Local Small Business Resilience Examples

Posted on December 1, 2020

What a year 2020 has been huh? No better resilience test for locally owned, small businesses than a global pandemic and ever changing social distancing measures. Depending on the region you’re in, lockdowns have affected small businesses significantly. One thing is for sure: it’s getting hard to operate and compete with the “big names” in the business.

That is precisely why I got the inspiration to write this post. Instead of focusing on the negative effects COVID19 has had on small businesses (hard hitting 2020 stats), I thought it would be beneficial to explore how local organizations have evolved to combat the ever changing economic landscape. Below are just SOME examples. There are plenty that I haven’t captured in this post. Feel free to share a locally owned business story from your region in the comments below!

The Neighbourhood Group

Guelph, ON

  1. Strategy: Collaboration

Local Restaurant Resilience: Neighbourhood Group - Guelph, ON

Aside from the travel industry, restaurants and diners were probably hit the hardest at the onset of this pandemic. Closures, lack of delivery/online order systems for majority of locally owned food places and ever changing regulations (number of patrons, physical distancing, face coverings, etc) made it extremely difficult to navigate the new dinning environment.

Instead of furloughing and letting their employees go, a locally owned group of restaurants in Guelph, ON combined forces to help cover employee salaries and create a force for good practices. The ownership group created a group gift card campaign where 100% of the purchase would offset employee’s salaries (the gift card can be used at any member restaurant) during strict lockdowns and promoted locally sourced, sustainable practices.

By banding the different restaurant’s efforts together they achieved financial success, focused on supporting other local business and rallied the community together to show their support. As a matter of fact, I have begun to place weekly orders to help support a wider net of locally owned restaurants as a result…as have many others. Collaboration is the name of the game!

InkSmith (Canadian Shield)

Kitchener-Waterloo, ON

  1. Strategy: Pivoting

3D Printing Resilience: InkSmith - Kitchener-Waterloo, ON

InkSmith is just one of the many startups in Kitchener-Waterloo, a region recently referred to as “tech centre” of the north. They are considered an education technology company that develops products such as 3D printers, VR kits, laser cutters and robotics kits.

As soon as the pandemic hit, and it hit hard, in March they received approval from Health Canada to manufacture PPE face shields. These are face shields that is intended for one day, single-person use. That is when “The Canadian Shield” brand was born.

By opening a new facility and utilizing their 3D printing and laser-cutting technology, they are able to produce around 50,000 face shields per day! Majority of these shields are going towards hospitals and educators who are in urgent need to quality equipment.

The pivot happened to meet a huge demand. It served a great purpose to those who worked in high risk environments. It even got massive recognition as the Premier of Ontario at the time, Doug Ford, visited their facility – praising InkSmith’s ability to pivot:

Dixon’s Distilled Spirits

Guelph, ON

  1. Strategy: Selflessness
Hand sanitizier shift - Guelph, ON

Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday file photo

From gin to hand sanitizer? No problem! In the early stages of COVID19, a local distillery in Guelph, ON focusing on gin and vodka saw an opportunity to help provide much needed resources to fight the pandemic. They shifted to produce FREE hand sanitizer. That’s right, it was free and it was meant for first responders, doctors and other healthcare workers. Here is what the owner had to say:

“As a small business we’re very, very vulnerable with what’s coming in the next few months and things are going to get really tight, so we decided if we can do our part, the sooner we can get out of this.”

Not only was the focus on contributing to ending the pandemic but their end goal was to accelerate the eradication of the virus so that their industry and business can get back to operating as they did prior to COVID! They’re not expecting directly to make money from their hand sanitizer but they’re hoping that customers keep this in mind when they visit the liqour store. Supporting the community should result in supporting of those organizations.

