[Sunwah GYLN PLLC Canada] Spotlight on Local Business: Adaptive Leadership in Practice

In 2020, Sunwah GYLN PLLC Chapter has launched the “Turning the Spotlight to Local Businesses and Non-Profits” Project in Edmonton to promote local businesses and feature non-profits who are struggling during these unprecedented times, in accordance with the City of Edmonton’s recommendations on supporting the community during COVID-19. Their goal is to raise awareness on the importance of shopping local at this time to help small businesses cope through this hardship and to recognize the tireless efforts of unsung heroes in non-profits who are working especially hard to support vulnerable populations.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the way we lead our day-to-day lives. Even more so for everyday people running local businesses in Edmonton who had to quickly creatively adapt to changes and make tough decisions for their businesses to survive amidst a pandemic.

According to Statistics Canada, small business makes up 98% of all employer business in Canada and has a major impact on our economy. Unlike large corporate businesses, local businesses are run by people, not stockholders or algorithms that drive supply and demand chain. Local businesses share the fruits of their passion and are owned by individuals who are invested in the growth and wellbeing of our community.

For the Jo Family, this is the first time in 18 years that they opted to work with delivery services since opening Gaya Korean Restaurant in 2003.

“My parents always relied on word of mouth and would not give delivery services a second thought. But to survive, they’ve adopted many different services.”

The Jo Family has put so much time and work into welcoming many in the University of Alberta campus community to their warm and loved restaurant home. But with university closing and students going online, they’ve taken a huge hit. By stepping out of their comfort zone, they hope they can reach out beyond their normal customer base.

Meanwhile, for Meghann and Karine, who started Re:Plenish in January 2020 as a pop-up refillery and zero waste store in the back of a manufacturing warehouse, COVID-19 forced them to close their weekend shop just a couple months later in March. Their solution: they created an online store and pivoted to local deliveries.

“We drove everyday around the city delivering our products to our customers for free.”

Meghann and Karine’s dedication to serving their customers’ needs allowed them to see past closed doors and reframe them into an opportunity to grow their business. Now, they are looking around for a brick and mortar store that they can move into to commit to Re:Plenish full-time.

It’s a similar story for Alyssia and Megan who founded their candle company Alpine Ember Co. in 2019. Their markets were cancelled leaving them with no outlets to sell directly to customers. And as a two person team separated by restrictions, they had to navigate how to work together from separate homes.

“We had to redesign how to share the workload to continue production.”

Which they did. They launched their website and made a concentrated effort to reach out to local retailers, expanding both their wholesale and consignment locations.

Going through a pandemic is hard enough but launching a business amidst one is an even more remarkable feat, made possible by leaders with a strong vision and immense community support.

Just ask Reika and Mavi, who set out with the intent to create safe spaces within the local queer community and to build a better future for people in coffee. They opened Intent Coffee in September 2020.

“As COVID cases rise up, our sales go down. It’s costly; we are not eligible for government support as we have only been open for less than a year. We have to rely on ourselves and our community to survive.”

Still, that doesn’t stop Reika and Mavi. They adapted quickly to built a website, set up curbside pick-up, and are working on delivery and shipping. They’re looking forward to Intent Coffee’s next steps: build a coffee training academy for youth in marginalized communities.

More Than A Fad, a charitable thrift store launched in July 2020, also has not known anything other than the new realities presented by the pandemic. All of their proceeds go to women in addiction recovery at Adeara Recovery Centre, creating some awareness and consistent revenue at a time of need for the non-profit. Operated by a team of 70+ volunteers from all walks of life.

“More Than a Fad is more than sorting clothes or pricing items, it’s about becoming a part of a community that works selflessly and gives generously.”

The pandemic may have heightened many uncertainties, but it has not quivered the bright spirit of our local businesses. Especially not the unsung heroes behind these local businesses– the families, friends, teammates, staff and volunteers working together.

Whether sharing their gratitude for community support or stretching themselves to continue serving our communities, they have shown adaptive leadership in practice. As Edmontonians, we appreciate the astounding resiliency with which our local businesses are adapting, overcoming challenges to continue giving back to our community.

— Reported by GYLN PLLC Chapter members