READER NOTE: Over the next several months, we will follow the progress of a number of Ontario main street businesses as they evolve their digital presence with the Digital Transformation Grant (DTG) that each has received through the Digital Main Street, or DMS, program.
Digital Main Street is a program – currently funded in Ontario by the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade – that provides small businesses with training, grants and resources to adopt digital tools and technologies in order to build business resiliency.
In this story, we feature Yellow Gazebo Natural Health Care on Toronto’s St. Claire Avenue West.
Owner and acupuncturist Richard Lobbenberg tends to a client.
Yellow Gazebo Natural Health Care is a Toronto business that is the very definition of “hands-on.” Services include acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy and physiotherapy.
These in-person services didn’t mean that the clinic lacked the need for a polished online presence. The clinic’s blog, for example, tackled a number of health-related topics.
But owner and clinic director Richard Lobbenberg would often find himself dealing with one issue or another with the website. Finding the time, budget and expertise to upgrade and fix the website was a regular chore. When a patient told him about the DMS program back in 2019, Richard jumped at the chance to apply for a Digital Transformation Grant.
He employed that first grant, and the educational resources and assistance provided through DMS, to upgrade the website and experiment with social media marketing and online advertising with Facebook, Google and Instagram.
“That first grant was great in that it helped to amplify what we were already doing and give us the budget room to experiment more with things like Facebook advertising,” Richard said. “It gave us the confidence to try things that we were afraid to before because of the money that was required to do it.”
When the pandemic struck, the clinic was forced to close for 10 weeks. To cover costs with no revenue coming in, Yellow Gazebo secured a $40,000 business loan.
When the DMS program renewed in June, the Yellow Gazebo applied for and received a second grant. It came along at just the right time as the clinic worked to transition some of its services online and add a new ecommerce storefront. The funds have also been used for new photography, videography and graphic design software to further enhance the clinic’s visual impact online.
Becoming self-sufficiently tech savvy
“Getting that second grant was really a godsend,” Richard said. “And thanks to our loyal patients, we have been able to bounce back fairly well.”
Richard has also benefited from the support and coaching available through DMS to learn how to optimize his use of online advertising and manage an ecommerce storefront.
“I am a services person, not a tech person,” he said. “To have that support to learn what I need to do and how is a huge thing for us and saves the cost of paying someone else to do it.”
The full online side of the business launched in April 2020. This shift to a hybrid model with both in-person and online services has allowed the clinic to serve as many clients/patients as before while reducing traffic into the clinic and making it easier to maintain safe distancing. The new ecommerce storefront also allows patients to purchase online massage tools and other products for relaxation, rehabilitation and exercise.
“Long-term, as we get past the pandemic and can resume normal operations, this also means we can grow our clientele and increase revenue in the same clinic space,” Richard said.
But first, Yellow Gazebo has to spread the word.
In the coming months, Richard and his team will be working to drive awareness and build patronage of the clinic’s online services and storefront. Every spare penny is being used to pay back that business loan. The focus will also be on refinement, to gauge what is working, and what isn’t, with Google and Facebook advertising.
“The grant has helped set us up to be successful with what we are going to do in the future,” Richard said. “DMS is a really valuable program and more people should be taking advantage of it.”
We will continue to chart Yellow Gazebo’s progress in the coming months.
Richard’s story is just one example of how main street small businesses across Ontario have taken advantage of the Digital Main Street Ontario Initiative.
For information and how to apply, go to www.digitalmainstreet.ca/ontariogrants