The Economic and Cultural Development team is monitoring the impact of COVID-19. Click here to learn more.

The Vaughan Rising Blog

COVID-19 Resources

Supporting Vaughan business resilience

Updated: November 30, 2020

The Economic and Cultural Development (ECD) team is monitoring the impact of COVID-19. We are ready to help you access support provided by the Government of Canada & stakeholder organizations.

Our department continues to offer advisory consultations for your business via tele- or video-conference support for general inquiries via email. We are also hosting webinars.

Book a consultation      Email us      Join a webinar

Our dedicated staff will connect with you as soon as they can. To keep our staff healthy, our regular front desk phone line will not be available.

YORK REGION COVID-19 STATUS

Level: Control (stringent measures) - Red
Effective: November 16, 2020

Vaughan logo

Overview: Control (stringent measures) – Red

Full regulation: O. Reg. 263/20: RULES FOR AREAS IN STAGE 2

Businesses required to shut down or significantly restrict services due to provincial public health measures can apply for rebates to help with fixed costs, such as property tax and energy bills.

Businesses that have questions about closures of at-risk workplaces or how emergency measures impact their business or employment can call the Stop the Spread Business Information Line at 1-888-444-3659. Help is available from Monday to Sunday from 8:30 a.m.―5:00 p.m.

  • York Region’s COVID-19 webpage is where the Region posts all of its COVID-19 updates, guidance and resources for residents and businesses.

  • Find sector specific guidelines and posters to keep workers, customer and the general public safe on the Preventing COVID-19 in the Workplace webpage.

  • Learn the latest requirements for face masks and coverings at york.ca/mandatorymasks. 

  • The Economic and Cultural Development (ECD) is working with partners to host webinars on the latest trends and topics.

    These webinars–and other events relevant to Vaughan businesses–are listed on our Events page.

  • The new Digital Boost: Vaughan Small Business Resiliency Program supports local small business owners in finding new opportunities during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. 

  • During this challenging time, the City is committed to supporting businesses, consumers and all citizens, and has developed an online list of local businesses that are open during the current state of emergency. This voluntary listing includes both essential services and businesses that have modified operations and provide goods and services by phone, online, take-out or delivery.

  • Residents looking to do their part to support the local economy can do so by shopping remotely with local businesses and restaurants with #ShopVaughanLocal. Citizens are encouraged to do any of the following to show their support for small businesses in Vaughan:

    • Order take-out or delivery from a local restaurant
    • Buy gift cards for use at a later date
    • Order from local businesses online
    • Share your local love #ShopVaughanLocal
    • Access government supports for businesses on this page
  • In March 2020, the City launched the Vaughan Business Action Plan, which includes a series of measures to safeguard the local economy and protect businesses, consumers and all citizens. These measures include:

    • Support the restocking of store shelves
    • Enhance the movement of goods
    • Improve business ground transportation
    • Suspend the Municipal Accommodation Tax (MAT)
    • Maintain small business services

    In addition, the City also implemented:

    • A grace period of 90 days for business license renewals; and
    • A waiving of late penalty charges for interim and final tax bills until July 1.

    For more information, please visit the Vaughan Business Action Plan page.

  • The Vaughan Business Resilience Plan, launched in June 2020, is an immediate and long-term plan to help Vaughan’s business community build capacity to adapt to the post-COVID world. The Economic and Cultural Development department will:

    • help businesses and the economy build resilience;
    • build resilience into key economic opportunities and strategic sectors
      like healthcare, supply-chain and manufacturing, and tourism;
    • share Vaughan’s reimagined public spaces within social distancing and invite the community to experience Vaughan’s culture and arts.

    For more information, read the Vaughan Business Resilience Plan Council Report and Project Matrix.

  • The Vaughan Rising Blog is a resource that aims to help Vaughan Businesses adapt to a post-COVID economy. The series will highlight bold and innovative ways that the Vaughan business community is demonstrating resilience and practical resources contributed by subject matter experts.

    New blogs will be posted most Tuesdays through to January 2021.

  • In response to COVID-19, the Government of Canada has introduced a suite of funding, tax credits and benefits. The programs most relevant to businesses are highlighted below.

    For more information, please visit: Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan page.

  • Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) provides $500 per week for eligible workers, including self-employed individuals.

  • Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy provides 75 per cent of salaries for qualifying businesses, including all sizes and sectors, non-profits and charities.

  • Canada Emergency Business Account (part of the Business Credit Availability Program) provides interest-free loans of up to $40,000 to small businesses and not-for-profits.

  • Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy provides direct support of up to 65 per cent of eligible expenses to tenants and property owners for qualifying organizations affected by COVID-19.

    Qualifying organizations that are subject to a lockdown and must shut their doors or significantly limit their activities under a public health order may be eligible for additional Lockdown Support of 25 per cent of eligible expenses.

  • Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF) provides bridge financing to Canada’s largest employers, including certain not-for-profit businesses.

  • Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) provides interest-free loans for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are unable to access other federal COVID-19 relief measures.

  • The AIME@Home program offers grants of up to $100,000 per company to foster training that will lead to advancements in innovation within the manufacturing sector in Southern Ontario.

  • Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)’s Small Business Loan offers up to $100,000 and can be obtained online in as little as 48 hours, from time of approval.

  • Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)’s Purchase Order Financing helps businesses increase cash flow to fulfill domestic or international orders with very flexible times.

  • Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)’s Working Capital Loan​ offers extra funds to bridge cash flow gaps and support everyday operations.

  • Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)’s Capital Bridge Financing Program is for Canadian companies backed by a qualified venture capital firm, who have raised at least $500,000 in external capital before applying for the program, and  specifically impacted by COVID-19.

  • BioEnterprise Smartgrowth Program provides funding to small and medium businesses in Southern Ontario’s agri-technology sector to support scale-up and expansion projects.

  • The Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) provides interest-free loans of up to $40,000 to small businesses and not-for-profits.

  • Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy provides direct support of up to 65 per cent of eligible expenses to tenants and property owners for qualifying organizations affected by COVID-19.

    Qualifying organizations that are subject to a lockdown and must shut their doors or significantly limit their activities under a public health order may be eligible for additional Lockdown Support of 25 per cent of eligible expenses.

  • The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) gives income support to employed and self-employed individuals who are directly affected by COVID-19 and are not entitled to Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. The CRB is administered by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

    If you are eligible for the CRB, you can receive $1,000 ($900 after taxes withheld) for a 2-week period up to a total of 13 eligibility periods (26 weeks).

  • Digital Main Street (DMS) is a program focused on assisting main street small businesses (MSB) with their adoption of technologies. Through a partnership with FedDev Ontario and the Province of Ontario, grant opportunities are available to enable this digital transformation process.  