Kamloops Local Wineries

Kamloops, BC

  1. Strategy: Personalization

Winery Resilience: Local Wineries - Kamloops, BC

While I haven’t experienced Kamloops wine country (yet…) I can tell you from my experience participating in Niagara-on-the-Lake wine tours, tastings and winery classes the biggest let down, sometimes, can be the lack of a personal approach (unless you book privately). With large tour groups you enjoy a good overview and get to know the winery, but you don’t get to dig deeper – get acquainted with the winemakers, etc.

Well, that is something that the current climate has changed – at least for the Kamloops area wine industry. It just had a record breaking year…during a pandemic! How?! By getting more personal.

Transitioning to follow local restrictions and capacity limitations (along with a big push from residents to support local businesses), the wineries were able to offer more one-on-one time with winemakers and the public seemed to have enjoyed the experience.People were generally having better experiences and it offered interactions not possible during traditional busy season.

Local messaging, shifting marketing campaigns and offering a personal experience to their patrons – we can all toast to that!

Kalgen’s Dis & Dat Convenience Store

Cambridge Bay, NU

  1. Strategy: Product offering
Convenience Store Resilience: Kalgen's Dis & Dat Store - Cmbridge Bay, NU

Photo by Jane George

How do you thrive in one of the most northern parts of Canada? By providing products and brand names that the entire community needs!

It’s no secret that a good chunk of staple goods that most Canadians take for granted are hard to come by in certain areas of the country. That is exactly how this “convenience/general and grocery store” (their wording by the way!) is able weather the current economic storm. Why do they classify themselves as a hybrid? Well they carry everything their customers might need: groceries, brand names, candy, camping gear, dry meats and they even take special orders!

This is truly a remarkable approach that has garnered huge support from their customers as they not only serve everything and anything in a region that items are difficult to come by but they also go out of their to support and listen to their community: taking special orders, carrying pre-made meals/baked good from other local stores and even offer credit to commercial customers.

Pretty neat, isn’t it?

Whelan Wellness – Virtual Bootcamp

St. John’s, NL

  1. Strategy: Digital transformation

Fitness Studio Resilience: Whelan Wellness - St. John's, NL

Who is stuck in a fitness rut right now? I know you can’t see but my hand definitely went up.

Even before the pandemic hit, the fitness market was fiercely competitive and difficult to break into as a locally owned organization. That is how Gill Whelan, fitness instructor and owner of Whelan Wellness and Virtual Bootcamp, utilized COVID as a push to digitally transform her business.

While she always had plans to move classes online, the pandemic accelerated those plans and she now hosts virtual bootcamp classes. Even when things were starting to open up in St. John’s – she anticipated the anxiety, fear and general scheduling issues people would experience trying to book an in-person fitness session. She used a simple (yet personable) approach (private Facebook group, live Zoom feed), focused on realistic goals: get a group of 20 people to participate in online classes. This is what success would look like.

Actual results?

In her first “virtual” month she had 120 participants! 97% of those returned for the second month, the class size double and more than 90% returned for the third month. The following eventually grew to 700 people from across Canada, some even from the US and UK!

Just goes to show that digital transformation is more about the approach than the actual technology itself.

Mask Up PEI

Charlottetown, PEI

  1. Strategy: Community
Face Covering Resilience: Mask Up PEI - Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Image credit: Journal Pioneer

What wasn’t on our radar up until 2020 but immediately garnered huge demand? Face masks and coverings.

While most of us can find masks anywhere nowadays, there are communities and regions who have scarce access. Particularly the low-income Islanders in P.E.I. That is when three women launched a Facebook page aimed to bring together three groups: those accepting donations of masks to distribute, donors looking to help get masks and communities who need masks. They basically became the focal point to connect distribution, donors and those in need so that no one is left behind as things opened up and local regulations required strict mask policies.

The idea of supporting low-income communities has turned into a small business that makes and helps get three-ply masks to those in need. While it started local, it now has now sent orders to Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and the US!

Great example of how local organizations can thrive by looking after their community!


  1. Feeling inspired yet?

I’d love to hear how your business or a business your support has adapted as a result of hardship. Let me know in the comments below: