To our dear customers, community members and friends,
Stephanie and I would like to provide you with a brief update on our business activities. First and foremost, we hope you are all well and not going too stir-crazy!
Here are some highlights of what we have been up to over the past few weeks:
- We have been making lots of personal, contact-less porch deliveries to local customers (full details on our homepage) - keeping you supplied with toys, games, puzzles, books and more! Thank you for your ongoing support!
- We have been checking on our stores regularly, practicing rigorous distancing and staying home outside of time spent working. We have not been offering curbside pickup because - based on our understanding of the provincial order and in consultation with business support agencies - it is not appropriate for our particular business sector/operation. We may bring this service into place should it be appropriate at a future time.
- We have been digitally talking to customers - we miss you guys! While we made the decision that we could not actively answer the store phones we are responding to voicemails as promptly as we can, as well as phoning everyone who emails us asking for a phone communication. We also have been very busy messaging and emailing customers!
- We hosted a Facebook-based Easter Colouring Contest with some amazing entries! We even had several adults enter who really stepped up with some awesome creations! Congrats to the draw winners - I hope you enjoy your prizes.
- We asked our social media community to nominate and share stories about their front line heroes. So inspiring! THANK YOU TO ALL OF THESE HEROES! It was wonderful to see nominations representing so many different types of essential workers. Congrats to the 6 winners of the $50 gift certificates, and also a huge thank you to the anonymous donors who got this initiative going, which Brighten Up matched.
- ADMIN. We've been doing a lot of it... still a nice pile left!
I also wanted to share a few 'thoughts' with you on my own personal experiences as we navigate through this challenging time. You might ask, with so much more of this crisis period ahead of us isn’t a little soon to be writing this? You bet! However, it doesn’t hurt to think ahead and I anticipate that my next few weeks are going to be very busy as we get ready to operate in the ‘new normal’. I do also have a few shout outs interspersed, although this is far from an exhaustive list of the many people who have supported us!
This was a horrible time to start a new chapter in life and business - but also a great one
As many of you know, our baby daughter Cassandra was born on March 5th and we closed the deal for our new Fergus location on March 6th. We obviously were not in the loop on what was to come! Despite the many personal and professional challenges that we have been navigating over the past couple of months, this has also been a time of inspiration. There have been so many inspirational people stepping up, so many incredible stories of sacrifice and selflessness, and we have been lucky to remain healthy and to be able to start to make great memories as a young family. I also want to thank our extended family - especially the grandparents - as well as friends and everyone who has taken the time to 'meet' Cassandra and get to know her virtually. Your personal support has been essential!
Jigsaw puzzles are cool!
Those who know me know that I’m not a big believer in trend toys, or trend products in general. Most of the time they come from companies that put way more money into advertising than product development, play testing and value for money analysis. However, here's a trend I can really get behind - we already knew how great it was! Puzzling couldn’t be a better metaphor for the backbone of our business: thoughtfulness, mindfulness and connections. I want to make special note of our suppliers who have all taken important steps to protect their employees by having as many people work from home as possible, closing or substantially reducing workers in warehouses and manufacturing facilities to avoid spread and still being there to support us to the best of their ability despite the stress and uncertainty they are facing personally and professionally. In the case of puzzles, special shout outs go to Iain (Cobble Hill puzzles), Derrick (Gibson and Schmidt puzzles) and Tracy (Ravensbuger puzzles) who have been working to safely get us new puzzles so we can get them to you.
Being an entrepreneur is very much a team sport
Beyond the tremendous family support, we have also been lucky to receive so much support from fellow businesses. I want to specifically thank Miriam of Fergies Fine Foods for her ideas and advice and Tania of Infinite Body Arts/Makin Faces - who most of you know as our incredible face painter - who has been helping so many entrepreneurs like myself with her COVID-19 response for business Facebook group. We also have so many incredible staff - many of whom are brand new to us as we were about to get started in Fergus, but have been rooting for us and have been more concerned about our well-being than even their own. Our focus has been to ensure that these awesome people stay home, stay well and be ready to adjust to the 'new normal'. It will fall onto the local workers in our businesses to get this done! Last but not least, our customers are an essential part of our team. I've always known we have amazing customers but at this time they have made all the difference. Thank you to each and every one of you for asking how we are doing, reminding us to take care of ourselves, thanking us ... and some even offering to volunteer to make deliveries for us if we get stuck!
We have some of the best government leadership - and government support - but do not just trust the headlines
I have been, and continue to be, impressed by the leadership shown by our political and community leaders. I have always had a keen interest in politics and I cannot imagine the pressure and uncertainty these people are facing. Yet, they have been making I believe their very best effort to keep us informed, safe and collaboratively engaged. While there are so many leaders who have stepped up, I think our provincial leader Doug Ford and his team require a special mention here. We have also had an unprecedented amount of support made available for individuals and businesses - programs which would normally have taken months or years to develop have been rolled out in days. All that being said, it is important to be cautious about headlines. It's OK to be appreciative of support while also reading further, thinking critically and asking questions to ensure accessibility of benefits for those who need them. This is particularly the case with the recently-announced OCECRA (Ontario-Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance). Headlines raved "Canada has launched a 75% commercial rent relief program for Ontario small businesses" - implying that small businesses, like mine, are going to receive a 75% reduction in their rent. Don't get me wrong, for a closed business paying the rent on two prominent retail frontages is major 'wake up in the middle of the night' kind of worry, and government's attention to the concern is deeply appreciated. However, the headline might more honestly have proclaimed that "Commercial rent relief MAY be available for SOME Ontario small businesses - with 50% support from the federal and provincial government - IF their landlord agrees to the program and can absorb a 25% reduction in rent collected." Even that obviously oversimplifies things and it's not my intention to discredit the incredible efforts being made - only that we need to continue to evaluate, adjust and work together to move forward. I also want to thank my MP Michael Chong who took the time to personally email me in response to my concerns. Michael, I know how incredibly busy you are working to represent us and how much correspondence you receive, most of which necessarily has to be handled by your office staff. Your personal response meant a huge amount to me.
Those business associations you pay into year after year are so worth it
As a former Chamber of Commerce board member, the question of membership value is familiar to me. What I can say with confidence is that during this crisis every organization of which I am a member has gone above and beyond to serve its members by providing support, information, collaboration and compassion. A special mention goes to Helen from CFIB (Canadian Federation of Independent Business) who spent almost an hour on the phone - pus several follow up emails - with me yesterday discussing my concerns related to government programs, return to work processes, and general business challenges.
It's always the right time to have fun!
There are a lot of reasons that we may be stressed, sad and worried. It's important to keep finding reasons to smile, laugh and have fun! A special shout out to AAA events who have been doing a lot of great work around Erin and beyond, including some very funny signage around town encouraging everyone to do something goofy and have a laugh. I also enjoyed spending a day as the bunny with them over Easter weekend!
There are so many more thoughts I could share, but at this point if you've made it this far I probably ought to buy you lunch! Thank you for caring - connections and communications matter, and we must all be true to our convictions.
Doing business digitally is just not the same, and we cannot wait to get back to seeing you in person. However, what happens next is the most important. We will not rush, and I don't believe our leaders will push us to. We will take the necessary steps to keep ourselves, our team members and our customers safe. I look forward to my next post being focused on that topic!
Chris, Stephanie and Casandra