    The Digital Transformation Grant (DTG) program will provide funding for training, advisory support, and contributions to main street small businesses looking increase their capacity through digital transformation. Digital Transformation grants can be used to make investments in the following areas:

    • Hira consultant/agency/person to execute Digital Marketing initiatives 
    • Develop a new website or redesign an existing website 
    • Purchase graphic design, social media, productivity or other software 
    • Enroll in ongoing Digital Training courses  
    • Purchase hardware to help with executing digital marketing strategies 

    Vaughan-based businesses must be located in the Kleinburg Business Improvement Area, Maple Heritage District, Thornhill Heritage District or Woodbridge Avenue, among other eligibility criteria, in order to apply. The Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA) reserves the right to determine which businesses are eligible or ineligible on a case-by-case basis. 

  • Export Development Canada (EDC)’s Funding for Exporters supports all Canadian exporters by offering their banks a guarantee on loans of up to $5 million.

  • If you are a tourism operator or small- or medium-sized business or organization and have received RDA funding and COVID-19 is affecting your operations, you are encouraged to contact FedDev Ontario.​

  • Innovative Solutions Canada funds R&D and test prototypes in real-life settings. It has two streams with funding dedicated to Canadian innovators who want to start, grow and get to market.

  • Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF) will be open to large Canadian employers who

    1. have a significant impact on Canada’s economy, as demonstrated by (i) having significant operations in Canada or (ii) supporting a significant workforce in Canada;
    2. can generally demonstrate approximately $300 million or more in annual revenues; and
    3. require a minimum loan size of about $60 million.
  • Mitacs is expanding its effort to support Canadian businesses in the fight against COVID-19 by boosting funding, fast-tracking proposals and adding flexibility to project requirements.

  • The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)’s Enhanced Agri-Food Workplace Protection Program offers grants of 70% up to $7,500 for Ontario agriculture and agri-food businesses to implement safety measures that protect employees against COVID-19.

  • Businesses that were required to shut down or significantly restrict services due to provincial public health measures (in areas with modified Stage 2 restrictions or categorized as control or lockdown) can apply for rebates, provided in the form of grants, for property tax and energy bills.

  • The Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) provides interest-free loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are unable to access other federal COVID-19 relief measures.

    If there is significant demand for the funding available, priority may be given to SMEs that are significant employers in communities and critical industries, such as manufacturing, technology and tourism.

  • The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) is a subsidy covering 75 per cent of salaries for qualifying businesses, including all sizes and sectors, non-profits and charities.

  • The Government of Canada Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) and TECHNATION Career Ready Program covers up to 75% of gross wages for Canadian companies and scale-ups that leverage student talent during the COVID 19 pandemic

  • Mitacs is expanding its effort to support Canadian businesses in the fight against COVID-19 by expanding internship offerings and bolstering industrial post-doc fellowships.

  • Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC)’s Work-Sharing program is designed to help employers and employees avoid layoffs when there is a temporary reduction in the normal level of business activity, beyond the control of the employer.

  • The Magnet Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) brings together employers, students, and post-secondary school stakeholders to create quality work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities.

    The program provides employers with wage subsidies to hire post-secondary students for paid work experiences. Students in turn benefit with quality work experience so they can secure employment in their chosen fields of study.

  • If you are a small business or charity customers having difficulty paying your Alectra bill due to COVID-19 you may be eligible for a credit against your electricity arrears. Apply using Alectra’s COVID-19 Energy Assistance Program for Small Business (CEAP-SB) Application Form.

  • COVID-19 Energy Assistance Program (CEAP) provides a one-time payment to qualifying residential, small business or registered charity customers to help with their Enbridge Gas bill.

  • Businesses that were required to shut down or significantly restrict services due to provincial public health measures (in areas with modified Stage 2 restrictions or categorized as control or lockdown) can apply for rebates, provided in the form of grants, for property tax and energy bills.

  • The Actors’ Fund of Canada (The AFC) ​ is providing short-term emergency financial assistance to Canadian entertainment professionals.

  • The artsUNITE project is a sector-led wayfinding and support platform for the creative community.

    Its purpose is to:

    • Guide artists and creative organizations through the available resources for immediate relief;
    • Secure remuneration through paid work opportunities; and
    • Equip artists with adaptive supports for long-term sector recovery and regeneration from the pandemic.
  • The Canadian Artist + Musician Relief Fund provides support for low-income artists and musicians whose livelihoods are being affected by this pandemic. Whether it’s from cancelled gigs, lost jobs or a lack of business due to coronavirus.

  • Glad Day Lit’s Emergency Survival Fund supports paid work for LGBTQ2S artists and performers; grants to LGBTQ2S artists, performers and tip-based workers for food and housing; no-interest loans to artists, performers and tip-based workers; and Glad Day Lit admin costs and toward keeping Glad Day open.

  • The Government of Canada’s PPE Supply Hub has resources and information to help organizations sell and buy personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic. .

  • This risk mitigation tool will assist workplaces/businesses in considering risks to employees, customers and clients during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and provide examples of measures that may be implemented at the workplace/business to mitigate potential risks.

  • Over 90 sector-specific guidelines and posters have been developed to help protect workers, customers and the general public from coronavirus (COVID-19) in Ontario.

  • Use the Workplace Safety Plan template to create a plan to help protect your works and others from COVID-19.

  • The PPE Exchange is a marketplace for personal protective equipment (PPE) connecting customers in need of PPE with suppliers.

  • As Canada’s industries return to work, there is an increased demand for PPE. The Rapid Response Platform automatically matches supply with demand, simplifying supplier discovery during the procurement process.

  • To assist retailers in their reopening planning, Retail Council of Canada, in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group and retailers from across Canada, has prepared the Road to Retail Recovery Playbook to help Canadian retailers, large and small, plan for the reopening of retail sector across the country.

  • The UN World Tourism Organization’s COVID-19 webpage is a central source for data, webinars and other resources, including the COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package.

  • York Region’s COVID 19: Resources for the York Region Business Community page is a central source for:

    • Business reopening guidance and advice,
    • York Region Public Health resources and guidance,
    • Workplace PPE supplier directories, and
    • Other resources.
  • The Recovery Activation Program (RAP) is a no cost, immersive series of highly practical online programs that are designed to help you identify areas to modernize your business so that you can confidently take on all the challenges that are thrown at you in the wake of COVID-19, such as managing your workforce virtually, finding new customers without going to a tradeshow, and managing disrupted supply chains – just to name a few.

  • The Government of Canada is seeking manufacturers, businesses and skilled workers that can assist Canada in meeting the need for medical supplies.

