Skip to content

Meeting the COVID-19 challenge 'head on'

Thunder Bay supplier leaned on professional network to grow his business during pandemic
Jason Thompson, Superior Strategies (File photo)

Being fast and flexible sustained Jason Thompson and his employees through difficult times.

The lessons learned by the president of Superior Strategies in Thunder Bay was sought by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce for a June 22 webinar on how small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are able to adapt during COVID-19.

Thompson, a member of the Red Rock Indian Band, took part in a panel discussion of small businesses that demonstrated resilience and adaptability, and addressed a need in their communities.

With his grounding in safety training, being flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances is par for the course in Thompson's line of work.

In heading up Superior Strategies Supply and Service, an Indigenous-owned and operated company, Thompson leaned heavily on relationships built in his strong network to quickly get access to products from other suppliers in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

"We laughed and joked before and said, in the real world we would be considered competition, but we worked together and that has attributed to our success."

Thompson said having Canadian-sourced products on hand and in stock for their customers was huge.

"Oftentimes Northern Ontario is the forgotten area in Canada," he said.

"But what was really joyful and a pleasure for us was that not only were we able to help our customers in the North access products that were much needed, but also supplying our Indigenous communities and organizations with products that were much needed.

"It made me feel good inside and it's something we took great pride in."

Want to read more stories about business in the North? Subscribe to our newsletter.

Along the way, Thompson said they were able to pick up 250 to 300 new customers, a trend they'd like to maintain and build once the pandemic has subsided.

"It really allowed us to showcase who we are and what we're about it, our values as a company."

In imparting some wisdom to other entrepreneurs, Thompson said these times have reinforced the importance of having a good team that steps up and delivers.

"It's understanding the value of your employees. Without a great team we are truly nothing."

At the outbreak of the pandemic, Thompson was in the process of acquiring an office supply company.

"I was really freaking out wondering did I make the wrong move? But turns out it wasn't. We've been having some success."

Thompson is also on track to launch his own line of workwear in 2020, driven by the entrepreneurial spirt to "keep going."

"Whatever the challenge, let's take it and meet it head on."

Thompson and Superior Strategies were one of 28 SMEs spotlighted in the Ontario Chamber of Commerce's Small Business, Big Impact: How SMEs are Pivoting during COVID-19.

Report author Catrina Kronfli said small businesses have born the brunt of the economic crisis created by the pandemic.

The impact has been felt in reduced revenues, difficulty staying open, retaining employees, disrupted supply chains, and challenges in transitioning to a digital economy.

The companies that have realized success, she said, saw opportunity in taking steps to fill a gap or need by leveraging technology or developing partnerships wiith other businesses and institutions.

Kronfli said the oft-heard phase of SMEs being the backbone of the Canadian economy bears itself out. These 2.1 million companies represent 30 per of the national GDP and create the vast majority of new jobs, contribute to the local tax base, drive tourism, fuel innovation, and add character to communities.

John Stackhouse, a senior vice-president at RBC, said small business has largely driven the economic boom in Canada of the last decade.

But when the economy was forced to shut down in March and April, those firms with fewer than 100 employees accounted for nearly 60 per cent of the job losses in the pandemic's first two months.

Luckily, things are starting to look better as more jurisdictions in Ontario gradually reopen their local economies.

In his report, Stackhouse said small business needs to lead the recovery.

"We've turned the corner but we're not on Easy Street."

After RBC spoke to 22,000 small business clients across Canada, many owners harboured deep concerns about their ability to rebound.

Many cash-strapped small businesses are more exposed to the "physical economy" than larger enterprises and lack the ability to transition into the world of e-commerce, he said.

RBC asserts the post-COVID economy will look different in how we work, shop, learn, entertain ourselves, and travel.

"You all know this: we've gone through fundamental changes, and we're not going to go back to how it was, in full."

Stackhouse said SMEs have to start transitioning to this new society and economy that is full of oppportunity, instead of allowing market forces to play out.