Innovative ways businesses keep going during COVID-19

As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Montreal distiller Paul Cirka decided to take his own spin on this old adage when life – or more accurately, his supplier – gave him corn. Instead of turning corn into gin, he made hand sanitizer. 

Cirka Distilleries is one of many businesses finding innovative ways to keep the doors open during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not an easy task. As the federal and provincial governments take measures to combat the virus, more than a million Canadians lost their jobs in March and by mid-April more than five million people had applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. 
Over the last month, many businesses have been declared non-essential. Many have closed their doors, hopefully temporarily, as they ride out the pandemic. Others have turned to alternative ways to carry on. Restaurants are doing takeout and delivery, for example, and fitness facilities and yoga studios are putting classes online.

Some businesses have become even more innovative. Fortunately for companies like Cirka Distilleries, COVID-weary Canadians need a drink more than ever and businesses that make and sell alcohol continue to operate. Cirka saw a need even greater than gin and vodka, however, and using a recipe approved by the World Health Organization, the business has joined distilleries around the world to produce much-needed hand sanitizer. Since March, Cirka’s employees have been working around the clock to develop the antiseptic, which requires a much higher form of alcohol than the usual 40 proof Cirka uses to make its vodka and gin. 

Other businesses are also straying from “business as usual”. Bauer Hockey, one of North America’s top producers of hockey equipment, has changed its focus to make another product currently in high demand: masks. Bauer is using hockey visor materials to manufacture full medical face shields, which are meant to protect the wearer from being infected by respiratory droplets that carry the virus. Organizations can request a minimum of 100 face shields directly through Bauer’s website. 

Bauer’s venture into medical face masks is a welcome contribution in a time when frontline workers are in dire need of personal protective equipment...and when employees of businesses deemed non-essential would otherwise be unemployed. The switch from hockey gear to hospital gear is keeping 20 people working in Quebec and another 12 working in New York.

Peregrine Retail Design Manufacturing’s in Burnaby normally creates elegant front counter designs for high end clients including Lululemon, CIBC and Starbucks. But when many of its clients were forced to temporarily shut their (undoubtedly fancy) doors, work came to a halt and Peregrine had to lay off 30 per cent of its 85 person staff. Seeing a need in the retail sector determined to still be essential – grocery stores, pet stores and (as we determined earlier) liquor stores, Peregrine quickly turned its sights to manufacturing a product slightly less high end but ultimately more critical in keeping retail workers safe – plexiglass shields. 
There’s no word yet on when life will get back to normal. But while the future remains uncertain for many small businesses in this most unprecedented time, one thing we can likely count on is that more business owners will embrace innovation, and find new ways to stay afloat, meet a need and keep their workers working.

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