  • Ontario Together: Help fight Coronavirus is seeking businesses, researchers and organizations that can supply emergency products and innovative solutions.

    Only have part of a solution? Look for partners with OCE’s COVID-19 Collaboration Platform.

  • Public Works and Government Services Canada is seeking businesses able to supply products and services in support of Canada’s response to Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Vaughan Rising Blog: How to Develop an Innovative Product Quickly

Vaughan scaleup swiftly develops COVID detection device

Like other businesses in Vaughan, Kontrol Energy Corp. was disrupted by government measures to contain the pandemic. Instead of dwelling on how it impacted them, Kontrol considered what this meant for their clients and for the entire global economy.

Kontrol is one of Canada’s top new growth companies with triple-digit revenue growth and 70 employees. They’re a smart building technology company with two verticals: 1) reducing energy cost and consumption and 2) improving air quality and emissions. They work with large commercial real estate clients in Canada and the US, outfitting multi-residential, industrial and institutional buildings with their technologies.

CEO Paul Ghezzi remembers when the pandemic began, “The first thing we noticed really was a lot of our customers started to worry about having service companies like Kontrol on site. And that immediately led to a recalculation of when they could do their capital projects. When could Kontrol come on site? Was it safe?”

“And so around that time,” he continues, “we started to ask the question: if being safe in the space that you’re in is going to be a big challenge for the global economy, what can we do about that? We’re already at industrial facilities managing air quality in real time. Is there a way we could participate in helping solve this global pandemic?”

This problem, combined with their expertise in air quality monitoring, was the seed of a big idea: could they develop a technology that detects the COVID-19 virus in the air, in real time?

Fed by ambition and allies, that seed quickly grew into the Kontrol BioCloud Analyzer. This success story offers a peek inside the R&D process, and how to navigate it as quickly as possible.

Five takeaways from Kontrol to develop an innovative product quickly

1.   Lean into your expertise

They weren’t sure at first, admits Ghezzi. “Essentially we got together as a group and we said here’s what we’re thinking. Is this even feasible or possible? Half of us thought we were crazy. Half of us thought we should proceed.”

The logic behind the decision to proceed was that Kontrol already owned a company that had been measuring air quality on a parts per million basis for the past thirty years. The Kontrol team is very adept, knowledgeable, and sophisticated with air quality monitoring equipment. Their extensive expertise includes air sampling and looking for very specific things in the air that should not be there.

The part they were uncertain about was the chemical process. “COVID is not just a particulate in the air; there’s got to be some kind of chemical reaction in terms of identifying it. That part we didn’t know. So we reached out to a number of labs and started the process to find out what it would take to design a system that could detect COVID in conjunction with our continuous air sampling and monitoring. And that’s where it really started to come together,” notes Ghezzi.

2.   Recruit new partners

During the Research & Development (R&D) process, Kontrol partnered with independent labs. “The ImPaKT Facility actually has a live COVID virus available, so we were quite fortunate to get our independent testing against the dormant virus and then move very quickly to the live virus,” says Ghezzi. “What we’re working on now is setting a lower detection limit, which is a measure of how sensitive the technology is to the virus. Once we establish that, we move into commercialization. We’re looking to have production coming off the line of BioCloud units in November.”

Another important partnership that Ghezzi was sure to mention is the National Research Council of Canada, which has provided $50,000 of funding to Kontrol. “What’s important about the National Research Council is not the amount of funding because we had the funds in place to do the testing. But when they become part of the process, they go through their own independent validation of the work we’re doing. So it’s very helpful to have that. And they’re essentially the government of Canada scientists. From a controls perspective, it’s external validation, which is very helpful.”

3.   Leverage existing relationships

By keeping their initial costs down, Kontrol did not have to raise capital to do the testing. Ghezzi shares, “Our view is we can take the product to production and as customers make purchases, those deposits will help fund some of the production.”

“We’ve got 70 employees,” he adds, “and the approach we’re taking is we’re not building new factories, we’re not building new warehouses. We’ll run the logistics, sales, marketing, and production. All the manufacturing is going to be based in Ontario with third-party manufacturers.”

“What that’s allowed us to do is keep our overheads very low but allowed the manufacturing to happen in Ontario through third parties. We just leveraged our existing relationships to move very quickly. But we’re always looking for new manufacturing partners or third-party contracting manufacturers to talk to,” he says. Heads up then, local manufacturers!

4.   Accept you can’t control everything

With the first testing beginning in August and a goal of production starting in November, Kontrol has been working at breakneck speed. Ghezzi says, “The biggest challenge with a new technology or a new product is there’s parts that you control as an entrepreneur and a business owner and a team, and there’s parts that you don’t.

“When you’re developing a new technology or product, timing is always a challenge, and BioCloud is no different because we’re racing to solve the pandemic. But when you’re working with the government, it’s different, because they’re a much larger organization with more processes and approvals required. So I would say that’s been the most challenging.”

When the things he can’t control get frustrating, Ghezzi confides that he takes a step back. “We look at it from the perspective that in March, BioCloud didn’t exist. In only six or seven months, we’ve created a new technology that we think can really be helpful to get through this global challenge. So that’s the other side of it is that we’re moving mountains in a short period of time.”

5.   Don’t forget to consider long term application

Ghezzi notes, “We’re not alone in this; there are other technologies coming from the US, and other competitors. I think we’re one of the first in Canada so that makes us fairly unique, but viral detection is a new form of technology that’s coming to buildings and spaces.

“Over the next five years, my view is that every building is going to have some form of viral detection, like we do with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide. It’s a different world. Everything changed for everyone. New technologies are going to help us get through this pandemic and who knows what’s coming in the future. What’s the next pandemic three or four years from now?”

“Right now the detection chamber is single use for a single virus,” Ghezzi explains. “Our detection chamber can be modified to track other viruses such as Legionnaires’ disease or H1N1. Right now COVID is the immediate focus. In the future, our hope is to have one detection chamber for multiple viruses. But that’s going to take a bit more R&D and some more time.”

Rising to the challenge of pandemic problems

Thanks to a lot of hard work and sheer drive, Kontrol Energy has come up with a solution to a global problem. Ghezzi explains, “With today’s challenges, people often don’t feel safe in the spaces they’re in. We have nothing in a space that says I’m okay in the space I’m in right now and that’s really the big debate in the economy: how do we move forward without shutting down? I think technologies like BioCloud can play an important role in that.”

The first units will likely go out to their existing customers in Canada, but Kontrol is building a global distribution network to see the units go far and wide. Back in Vaughan, they’re creating new jobs to support the technology, while maintaining their core business too. Kontrol is doing everything it takes to make an innovative pivot which will ensure that more businesses and people make it through the pandemic safely to the other side.

