Pandemic pivot: Lethbridge businesses retool for COVID-19
LETHBRIDGE -- While many businesses are just starting to reopen, others have re-tooled their operations, to meet the increasing demand for COVID-19-related products and supplies.
According to the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce, at least 25 local businesses have adapted their business models to keep operating and support the community.
At this time of year, Lethbridge Custom Canvas would normally work on boat covers, tents and patio awnings, but instead of sewing canvas, they have shifted to making masks.
"It was the one thing that kept us going when we didn’t know if we’d be here or not," said owner Craig Fawcett.
Seamstress Susan Taylor said when the pandemic hit, they started talking about ways they could make a difference, or help people feel safe.
"We decided we’d give it a try and it kind of exploded," she said.
Thousands of their colourful masks have been sold all across Alberta, including shipments to Fort McMurray, Calgary and Okotoks.
Fawcett said with the province reopening, they have started resuming some of their traditional work as well.
Steve Kothig operates Mirage Lazer Designs, a small business in north Lethbridge. He makes a living doing engravings, selling promotional items and trophies.
Small business owner Steve Kothig shows off a touchless keychain to open doors or use ATMs.
He said he has taken a big hit from the cancellation of sports awards and weddings.
"I knew things were going to be slow, so I thought how can I do something for the community? To give a little back."
Kothig began selling protective masks, mask ties and T-shirts with slogans like "If I can hit you with a hockey stick (and I will) you’re too close" and "Keep calm and stay 6 feet away."
He is also bringing in products like floor decals, touchless key chains so people can open doors or use ATM machines, without touching the door handle or keypad.
Kothig said he is donating a portion of the proceeds from masks and some other items to the food banks and hospital.
"We’re not trying to find a way to be able to keep the doors open and make money, but figure out how to give something back."
Black Velvet Distillery is producing hand sanitizer, and Canadian Linen is providing isolation gowns, lab coats, scrubs, gloves and masks.
Lethbridge Custom Canvas owner Craig Fawcett looking over mask orders from across Alberta.
Printers, glass and plastics companies are now busy making window and wall signs, floor decals, and barricades or shields.
"We’re grateful we can stay open, and I think even more grateful we can help other businesses open and keep the community safe," said David Watson, sales manager at Friesen Plastics.
Watson said three months ago there wasn’t much demand for till guards, but their business has been able to retool and start getting them out the door quickly.
"We’ve seen orders come in from literally all across North America," he said.
Watson said they are also receiving online orders for floor decals, sidewalk boards and signs, and urge people to stay 2 meters apart and walk in a certain direction.
He said it started with orders from grocery stores, banks and the health sector, but that has expanded with barber shops, hair salons and restaurants beginning to reopen.
Local business operators said they expect the demand for COVID-19-related products to drop off at some point. However, with a shortage of some supplies, and many businesses looking to open in the coming weeks, there is no sign of a slowdown yet.