READER NOTE: In November 2020, we interviewed several Ontario main street businesses to tell their stories as they evolve their digital presence with the Digital Transformation Grant (DTG) that each received through the Digital Main Street (DMS) program.
DMS – currently funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade – provides small businesses across the province with training, grants and resources to adopt digital tools and technologies that will build business resiliency.
In this installment, we caught up with Yellow Gazebo Natural Health Care on Toronto’s St. Claire Avenue West, two weeks into the new year.
While most people breathed a sigh of relief to see 2020 come to an end, 2021 quickly found us in a new State of Emergency to combat surging COVID-19 infection rates across Ontario. Curbside pickup and e-commerce once again became a lifeline, provided a business had invested in these channels.
As a regulated healthcare provider, Yellow Gazebo is deemed essential and allowed to remain open. The clinic provides a range of health services, including acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy and physiotherapy. Its team of professionals help patients to manage stress, address chronic pain and rehabilitate from injury.
That need to help people keep on top of their health and wellness is more important than ever, said owner and clinic director Richard Lobbenberg.
“There is a definite tension among our patients – people are stressed by the latest pandemic numbers, by talk of new virus strains, even by what’s going on south of the border.”
In the months preceding this challenging start to the new year, Richard and his team judiciously applied their second Digital Transformation Grant to improve the clinic’s online experience. This includes an updated website that features compelling video content and an e-commerce storefront.
This comes after two negative experiences that Richard had in recent years with trying to find an affordable developer who could deliver the results he wanted. The DMS grant gave him the financial cushion and the fresh perspective to try again…this time, with much greater success. With a new web developer and the support from DMS, Yellow Gazebo has charted a new course as a hybrid business.
Since last April, many counselling sessions have been available online. The e-commerce storefront continues to add more products and services. This includes items from other local businesses and artisans, giving them additional exposure to online buyers.
“The online store has given us a great opportunity to promote other local businesses,” Richard said.
Online presence offsets drop in brick-and-mortar activity
Yellow Gazebo can continue to serve its community while reducing the volume of visitors to the physical location. This, of course, serves to keep staff and patients safe.
“We have a great team doing all they can to build that sense of trust and safety with our patients,” Richard said. “There are rules and regulations that we have to follow, of course, but it’s the care that our practitioners have for their patients that makes the difference.”
In fact, compared to January of last year, Richard reports that business is about the same. While he doesn’t have hard numbers yet, it does appear that the addition of online services is offsetting any drop in on-site visits.
“At this stage, we have used all of our DMS grant money and are now using our own funds to continue the momentum we have built,” Richard said. “Thanks to DMS, I feel more confident in what I am doing now and carrying this forward on our own.”
The team continues to experiment with Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and, most recently, video-sharing social network TikTok, to engage with the community and draw web traffic.
“Because so much of what we do can now be done virtually, we can increase the radius of our online marketing efforts,” Richard said. “We can now experiment with our digital advertising to see what works and reach a larger audience. DMS helped open my mind to the possibilities of advertising on more platforms, and our videos have really expanded our options in terms of how we can help people, and how we can reach potential patients as well.”
We will check in again with Yellow Gazebo for the last time in March.
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 more information, go to www.digitalmainstreet.ca
The Digital Main Street program has been further extended through funding from FedDev Ontario and the Ontario Ministry for Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade (MEDJCT). The new round of funding includes $42.5 million from the Government of Canada’s Regional Relief and Recovery Fund, a national recovery initiative delivered by Canada’s regional development agencies. With $7.45 million from Ontario, this combined federal and provincial project will strengthen Ontario’s economic capacity for innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration, and will promote the development of a strong and diversified Ontario economy. For more information, please visit digitalmainstreet.ca/ontariogrants