by Ruby Arsenault
The West Prince Chamber of Commerce hosted a breakfast sponsored by Innovation PEI to celebrate Small Business Week in October.
The morning began with a welcome from Tammy Rix, CEO of the West Prince Chamber of Commerce. “Today we are celebrating how our local businesses pivoted successfully through the past 18 months of the pandemic.
“The West Prince Chamber has 224 members,” says Tammy. “It is very exciting to new businesses continue to open. Part of celebrating small business week was our Love Local Campaign which encouraged people to support local.”
The following company leaders covered topics such as challenges, restrictions and interruptions of service, major changes in the supply chain, recovered revenues, lessons learned, and adaptability.
Community Inclusions Ltd.: Kevin Porter, Executive Director
Community Inclusions Ltd. provides employment, residential, recreational, and training services to adults with intellectual challenges in western PEI. Some clients work for local businesses supported through the organization’s Employment Unit, while others attend day services at the Maple House Centre or the Employment Drop-In Day program in O’Leary or the Tignish Training Centre.
They also operate the Maple House Bakery & Café in O’Leary. This unique operation provides skills training and employment for the organizations’ clients and offers healthy food choices (the majority made from scratch) to the community of O’Leary and surrounding area. It is also a vehicle to advocate for inclusion. Some dollars raised are reinvested into the organization’s various programs and services.
Community Inclusions operates residences in Tignish, Alberton, and O’Leary. They also coordinate various community-based residential placements throughout the region.
Kevin Porter has been with Community Inclusions for 20 years. He has seen a lot of growth and changes in this organization.
“At the beginning of the pandemic we had to totally shut down our day services and day program staff had to transition to helping with our residential programs, except for a few who worked from home.
“It was vital for staff to learn and depend on one another to maintain safe housing for our clients and a safe work area for the staff. Many guidelines had to be followed and often changed. For a period of time we had to totally shut down our food services at the Bakery & Café. We tried offering take-out but it didn’t take off well.
“As we operated the food service, we had to meet social distancing measures, so we reduced the number of tables by half. We were like a deer in the headlights trying to accommodate and meet the new requirements, but thankfully we had a direct line to the Chief Public Health Office (CPHO) which was a huge asset to the organization. This was due to Community Inclusions working with a very vulnerable population and was made possible with the assistance of the Department of Social Development and Housing. We installed plexiglass partitions and floor markers, and everyone had to wear masks. We found solutions and made them work.”
Kevin says they had an operational plan but they had to continue to make changes. “This experience has made us more equipped to deal with unforeseen events and it has strengthened our safety protocols.”
For more information, contact Kevin Porter at 902-726-3144.
By the Sea Soap Shoppe: Dennis Hubert, Owner
Dennis Hubert is Lead Pastor of the Church of Nazarene in O’Leary, and he is also the Chief Soap Maker in his new business called By the Sea Soap Shoppe.
Dennis’ church was shut down as a result of COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 and began streaming services online. “This experience was an adventure in itself, with a major shift in services and no in-person contact. I had to learn to use today’s technology to offer services online.”
He prides himself in creating soap made from all-natural ingredients. “We launched the soap business just before the pandemic started, and we grew in the midst of it all. We began selling at the Westisle Craft Fair, which was a great success, but we have not had any more in-person sales.
“Our main plan for retail was to sell at Island craft fairs, but we soon learned that our model had to change. Trying to find a way to sell our products proved to be a challenge. We set up in town at the Main Street Fairs, opened a small business at our home in Duvar, and we are doing more wholesale sales.
“Networking proved to be a big thing. Reaching out to people with similar business for ideas and support became huge as we learned what was working for them and what was not.
“It is vital to remain in contact in one form or another with your customers. It is also important to be in contact with government because restrictions and rules change so often. We had to learn to strengthen our communication skills.
“Communication with existing and new customers was crucial to keep them informed on what we were doing.”
Dennis summarized lessons he learned:
- Changes are and remain necessary
- To succeed, we can’t do what we always did before
- Adjust to change to maintain safety
- Celebrate the good things that came out of the pandemic
- Networking is a huge thing
- Communication is very important
Email: [email protected] or visit the shop at 680 Duvar Rd O’Leary, PE
Wee the West Daycare, O’Leary – Katie Smallman, Owner/Operator
Kati Smallman enjoys contributing to the lives and growth of her clients. “Children are our future,” she says. She strongly recommends using CBDC supports for small business.
“We had to change how we operate to meet the needs of the parents and children while maintaining health guidelines. Being accessible to the clients was tough and the parents needed us. We provided a very important essential service, and we had the full responsibility of keeping people’s children safe.
“Dealing with a pandemic, fears and contact changes was a huge transition and a big responsibility.
“Changes had to be implemented fast. Our licensed facility went from 56 down to 15 kids and this was rough. But the CPHO gave me guidelines to follow and that is how the changes were made. The experience proved that running a business is not always easy. Thankfully I keep in contact with other daycare centres for support and advice.
“Families had to be screened as they walked into the building, and gradually we increased our numbers. We housed three cohorts which could not mix. I was unable to take any new families and I currently have 48 names on a wait list. It was stressful and still is, but we made it through.”
For more information, call 902-726-2126 or click here.
HMS Office Solutions: Pierre Gallant, Owner
Pierre Gallant of HMS Office Solutions has worked in the family business in Summerside for many years and took over as owner in 2018. The business, which has been honored as leader of the year in sales, is continuously growing and just opened a second location in downtown Charlottetown.
It gives him great satisfaction to supply local businesses with the products they need. “With retail and distribution came big changes. Fortunately most of our customers understood the reasons for the changes in how we were able to operate, but some struggled to understand the effects of some supply chain delays.
“Even though some customers were working from home they still needed supplies. Phones weren’t ringing and customers were scared to go out. I had to let all staff members go home temporarily, and I worked alone.
“Almost right away, we started getting busy, and one staff member came in to help me receive stock. I began to call more staff back in. It was a struggle for one employee because there was no daycare service for her children. Like everyone else, we adapted to changes to make it work.
“One huge demand was for hand sanitizer, and it was in very short supply. We purchased some from a distillery in Charlottetown, which supported local while satisfying the customers.
“The pandemic changed how we do business and many learning curves proved our adaptability and dedication to the customer.”
For more information, call 902-436-4281 or click here.
HMS Office Solutions was recently profiled in the French employment-related newspaper, La voie de l’emploi. Lire ici