 

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

Vaughan Rising Blog: Expanding a Real Estate Brand During a Pandemic

You probably know that Vaughan is part of the Greater Toronto Area. You might not know that as of 2020, Toronto is the fastest growing city and metropolitan area in all the US and Canada.

We have a hot real estate market but when the COVID lockdown orders were issued in March, the market ground to a halt. Sellers pulled their listings, and buyers adopted a wait-and-see policy.

Finance Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) is Vaughan’s second largest industry, with real estate and leasing making up the bulk of it. How did our brokerages respond?

To get a perspective, the City of Vaughan talked to Matthew Ablakan, the Founder and Owner of Millennial’s Choice Group of Companies. In the last four years, Matthew quickly grew the Millennial’s Choice brand into a group of companies offering real estate, mortgages, life insurance, and financial literacy education.

The team was on an upward track and started 2020 with a clear game plan for developing the business. In mid-March, that plan went out the window and a new one was hatched.

Matthew had decided, “we’re not shutting down the business, we just have to now adapt to the changing environment.”

Six ways Millennial’s Choice kept growing during the pandemic

Here is what Matthew and his team did to keep Millennial’s Choice growing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Start with the clients that need you the most

Millennial’s Choice focused first and foremost on the clients that needed their immediate time and attention.

“It could have been speaking to a builder that a client purchased from and asking them to extend their deposits,” Matthew shares. “It could have been in the form of talking to the lenders that we work with and extending payments that are due or [arranging] mortgage deferrals… There were so many things. I looked at it from the point of view that I don’t control the economy or a pandemic, but I certainly can control the actions we take.”

2. Identify new needs as they emerge in the market – and provide

Once the fires were brought down to a slow burn, the team saw a new need emerging. The investment and real estate landscape was shifting beneath everyone’s feet and the pace of change was hard to keep up with. Millennial’s Choice stepped up with free, live webinars featuring lenders, developers, building institutions, and even the Mayor of Vaughan.

The webinars filled a gap but Matthew, a trained teacher, saw an even deeper problem they could help with: “One of the biggest things that was quite interesting to see is how many more people are now interested in their financial future and their financial security, and rightfully so. So many people have been laid off, are still laid off or still unemployed and people are wondering, especially with the stock market crash, were they making the right investments, were their investments solid enough.”

Matthew and his team decided to launch an online school called the MC Academy, using an online learning platform.

“Basically, the MC Academy houses a bunch of different topics that we’ve put into a webinar fashion. We’re talking about things like your RRSPs – how can you invest? What is pre-construction real estate? How to qualify for a mortgage in 2020 and beyond? We’re creating all kinds of content now and the cool thing is we actually do hire a professional videographer and editor,” Matthew explains.

“The platform itself is actually an e-learning platform that colleges use. The idea here is that we don’t want to just bring you something that you can Google or YouTube and find out yourself. This is actually stuff that is not available anywhere else.”

He notes, “We don’t expect those people that enroll in the online courses to then become our clients. There is actually no drip marketing campaign for that. The idea is just education. We still need to charge something, but they’re starting from $49.99. Nobody can say that a company with these types of licences and backgrounds are providing this sort of education for that kind of price. So, we’re really excited about that. We want everybody to be enrolled in these kinds of things and just learn – learn as much as you can.”

3. Experiment with bold new offerings

But the content development didn’t stop at education. During the pandemic, Millennial’s Choice launched a new YouTube channel. It will be anchored by a new communication product that will lay the company and the industry bare.

“Most of it is going to be our Vlog. That’s what I’m really excited about,” says Matthew. “That Vlog is going to give you a real insider look, like raw, authentic (obviously we’ve cut out some parts for privacy reasons), but you see everything – you see how we talk to people, how we meet with people, what we’re doing on a day to day basis.”

In contrast to the consistently positive things posted on social media, Matthew takes a different approach with the vlog. “I think when you’re talking about building a business that you need to show people some of the failures, some of the defeats, and some of the hard things you go through. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone to do that and show it to everybody. It’s real, it’s raw and it’s coming.”

4. Make the most of the silver linings

Millennial’s Choice took advantage of downtime at the beginning of the lockdown for strategic planning and taking on the YouTube channel, Vlog, and MC Academy.

Matthew confides, “You know, one of the honest reasons is that we had more time on our hands during COVID. You know, things slowed down for a bit. It’s kind of like the world stopped. And I was spending a lot of time up north [working] at my fiancee’s family’s cottage. And it was nice – the air was fresher up there… I had more time on my hands to do some of those things that were kind of put on the back burner.”

Meanwhile, Millennial’s Choice made another strategic move. While many companies have been anticipating a permanent shift to remote work and letting go of their office space, Millennial’s Choice saw an opportunity to double down on a collaborative work environment where staff and clients can come together.

Matthew tells the story, “We actually made an investment in a new office space sometime towards the end of April, beginning of May. This new office is a bigger space with basically zero office space, like for anybody to come in and get work done. I had looked at concepts from Europe, when I was in Europe last year. I had visited real estate offices and different kinds of businesses that were already embracing this open concept feel and people love it. So, I already had this idea and then when COVID happened, I actually stumbled across a very good opportunity and it worked out for us. So long term I think it was a really good decision.”

5. Create and follow a well-informed game plan

Matthew says the new products they developed have a well-informed plan behind them.

“If you see how we do things at Millennial’s Choice, we don’t just want to do something for the sake of doing it and we launch it and then there’s no consistency or there’s no game plan going forward. So, with all these initiatives, we have a game plan for all of them,” Matthew explains.

“For the education piece, we want to be able to offer licensing courses for different areas and categories like real estate or mortgages and insurance. On the YouTube side of things, we have a plan to grow that and that plan is literally tied in together with our education piece and entrepreneurship.”

Regarding the vlog, he says, “I want to be able to share what I know and lessons and experiences that I’ve learned, and the problem was I didn’t have time to dedicate to that. There were some other important aspects of our business that I have to always be on, and these things take time and they do take money and because of COVID slowing things down in a sense, I had more time to do that.”

6. Don’t be afraid to swim upstream

Millennial’s Choice was doing things differently before the pandemic and they’ve kept that philosophy during it.

Matthew offers this advice: “The natural reaction in situations like this is to contract, stop spending money on advertising, lay off people, whatever, just contract, save, save, save. We take the other approach and we recommend that to other brokerages: expand.

“While everybody is contracting, spend a little bit more money advertising online or wherever. Or come up with a new idea, like the online stuff, just become more valuable, capture some more market share. You could come out ahead if you don’t contract.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, but you know where you can expand. You know where you can grow and where you can change … just work towards that.”

