Readers of The Pelican may have figured out that we feature local businesses and topics and highlight successes and solutions, so the return to Phase 1 COVID restrictions is a severe blow. Is there any lemonade here for business owners or customers? Can local businesses possibly weather this? This is my challenge for this month’s article.
Change the Rules
“You can accept the death sentence, or you can change the rules,” is what Graham Sherman from Tool Shed Brewery said in an interview during the recent Power Up Alberta Virtual Event. In short, after overcoming unimaginable obstacles when he was finally getting ahead, COVID effectively shut him down and threatened everything. After an understandable mental slump, he remembered that in every negative, there is a positive and asked himself: Whose Killing it? He canvassed the area around his Brewery, and just about 1km away, he found that Spud.ca was going out of their minds trying to keep up with orders. They needed everything he had: 8,000 ft2 of warehouse space, cooler space and lots of staff. Their problem and his problems saved both businesses. But what about rural and small businesses? We must focus on what we have going.
1. We know our customers because they are our neighbours, so instead of focus groups and experts, we have only to spend some time and listen to them and draw out the gold. What are their problems and concerns, and can I solve them? What do they need or want? Is there something that I could change to make it more convenient for them?
2. When Walmart opens in a small town, the saying is that the businesses that survive have specialty goods or expertise. I needed to fix my toilet some time ago, and admittedly I researched the part I needed online, then I went to see Tony at Marczaks. True to small-town service, he took me directly to what I needed, but as I walked to the counter, he stopped me and handed me another part saying, “you’ll need this too, otherwise, it will leak.” Buying a part at any price online would not have worked well for me. I needed that advice too.
Rip-off and Duplicate examples that are working. Some businesses in rural towns have adapted and are thriving. I’ve heard of restaurants in neighbouring communities that shifted to preparing and delivering family meals and/or offering takeout are doing better than they were pre-covid. In urban areas, I swear some restaurants have shifted all sales to Skip the Dishes etc., and they are literally too busy for inside service. Can we create a delivery model here? Independent grocers seem to have met that challenge with massive success by online shopping and grocery delivery to your car. What would it take for other businesses to copy that in some way? Times have changed, and businesses can survive and perhaps thrive, but they will need to adapt. Customers must be patient and choose local whenever possible for local businesses to succeed. The fact is that we are neighbours and we need each other.
Gene Wesley is the General Manager of Community Futures Lac La Biche. You can contact him at 780-623-2662 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org ■