Daughters start kindness campaign to honour mother
How the pandemic has highlighted the wage gap
IN DEPTH: Covering a contentious lobster fishery
Have you heard about the SaltWire News app?
Daily forecasts and weather facts from Cindy Day
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
What you need to know about COVID-19 today
When customers couldn't go to P.E.I.'s Lone Oak Brewing Co. to see a live band or have a cold beer after March's COVID-19 business shutdown, the pub's owners decided to bring the beer and music to the customer.
That got them through the March to June lockdown and again when doors were closed due to the pandemic in December.
" As soon as our doors were essentially closed to the public for indoor dining, we saw an uptake in our delivery service again, similar to what we saw in March, April and May. So that kept the revenue stream coming in, which allows us to keep our staff on," said Lone Oak's CEO and co-owner Jared Murphy. The other owners are Spencer Gallant (head brewer) and Dillon Wight (sales officer).
Go where the customers are
Island-wide deliveries were Lone Oak’s Eureka moment in the spring and its saviour in the fall. The pub continued making deliveries by van even after dining rooms were allowed to reopen on June 1, and then again when dining rooms were temporarily shut down on Dec. 6 to Dec. 18 after a spike in COVID-19 cases in Charlottetown.
Wight is the brewery’s wheelman. He's put thousands and thousands of kilometres on the van's odometer.
"He's been a road warrior for about six months now," said Murphy.
Lone Oak, which is located in Borden-Carleton, began serving customers in November 2019. It has a large taproom and dining area, and recently partnered with P.E.I.'s Terry Nabuurs to open a kitchen (The Abby) in a renovated space and provide customers with food service. They also brew their own craft beer on site.
Another way that Lone Oak kept customers engaged during the initial shutdown was by streaming live music and trivia on its Facebook page.
"We wanted to stay connected to our consumers and provide entertainment for them on the weekend and support local artists," Murphy said.
Two other P.E.I. businesses –Nimrods’ restaurant in Stratford and Samuel's Coffee House in Summerside—found a different revenue option. They opened up locations with a drive-thru, which came in handy during both lockdowns.
Switch up the offering
Other companies, such as the Berwick, N.S.-based Darwin Event Group, have embraced online opportunities to do business. This year, the company realized that COVID-19 could jeopardize the region's annual craft fair shows, so it launched the East Coast Crafts Marketplace website to connects buyers with sellers.
In nearby Hantsport, husband and wife team Glenn and Virginia Deering decided to merge their cafe and pet emporium to create the Barking Bean Cafe. While the cafe suffered during the lockdown, the pet side of the business grew as they added cat food to the product line.
The Buy Local trend has helped.
That’s just is one of many trends Pierre Cléroux, vice-president research and chief economist with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), has been keeping track of during the pandemic.
Online sales, both on the consumer and business side, is another, said Cléroux. Even as businesses reopened after temporary shutdowns in Atlantic Canada, some consumers still chose to shop online rather than in person.
Take advantage of online selling
"They receive their products directly at home. The flexibility. To save time. All these reasons are important. And, you have more selection," he said.
"Canadians are buying more online, and this isn't going to die. It's just going to accelerate."
On the entrepreneur side, a priority in 2021 is to have a larger presence online and meet consumer expectations.
"Obviously, entrepreneurs are seeing the same thing. They're seeing the benefits of selling online, and more and more businesses are investing in technology to improve their presence online. Even if they have a website, they want to improve it (and) improve the client's experience."
Make customers feel safe
Another consumer trend is sanitary standards. "They want to feel safe when they go to a restaurant, a store (or) a shopping mall. They want to feel protected. And, I know a lot of businesses spend money and time to make sure their clients and employees are safe. That's exactly what consumers are looking for."
Despite the realization by entrepreneurs that having an online presence is important, not everyone is using the online technology successfully. Cléroux said the BDC has programs to help entrepreneurs invest in online technology but also advisory services to help them with a better strategy to maximize its potential.
"We find that about 30 per cent of businesses who sell online are not making money, which is not normal."
Initially, the P.E.I. government allowed microbreweries to home deliver on a temporary basis to help businesses during COVID-19. But on Dec. 18, the province announced that alcohol home deliveries would be continuing permanently. Lone Oak is going to continue the home delivery service since some Islanders are still not comfortable going to a large retail outlet, said Murphy.
"It has been a different first year of business than what we had anticipated. The amount we've learned and having to adapt and be creative and basically survive, I think a positive way to look at it is going forward, we can hopefully be able to take on anything that's thrown our way."
With files from James Risdon.