Millennial’s Choice will keep rising, as they pivot, innovate, and go above and beyond what it takes to get to the other side.

 

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

Vaughan Rising Blog: How Strong Company Culture Leads Successful Pandemic Response

Pizza Hut Canada doesn’t need much introduction, but here are some numbers to put it in perspective. This franchise has just under 500 restaurants across Canada operated by more than 100 franchisee partners. The nerve centre of this network—providing operational, developmental, financial, marketing and HR support—is located in Vaughan.

The team of 30 is co-located with fellow Yum! Brands subsidiaries KFC and Taco Bell in an office building overlooking Highway 400. From the outside, it looks like a typical low-rise office building; but inside, it’s a funky open-concept space with bright colours and at least one giant taco.

Office design is just one slice of the Yum! Brands effort to create a strong work culture. In fact, culture is such an ingrained part of the company that they have a capital-C-Culture department (that other companies would call Human Resources).

Across the entire Yum! corporation, leadership has been working to create a people-first organization with values like staff empowerment, transparency, trust, communication and inclusivity. At the ground level, they have programs that shape the company culture and build leadership skills. Pre-COVID, they even had a busy Culture Calendar that encouraged team bonding through social events, staff recognition, store visits, and get-togethers with the leadership team.

When COVID-19 lockdown orders came in March 2020, Pizza Hut Canada was deeply motivated to maintain their values and team spirit in an era of physical distancing. They took on this challenge from two angles: 1) bring the team together remotely and 2) adapt the office to support team members ready to come back.

Both were approached with care and intention. To learn more about their journey, we spoke with Pizza Hut Canada’s General Manager Tatiana Carrascal and Human Resources Director Chelsea Hamlyn.

Four simple ways to continue company culture while working remotely

1. Be proactive to put infrastructure in place

Chelsea describes their first, sometimes uncertain, steps in March: “We’ve had people work from home in the past and we’ve been quite flexible with that, but we’ve never actually had everyone working from home. So when we started seeing the news and hearing that something was happening in terms of a lockdown, we actually internally started to test our network just to make sure we could support everyone working from home. That was at least the week prior, maybe a couple weeks prior.”

While head office was finding a new groove, Tatiana says the franchise network was able to lean on well-timed investments in digital technology.

“We were able to really continue to operate at a fairly normal level I would say,” notes Tatiana. “We had been investing in developing and improving our e-commerce platform for years before the pandemic and that certainly enabled us to continue serving our customers.”

2. Initiate open communication

“On March 16, when the lockdown started, we held an all-team meeting across all three brands,” Chelsea shares. “We communicated to everyone that the office was going to be shutting so we recommended everyone grabbing everything they needed in order to work from home for the next few weeks. I shouldn’t laugh, but when I look back at how we said the next few weeks, it was the best information that we had at the time.”

As time went on, Pizza Hut continued to provide their team with the most accurate information they had during regular meetings.

“We started to implement what we called Hut Huddles each week, which was an area and a time on the calendar for us to connect with our Pizza Hut team. We would give them insight into what was happening and what was coming. It also gave them a platform to ask questions with the full leadership team and an opportunity for them to connect with their peers.”

“We did our best to try to keep the team up to date with the information we had,” notes Chelsea. She continues, “We always say our bread and butter is the culture and it’s something that we’re incredibly proud of. But it doesn’t come without some work and some focus on it.”

3. Be honest and human

Chelsea admits that during these meetings Pizza Hut acknowledged, “Sometimes the answer is we don’t have all the information; we’re learning at the same time you guys are.” Building on the strongly established team culture, they continued to be honest and up front with the team, even when it meant being a bit vulnerable and human.

4. Check in frequently with team members

Chelsea shares, “We did our best to check in as often as possible with the team just to make sure they had what they needed, because some people deal with change quite well and some people struggle with it. So we just wanted to make sure they felt supported.” Through these check-ins, Pizza Hut extended the care and concern of their regular company culture into the at-home workplaces.

“Tatiana and I were laughing a few weeks ago,” Chelsea continues, “because someone actually mentioned to us that they thought being remote made us closer, which is quite interesting that someone would say that. As we started to reflect, we were like yeah, maybe it has. Because it’s making people be a lot more intentional about their connections. So instead of walking by someone’s office and saying hi, they’re having to intentionally set up a meeting or intentionally dial in or check in on that person.”

She adds, “Even from our franchise perspective, it’s been quite similar in terms of that improvement in communications. We have bi-weekly calls with all of our 100 franchisees, and those calls have been able to give us an opportunity to provide them insight into what’s happening, insight into what is coming, and the reason behind why those changes are coming. So it’s definitely increased our communication and the understanding of those changes across the entire system.”

Five ways Pizza Hut Canada enabled a return to the office

The next item on the agenda was adapting the office to allow the team to come back. It was a natural progression to just keep nurturing that ingrained company culture that had seen the team through the pandemic thus far.

1. Think about the key functions of the space before adapting it

When considering how to reopen the office, Pizza Hut wanted to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission as much as possible while maintaining the function and vibe of the space.

Chelsea describes the office space in its original state, and how it was designed to support their company values. “The space represents being inviting with that open space concept. We’re quite collaborative so we obviously have open desk concepts but also a lot of lounge spaces for people to work, for franchisees to come in, and for us to work as a team.

“And then the other piece of it is that we’re quite food obsessed. Clearly, we’re a food company and that shows through in everything we do. So we have a test kitchen where innovation is happening across the brands or new products are being tested.

“And then lastly is the culture. For us, the biggest piece of culture is the recognition awards; so you’ll see a lot of fun coming through with those recognition awards, a lot of bright colours that are quite bold but definitely represent who we are as the brand. And all of those are throughout our office in Vaughan.”

2. Listen to team feedback

With that foundation in mind, Pizza Hut Canada started the adaptation process early and listened to the team.

“The process of adapting the space for us probably started in late March, early April—or at least the conversations of it—because we wanted to be proactive and ensure we were ready for whenever that time came,” says Chelsea.

“So, we had an office reopening squad that we created, and the squad really made decisions based on feedback from our internal survey and what our employees were telling us.”

3. Research industry trends

Chelsea shares, “At the same time, we had to make educated guesses in terms of what we were seeing happening externally.” They did some research to find out “what was happening both within our restaurants within Canada, other restaurants within Canada, but then also globally what were we seeing happening.”

This research revealed that plexiglass dividers can reduce the spread of the virus. “Our floor plan is cubes and we wanted it to be open office spaces so it’s inviting and collaborative,” explains Chelsea. She notes, “We made the decision to buy plexiglass dividers because that’s one thing that our employees were saying they would appreciate. And at the same time, we knew that it added another layer of safety.”

