older generation that just doesn't want to deal with digital because it's too confusing to them.”
But Kuypers-Schroedter says she was surprised to see a number of newcomer business owners “where there’s a language barrier” and that typically aren’t involved with the DBIA come on board. “They really embraced it,” she says. Several of them applied for the Digital Transformation grant and some have received it to put towards their digital presence.
It’s still early days with pending applications still out and entrepreneurs still working through their digital transformation plans. But she suspects things will start to coalesce in the summer as the remaining grants come through.
It’s a big undertaking, says Kuypers-Schroedter, one she wishes she would’ve rolled out sooner. Maybe there would’ve been more success stories to champion and draw more businesses in. But she says she’s confident in the businesses that have received their grants. “I think the people that took advantage of it will make it sustainable.”
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, and Yellow Pages.
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.