Alex Dugal is going all in on medical masks.
The entrepreneur believes face coverings will be in demand even after a vaccine is found for COVID-19, so he’s invested half a million dollars renting warehouse space in Ottawa.
He’s also hiring staff and importing a mask-making machine from China. The hope is Canadian consumers will prefer to buy masks made in this country instead of another one.
“If our material and our finished product is a comparable price to what they were paying before that, they’ll consider swapping over to a Canadian company to buy that product,” said Dugal in an interview with Global News.
His company, Viral Clean, is trying to stand out by making masks that will stand out. Dugal says they’ll be manufacturing masks in a variety of colours and patterns. They have a maple leaf print they hope will be ready for Canada Day. Dugal is also hoping to sign corporate deals with businesses that have front-line workers or employees who deal with the public on a regular basis.
“If your employees require to wear a mask, why make them wear a standard medical-grade blue one when you can have it customized, when you can have your own custom logo at a better price and made local?” said Dugal.
That kind of ingenuity has led to a boom for some companies during the COVID-19 crisis, despite a bust for others.
Canada’s economy depends heavily on small- and medium-sized businesses. Those businesses contribute to 55 per cent of GDP generated by the private sector and employ 90 per cent of the private labour force in this country.
The pandemic ground the economy to a halt. But last month, there was a small turnaround, as the Canadian economy actually added 290,000 jobs, including 56,000 manufacturing jobs in Quebec and another 14,000 such jobs in Ontario.
As the Canadian economy reopens, businesses are reorienting, and it’s believed the new opportunities created by COVID-19 will also help get us through the recovery even as the threat of the novel coronavirus remains.
“Small businesses are guided largely by what consumers want, and right now, one of the chief things that consumers want is a safer experience when they’re out there doing their daily errands and their important shopping,” says Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Part of that safer experience has meant glass or plexiglass shields between customers and workers. They started being installed at grocery stores early in the pandemic, and Tom Zoobkoff of Centennial Glass in Ottawa saw a huge demand from customers.
Before the pandemic, Zoobkoff says he might have sold a piece or two of plexiglass per week, but in March, he was selling up to 60 pieces per day.
Demand has levelled off somewhat, but Zoobkoff believes businesses will continue to look for ways to protect their workers.
“People are starting to realize that this isn’t a temporary fix. This is going to become the new norm, and guards and protecting yourself and your clients is going to become important.”
Another item that will likely stick around for a long time is those floor decals you see everywhere telling people to stand two metres apart to ensure safe physical distancing.
When the pandemic forced the cancellation of the Ottawa Marathon, the Army Run and the tulip festival, all the contracts to supply the signs were cancelled for Miller McConnell Signs. However, as provinces restart their economies and businesses reopen, there has been a demand for floor decals.
“So at first, people were creating them out of masking tape and just kind of drawing arrows on the floor,” says Marta Wozniak, chief operating officer at Miller McConnell Signs. “And so we decided to make those as well but just — we wanted to make them colourful and almost fun.”
The shop floor has been buzzing for weeks as workers print, roll and cut thousands of the circles per day. The company has even designed kid-friendly concepts they are presenting to the City of Ottawa to be used in municipal facilities.
“As daycares start opening up, and camps, there is going to be fun colours with pictures of animals and numbers. You know, go sit on this butterfly or whatnot,” said Wozniak.
Like masks and partitions, it’s believed those distancing decals will continue to be in demand as Canadians continue to adjust to the new reality of living with this virus.