The office reopening squad implemented many changes and policies that are found in other offices that have reopened: directional stickers on the floor, removing chairs in boardrooms to reduce capacity, sanitation stations, limiting entrances and exits, and even installing a camera that measures temperature remotely.

4. Provide staff with maximum flexibility

While the office was adapted to be as safe as possible, staff do have the choice to come in or not, with maximum flexibility.

Tatiana shares, “We do know, because we’ve done a few surveys, that there’s a few of them that could really use a quiet space once a week just to really concentrate and get some work done. So, as they told us that, we realized that it would be great if we could provide that space. But then there’s also other realities. We have employees that have families, and their kids are still at home. Even if they wanted to, they have to be at home to look after their kids. So, they’re likely not going to go back to the office for the foreseeable future. But we’ve created a space that could accommodate both.”

Chelsea adds, “We have people on the team that have been quite vocal with craving quiet time away from potentially their family or their kids, or whatever their situation is. And we also know that we have a handful of folks that live downtown in a very small condo and just need that space to be able to do something different. But we will be quite flexible. We have people that take public transportation as well, so we know they’ve been pretty vocal that they don’t want to come back until things are a little bit more stable. So we were giving people the flexibility until the end of the year for sure, by saying do what’s right for you but at least you have a space that’s safe—that’s available to you—if you do want to go back into the office.”

5. Continue to move forward

After many months of preparation and waiting for the right time, Pizza Hut Canada finally reopened their office on August 17.  Tatiana reports that, so far, it’s going well. A small—but growing—portion of the team is coming in, happy to have a quiet space and access to specialized tools like the test kitchen.

Pizza Hut Canada’s advice for the second wave

With a second wave upon us, employers have tough decisions to make about whether to reopen the office, keep working remotely, or a mix of both.

Chelsea offers this, “The advice I would give is understand that going through a pandemic hits everyone differently. I know that’s easily said, and should go without saying, but the reality is sometimes we forget that. Transparency and compassion really goes a long way and that’s what we continue to hear from our employees is they’ve appreciated that we might not have all the answers. We might not have all the details but the transparency and the compassion that we’ve been able to show is something that does go a long way.”

Transparency, compassion and culture have kept Pizza Hut Canada rising during the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to serve them well as they pivot, innovate, and do what it takes to get through to the other side.

 

Disclaimer

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

Vaughan Rising Blog: Three Reasons Why Digital Marketing is Important

COVID-19 as the Catapult to Business Modernization & Resiliency

Digital marketing allows businesses to meet customers where they spend their time. This is especially important during COVID-19, as more people are spending time at home and in isolation, increasingly turning to their devices for work, communication, and entertainment.

The City of Vaughan’s Digital Boost small business resiliency program helps entrepreneurs and small business owners find new opportunities during COVID-19. Vaughan’s Economic and Cultural Development Department has collaborated with General Assembly, an education organization that teaches entrepreneurs and business professionals practical technology skills, to provide expert training and instruction to help program participants reach their business goals, as well as mentorship opportunities to bring their new digital marketing strategies to life.

As of March 2020, Canada had 25 million social media users (with more than 900 thousand added in the previous year) and 35.32 million internet users – both up year-on-year, according to the Digital 2020 Canada report. And those were the numbers at the beginning of the pandemic. Each of those users may be potential customers for your business.

What does this mean for small business owners in Vaughan?

To find out, the City of Vaughan spoke with two digital marketing experts.

Joshua Doner – Marketing Manager, General Assembly Canada

Joshua is a Remote Marketer and Livestream host with General Assembly. He loves connecting with communities about the future of work, tech trends and marketing. His team at GA helps people find rewarding careers at the most innovative companies investing in great User Experiences, Data Science and building amazing Software products.

Connor Taras, Regional Director, General Assembly Canada

Connor started with General Assembly over four years ago because he recognized an opportunity to help shape the future workforce and provide our community with the skills needed to build for our digital economy.  Connor currently makes operational decisions and manages the team on the Toronto campus. He also executes on Canadian expansion opportunities for General Assembly in Canada as Regional Director. Prior to joining the team at GA, along with working at several small start ups, he was a member of the Canadian Olympic National Team in Sprint Kayak.

Here are three ways digital marketing can work for your small business:

1. Invest in e-commerce to better serve your customers (and learn more about them)

One of the greatest opportunities that have been presented to small businesses due to COVID-19 is connecting with customers online. Joshua notes, “Businesses that are successfully adapting during COVID-19 are continuing to connect with their customers virtually. If you are a yoga studio, dentist, restaurant and/or business owner who can embrace new techniques for engaging customers online, you will have a business that is resilient and can scale into the future.”

Connor adds, “As part of the Digital Boost program, General Assembly has made high quality digital skills training available for free. The access to these new skills and tools are a great opportunity to transform your business to optimize operations for an online customer experience.”

The City of Vaughan provides a training and mentorship program, Digital Boost, to support local small business owners in finding new opportunities during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. This program helps entrepreneurs scale their marketing efforts, strengthen their online presence and deliver compelling content that helps them keep in touch with their current customers and connects them with new business opportunities.

“It is important to meet customers where they spend their time. Through digital marketing tactics, a local business, in the city of Vaughan, can win both locally and on a global scale. This is an amazing opportunity,” says Joshua.

There is a lot that is possible for a small business through e-commerce that isn’t possible with in-person shopping. Connor explains, “Selling your product or service through e-commerce gives you far greater ability to connect with your customers in a targeted way. The power of data allows you to understand what the buyer is looking for, by understanding what products they may be looking at in your online store, how many products they may have in their shopping cart or maybe even understanding how long they are spending on your site. These are metrics that are very difficult to measure with an in-person shopping experience. The power of e-commerce allows you to make data-driven decisions, explore and optimize the customer journey and target an optimized and larger audience through digital marketing techniques. All helping you grow your business much quicker than may be possible with in-person shopping.”

For a bricks-and-mortar business that is reluctant to invest in e-commerce and digital marketing, Joshua has this advice, “If you are mission-driven to serve your customers, it should be a part of your organizational DNA to meet them where they are: online. If you are unsure of HOW to achieve success online or WHO can help you with that, get in contact with the Vaughan Small Business and Entrepreneurship team at ecd@vaughan.ca. You can also join a General Assembly learntogether.biz workshop and the instructor will walk you through how to be successful!” Find the support system that can guide you in making the right choices for your business.

2. Take advantage of free and subsidized tools and services

There are many types of software or tools that are available to support a small business with limited people, time and money. Now is a great time to take advantage of the many digital marketing tools and services that are free or subsidized during COVID-19.

