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Small businesses thrive during COVID-19

While many companies' bottom line suffers losses, some small businesses see new and returning clients

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit certain sectors of the economy hardest – restaurants, entertainment, sports, airlines and the entire travel industry. 

But during the upheaval of lost revenue and worker layoffs, certain businesses have profited. Manufacturers of computers and businesses that create popular video games have witnessed big boosts in sales. Hardware stores, grocery stores, home exercise equipment, makers of cleaning products and PPEs are also in the black. 

However, some small businesses have also proved to be fairly nimble and uniquely suited to the COVID-19 crisis. Three St. Albert businesses spoke with the Gazette about how they have adapted to the new landscape by providing a personal service that also assists people maintain social distance.

Anthony At Your Service 

One of the biggest beneficiaries from COVID has been home delivery services. Anthony At Your Service (AAYS) is a delivery service operated out of Edmonton that serves the region. It is an employment team that provides business development support and jobs to personnel with disabilities. 

“The people who work for us need a flexible, supportive model. They’re proud of what they do and that’s part of the success we’ve had,” said Sonya Chow, a team co-manager. 

The company payroll has 35 to 40 delivery agents working on contract at any given time. Despite the long list of contract workers, Chow states the company has almost more work than it can handle, including for big-name clients such as The Balloon Store, EPCOR, Telus, BioWare and the City of Edmonton. 

“Canada Post no longer does touch delivery. So, we picked up door hangers. Businesses want customers to touch the door knob and look at the piece of paper. And, when the City of Edmonton rolled out their recycling program, we had 10,000 flyers in one week. It was all hands on deck,” Chow said. 

“And then with COVID, there are special company deliveries. Bioware sends staff working from home little gifts. Telus sent Valentine Day cookies on Client Appreciation Day. When people look at Telus, all they see is a corporate face. But they have a big heart and they give back to the community. In fact, their mission is to employ a diverse group of people.” 

Although financial figures were unavailable, AAYS has recently expanded into British Columbia to offer 18 plus individuals with disabilities a life filled with pride and connection throughout the community. 

Tech-To-Go 

Little did Christian Johnson realize when he opened Tech-To-Go in January 2020, a mobile computer repair business, the big boost in sales would come through COVID-19's social distancing restrictions. 

The coronavirus forced many employees to work from home. Restricted to home life, residents turned to the computer for work, study, recreation and relaxation. But for many, the IT support provided at the office was no longer available. 

“When it comes to the everyday person, there is no one that will come into your home to fix your computer problems, let alone explain what the technical issues are. I will even teach people how to run their computer, and that’s not provided by anyone else that I know of,” said Johnson. 

Close to 80 per cent of his IT calls are residential. The other 20 per cent are commercial. His contracts range from digitizing VHS tapes and scanning and digitizing old photos to computer education training and setting up spreadsheets.

Without a marketing budget, the one-man operation continually receives new clients through word-of-mouth. 

“I have people call me saying they’ve heard of me from a friend of a friend. It’s really astonishing how fast word gets around.  

Breadlove 

As the general public practised social distancing in the spring of 2020, Laura Taschuk Rogerson was afraid Breadlove, her dream business, would unravel. Taschuk Rogerson leased a storefront on St. Michaels Street to teach breadmaking classes. The pandemic put a stop to her plans.

As an independent, she quickly pivoted to Zoom classes while baking bread sold at the St. Albert Farmers’ Market. Last summer was her 10th anniversary at the market and she’d built up a steady clientele of families stocking up on breads and eating them at home. 

“We’ve always done well at the market. We have a loyal clientele,” said Taschuk Rogerson. 

After the market closed, Taschuk Rogerson renovated her teaching studio into a micro bakery and sells a variety of breads, focaccia breads, sourdough, baguettes and cinnamon rolls on Fridays and Saturdays. 

“Every Saturday, we have lineups waiting for me to open. I’m really fortunate I’m still in business. I’m fortunate I was able to pivot so quickly, and because I’m a small business, I could respond quickly to keep the lights on and pay the landlord.”