‘Future Proofing’: How Small Businesses in Central Ontario are Adapting to the Pandemic.
All businesses have felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, retail-oriented main street businesses have suffered, with stores closed and in-person commerce halted. In order to survive, many of these businesses have had to pivot their operations from brick and mortar locations to the digital marketplace.
With a $42.5 million investment from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) through the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF), since June 2020, the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) has been working to deliver the Future Proof program across Central Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area.
The Transformation Teams stream of the Future Proof program pairs small businesses in Ontario with teams of digital marketers, web designers and strategists to help existing main street businesses adapt to changes in their respective sector. The funding is making a difference in Greater Toronto Area and Central Ontario by providing businesses the support they need to navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic while finding ways to grow for the future digital economy. To date, more than 149 businesses have been supported through TABIA’s delivery of the program and more than 30 students have been hired to help deliver tailored training and support for businesses looking to improve their online presence, implement new tools and technology to improve business operations. As well, they have learned how to make the most of their digital marketing initiatives with direct tangible support and guidance.
For example, Chi Junky, a boutique Yoga studio located in Toronto Ontario was no longer able to host classes in their newly renovated 4,000 square foot studio due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With support through TABIA, Chi Junky was able to pivot online through hosting live and on demand courses while also selling Chi Junky branded merchandise through their online store.
“Very organized and quick with responding and answering any questions. Everyone was knowledgeable and worked well as a team. Super helpful. The resources and work that is offered is usually quite costly and this allows for any work done digitally at no cost. It is a no brainer to apply and work with the team. It is necessary to pivot your business into the digital space if it has a chance to continue to survive through the pandemic. It is a great way to discover other ways to generate revenue and with the teams they are there to help with it all.“
— Rachelle Wintzen
Owner of Chi Junky
In the case of AlbaLisa Gourmet Food, located in New Tecumseth, Ontario the pandemic required them to not only invest more in their digital marketing but make a change to their business model as well. No longer able to sell solely to wholesalers, Alba Lisa was now focused on building a new business line by selling directly to consumers. TABIA’S Transformation Teams worked to solve technical issues in the AlbaLisa website allowing the business to increase the reach and performance of their e-commerce site along with building their social media presence from the ground up resulting in a 3000% increase in over 30 days.
“Over the past few months, our business experienced uncertainty and more than ever felt vulnerable. Even though, we saw an increase in sales, we were convinced that creating an online store and becoming more aware of digital marketing was absolutely necessary if we wanted to survive the challenges that the pandemic brought. After we completed the (Future Proof) program, a new window opened and the opportunity to reach a wider market was presented to us, which increased our probabilities of success. Our business began to sell online and within a month our posts reached 11K people. The process to complete the plan was smooth and eye-opening. The Transformation Teams Program is a mandatory tool for businesses that have never been digital.”
— Alba Lisa
CEO of Alba Lisa Natural Mexican Food
Once the pandemic began, mother-daughter duo Susan and Nicole Bishop found themselves changing the way they operated their plant-based beauty brand in Collingwood Ontario. Prior to COVID-19, their business, Bishop Botanicals, focused on retail, yoga classes and spa services. No longer able to provide onsite services due to the public health restrictions tied to the pandemic, the owners knew they needed to adapt and solely focus on retail as the pandemic continued. To help with this transition online, the Future Proof program’s Transformation Teams worked on the optimization of both Bishop Botanicals website and online store, while also developing new product packaging, product images, website copy and additional marketing support to drive traffic to both their commercial and online store.
“The program was extremely informative, and the team was professional. They were quick to respond and took the time to understand our needs. Having the resources, training and support to complete tasks quickly really made a difference for us. Our expectations were far exceeded.”
— Susan Bishop
Co-Owner of Bishop Botanicals
With the support of Fed Dev Ontario and the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF), TABIA continues to support small businesses in the GTA and Central Ontario through the Transformation Teams stream of the Future Proof program, as well as in Northern Ontario with support from the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.