To make the transition to a digital storefront easier and more cost-efficient than ever before, Joshua has the following suggestions:

  • Shopify has a 90 day free trial, up from 14 days. This is long enough to launch a store with their easy user experience and gain support from their team of Shopify Gurus.
  • Other great alternatives are Wix and Squarespace. Within these e-commerce platforms there are amazing apps that can help you automate many of the different processes and help transform the services you would offer with your in-person shopping experience into your digital experience.
  • A couple great local (GTA) apps are:
    • Zapiet – For curbside pick ups, local delivery and inventory management
    • You Can Book Me – Calendar integration to help your customer seamlessly book in-person visits or service appointments
    • DigiSmoothie – Increase conversions on purchases and upsell your customer
    • WebFlow – No code apps that will help you automate your process

He adds, “There is also a wealth of knowledge on Reddit, YouTube and of course, General Assembly can help you with hands-on workshops to guide you through that journey. Your only blocker is starting!”

Small business owners with limited resources may wonder where to put their time and money to get the best results from digital marketing.

Here’s Connor’s advice: “As mentioned above, most services and products are offering free trials that will help you get the process started. Make sure your product can be accessed by your customer and most importantly, purchased by your customer. After you’re comfortable with an MVP (minimal viable product) of your online store, remember it doesn’t have to be perfect, start experimenting with some digital marketing techniques like social media. Tell your customers you’re open for business. This can all be done with minimum, if zero, investment upfront!”

3. Double down on your digital marketing

Consumer habits have definitely changed due to COVID-19. As the economy reopens, digital marketing should remain at the forefront of your small business marketing and communications strategy.

“‘COVID pulled the future forward’ is the quote that says it all,” Joshua observes. “From a corporate perspective, we have seen this affect organizations like BMO, Pinterest, Shopify, etc. Most of them have even recognized that they have to adapt quickly and re-align for the future COVID-19 has created, creating a remote-first culture.”

With respect to small businesses, he notes, “While these large organizations do not fully represent Mainstreet, we do believe they set the tone for a digital-first economy and more importantly a digital-first consumer mindset. That said, as the economy re-opens we will see physical spaces become areas that complement an online experience that is the first touchpoint for your business.”

Joshua provides some tangible examples of this trend:

  • Curbside pickup
  • More 1-on-1 scheduled appointments for services like the gym and health and wellness that used to have majority walk-in traffic
  • Food delivery
  • Virtual consultations, job interviews and meetings

Digital marketing tactics haven’t really changed during COVID-19. If anything, they’ve intensified.

Joshua explains, “What has changed is the desire for customers to feel safe, this has led to people avoiding public spaces, waiting in lineups, hanging out in coffee shops, etc. That means more people are looking for things online, using Google, eCommerce functionality, delivery apps and Zoom for appointments. Consumers are more receptive to virtual versions of the services and products they once used and importantly are willing to pay for them. While most Digital Marketing tactics have remained the same before and after, their importance to a small business has gone up 10-fold, and so has the opportunity.”

Here are some successful tactics that Joshua has seen work for small businesses:

  • Leverage your email lists: Promote COVID unique specials. You can use services like Mailchimp that are free up to the first 2,000 emails.
  • Focus on Google Search Ads: Pay Per Click ads put your business search result at the top of the list when a customer does a search.
  • Use Facebook, Instagram, YouTube video: The best performing video creative is short (15 seconds) and works to capture the user’s attention, drawing them in quickly.
  • Engage on LinkedIn: The “business social network” has seen a rise in engagement in the last couple of years. Posts about self improvement, personal life and sharing your story all do really well on LinkedIn. It is no longer just a B2B platform.
  • Sell Gift Cards: Ask your customers for support by promoting gift cards now during COVID for future gifts, birthdays and work related anniversaries.
  • Use data and customer feedback: Promote your Google Reviews page to your customers. Respond to all reviews either addressing a bad review or thanking someone for a good one. Look at search trends in Google’s search trends tool for new product or business ideas.

He notes, “Shopify’s eCommerce sales increased 10X during COVID and that is because customers are sitting at home bored looking for things and products to purchase. So while the tactics have not changed, their importance to a business has dramatically increased.”

Digital Marketing Training and Innovation Success Stories

To find out how small business owners feel about digital marketing strategies, the City of Vaughan examined responses to a Digital Boost workshop survey.

One business owner commented, “It literally is a digital boost. Gave me a better understanding of the digital world and opportunities to optimize my business.”

Another observed, “I am learning a lot and making great connections with other local business owners. This is a huge help in developing my online presence, content and marketing strategies.”

A third entrepreneur shared, “I’m trying to start new at the tender age of 64. All my work so far has been by word of mouth, something that just doesn’t work in 2020.”

Tania Das, a General Assembly Alumni, said, “The [Vaughan Digital Boost] initiative gave us an opportunity to collaborate with a wonderful business owner who was friendly, supportive, and open to changes on his site. As new designers, working with such a helpful client was a valuable experience that allowed us to draw from our skills set to help boost a business that positively impacts the community.”

Sounds like a win-win for everyone as the Vaughan community comes together to keep our small businesses rising and provide them with the digital marketing tools they need to pivot, innovate, and do what it takes to get through to the other side.

Although Digital Boost is in the midst of their final cohort, the City of Vaughan is always available to support our local small businesses. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

 

Vaughan Rising Blog: Alternative Rock Band Demonstrates Entrepreneurial Insight During COVID Lockdown

Stuck on Planet Earth is an alternative rock band made up of Al Capo (bass/vocals), Adam Bianchi (guitars/vocals) and Andrew Testa (drums). If you’re a rock fan, this proudly Vaughan-based trio is infiltrating your radio waves, Spotify playlists, and Instagram feed with a string of catchy singles from their debut album, Beautiful Nowhere.

And they’re doing it in COVID lockdown. Beautiful Nowhere was released in June, when Ontario was still in Stage 2 with tight restrictions on social gatherings and a ban on traditional concerts. As a result, the band was cut off from their major source of revenue: touring.

Vaughan artists of all varieties got creative in finding new ways to engage their audience and pay the bills. Stuck on Planet Earth joined the wave and made the most of a difficult situation.

Turns out, this band has been bold and entrepreneurial since 2007, when they were just a bunch of recent high school grads rehearsing out of an auto body shop in Concord. Here are some lessons they’ve learned along the way that are relevant for any entrepreneur.

Seven entrepreneurial lessons from Stuck on Planet Earth

1. Differentiate

Every new business needs to find a way to make themselves stand out. They need to offer a unique product or service that no one else is doing in quite the same way.

“The first thing that we thought of when we started the band was to do something different. We didn’t want to be a band that just went and played in venues the typical way that we would have done all through high school,” Al shares. “We said, okay, how are we going to build up our audience from ground zero right now?”

They came up with an idea they called the Backpack Tour. The band would show up at high schools across southern Ontario after school, unannounced, with their instruments and a video camera.

“We’d literally play for kids as they left for the day,” explains Al. “ So, we kind of got a following and then once the Backpack Tour had run its course, we started to record and play electrically and start playing around venues and all of a sudden we had kids showing up to our shows which was great.”

2. Collaborate

The best partnerships create something greater than the sum of their parts. This is especially true of artistic collaborations. Whom a business chooses to work with is a large part of what defines their brand. It demonstrates the values they share with their customers.

Over the next decade, Stuck on Planet Earth steadily built their audience and reputation as their singles received national and international radio play. They toured North America, sometimes alongside major rock acts like Weezer, Motorhead and Scott Weiland.

Then in 2018, the band started working on their first full-fledged album, Beautiful Nowhere. Al says they didn’t have to go far to find a producer.

“We started working with Steve Molella, who’s also a Woodbridge native, and plays in the band Finger Eleven. He’s a few years older than us, but we grew up with him in the music scene. We toured with his old band The Balconies and he would continuously call us and say, ‘Hey man, you guys have got to come record.’ But we were always on tour.

“For about 3 or 4 years, we were really doing North America, going back and forth. Then, a window of opportunity opened up to get in the studio with him and good things started happening – some people got a hold of our demos. Anthem Entertainment, based in Toronto, took a lot of interest in the recordings that we did with Steve and we signed a deal with them.”

3. Delegate

For a business owner to focus on their passion and what they do best, they need to delegate the other tasks to a competent support team.

Anthem Entertainment has been an important part of the band’s support team. Al says, “The label comes in when it comes to marketing the record and giving us certain resources and putting forward money to get us in the studio and give us some advances to live for a bit. The label really forced us to focus on being the musician and not having to put on so many other hats.”

The Anthem deal gave Al, Adam and Andrew the resources and finances to focus a little less on the business hustle and a lot more on the music.

Adam adds, “They allowed us to focus on the art, focus on being creative, focus on our social media. Even though we still have a hand in it, they take care of all the paperwork that is very time consuming.”

4. Dare

Taking risks is an innate part of being an entrepreneur. Often, these businesses are the only source of revenue for their families. It takes a lot of courage and faith to put your product or service out there and then step back and wait to see what happens.

The Beautiful Nowhere album was coming along and by the end of 2019 they finally had a release date: June 26, 2020. Little did Stuck on Planet Earth know what 2020 had in store. They could have delayed the release, but it’s not the path they chose.

“When this pandemic hit, I don’t think we wanted to change our plans anymore. Especially because people are inside now and I feel like people are listening to music now more than ever, as an escape, so we didn’t want to push it back any further. The only thing that it really affected was our touring, because that’s where you really push your album, but you’ve just got to find different ways to put yourself out there,” says Adam.

5. Diversify

Instead of dwelling on all the negatives and things they can’t do, such as go on tour or even shake hands with fans, Stuck on Planet Earth chose to focus on how to stay active and relevant during this time.

Al notes, “Right away we pivoted, and we found a way to do live streams. We called it Stuck Inside and we started featuring Vaughan artists and artists from [Toronto]. We would have a talk show and play music and we saw the relationship growing.”

6. Connect

Al, Adam and Andrew also made it a point to post on social media. Instead of posting once every week or two, as they had pre-pandemic, they started posting 4 or 5 times per week.

They implemented a strategy of, “Let’s post. Let’s talk to people. Let’s connect.” And it worked. Since March they’ve had 5,000 new followers on Instagram.

“We’ve never seen that kind of thing before as a band, even when we were playing shows. Because there’s so much more time now to actually talk to everybody that reaches out to us. And that’s what we’re doing this for. So, it’s been a huge blessing because we’ve been able to really connect with people and we never really got to do that before,” shares Al.

He continues, “So, we say this in the strangest way possible, but honestly the pandemic hasn’t been bad for us at all. Obviously, we want to be playing shows, obviously we want to be touring and all of our plans got cancelled, and it’s been an interesting time but at the same time it’s been very exciting and refreshing because it’s taught us a lot of new skills.”

7. Persist

Nothing comes easily when you run your own business. Income level is often unpredictable, and the long hours can be daunting. Entrepreneurs must be committed to their passion in order to stay determined through the tough times and work hard to create their own success.

“It’s been pretty tough for sure. Live touring is where we make a lot of our money. But we’ve been able to partner up with live streams over the past few months that have all been paying us. And there’s also other funds, like the Unison Fund, which pays artists and gives us money to survive during this time, so it’s not a complete loss, but it’s definitely tougher.” Al says.

Stuck on Planet Earth has been picked up on several playlists, such as Apple and Spotify. The band attributes their success to their ability to stick with the business over the long term.

“I do think persistence works. I think that over the course of our careers, we’ve known so many people in the music industry that have started out as promoters at shows that have [gone on] to work at Apple Music and Spotify that have grown with the band, so yeah we have friends that like the music and are in positions where they can help us out. But a lot of it has been organic and that’s been awesome to see that kind of support,” Al notes. “We couldn’t ask for anything better, but it hasn’t been something that’s happened overnight – that’s for sure.”

Staying focused on the music in Vaughan

With no end in sight to physical distancing restrictions, Stuck on Planet Earth is making the most of livestreams, their Stuck Inside show, and paid virtual gigs sponsored by corporations looking to support the music community. Most recently, they had the opportunity to perform live at a drive-in concert alongside Big Wreck. There are more live streams and special things in the works for the next few months.

Even as Stuck on Planet Earth reaches new heights, the band remains firmly rooted in Vaughan. Al fondly recalls their experience recording Beautiful Nowhere, “We always had to go downtown to record in these nice big studios because that was the thing. And then the moment we got signed and we actually got a bunch of money to go make a record and we could actually go to a big studio, we decided to go back home to Vaughan in Steve Molella’s basement. His mother would be making lasagna upstairs and we’d have these big Italian lunches and dinners. God bless his parents for being absolutely gems of people. We’d go eat at [local] bakeries. The whole album was conceived and made in Vaughan.”

Stuck on Planet Earth is another example of how the City of Vaughan is still rising. During this pandemic, Vaughan’s Arts and Culture sector is deploying the creativity they’re known for in new entrepreneurial ways.

 

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

‘A city in demand’: COVID-19 has not slowed city-building in Vaughan