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VIDEO: Businesses lauded for resiliency at St. John's Board of Trade annual awards event


Event shifted gears for 2020, acknowledging excellence goes hand-in-hand with remaining resilient

The St. John’s Board of Trade knew it needed to shake up its annual awards event for 2020. It’s been a year unlike any other, given the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presented to the business community in Newfoundland and Labrador and the world as a whole.

“Businesses throughout the community and our members were having to really pivot and shift and operate in a different way because of the circumstances that we were handed,” Board of Trade CEO AnnMarie Boudreau said Wednesday afternoon. “We really felt that business excellence and success needed to be measured in a different way this year. And it truly was about resilience and persevering, and the grit and determination that businesses displayed as they shifted their business and worked really hard to … serve their customers in ways that they never have before, because they had no other choice.”

Thus, the Business Excellence Awards mutated into the RBC Business Resilience Awards, recognizing the hard work four businesses and organizations put in to make 2020 more manageable under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Colemans

Sasha Persaud is a communications co-ordinator for Colemans. - Andrew Robinson/The Telegram
Sasha Persaud is a communications co-ordinator for Colemans. - Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

The awards included a double winner in Colemans, which claimed the Service Star Award and the Overall 2020 Resilience Award.

The Newfoundland and Labrador grocery chain, headquartered in Corner Brook, made it through a double whammy of challenges in 2020, first dealing with unexpected multi-day store closures in the St. John’s metro area following the historic January snowstorm.

The company continued to pay workers and managed to have its stores ready to reopen on the fifth day of the state of emergency in St. John’s. Colemans also supported the Community Food Sharing Association at a time when food insecurity was amplified by the state of emergency.

Two months later, the COVID-19 pandemic created new challenges. Colemans was quick to respond to the crisis.

“We had to adapt to safety measures that were put in place,” said communications co-ordinator Sasha Persaud. “We had to react quickly ... ensuring our community and customers felt safe.”

Persaud noted Colemans stores were among the first to install plexiglass shields for cash registers. It created a shopping hour dedicated to seniors and individuals with health conditions that left them more susceptible to serious complications if they were to contract the coronavirus.

Signage to direct customers through store aisles was added, and Colemans expanded customer feedback options to make sure it could address any pandemic issues relevant to the shopping experience.

“We had limitations to the amount of people who came into the stores, and a lot of shoppers were scared and looking for contactless shopping options like curbside pickup and delivery, which we rolled out relatively quickly, and amped up our services online,” Persaud added.

Women’s Film Festival

The St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival collected the Boundary Pusher Award. Beyond one in-theatre screening for a local feature film, the entire event switched to a virtual setting, with films available to stream online for the duration of the five-day festival, held in October.

Workshops and panel discussions, likewise, were hosted online.

Festival executive director Jenn Brown said the pandemic forced organizers to start from scratch in putting together the 31st edition of the event.

From dealing with ticket sales through to communications, it was a substantial rebuild, but one that worked well for both the festival and the film community. The fact it didn’t have to spend as much on venues for hosting events and screenings or travel for guests allowed the festival to redirect more of its budget directly to artists.

“It was a huge success because we were also able to step back and focus on what’s our whole mission, what’s our mandate, what’s our purpose here,” explained Brown. “We looked at how we could prioritize our budgets so we put as much money as possible into the hands of artists, especially local artists. We took a really different approach than many international film festivals. We expanded our programming. We doubled the amount of panels we presented. We had close to $40,000 that we paid in speaker fees and screener fees this year, which is much more than any previous year.”

Ticket fees and festival pass costs were reduced by 34 per cent and all film forum industry panels were free to view. Most films could be streamed across Canada, and the pivot to becoming a mostly online festival actually improved box office revenue — up by 35 per cent over the previous festival.

“We were able to reach thousands and thousands more people than we ever have before,” Brown said, adding the experience in 2020 will definitely inform how it approaches the 32nd edition of the festival, whether or not there’s still a pandemic to contend with.

PAL Airlines

PAL Airlines, an independent regional airline serving eastern Canada, took home the Opportunity Seeker Award.

Almost all airline companies are struggling through the pandemic, with airport foot traffic down dramatically worldwide.

While PAL was forced to lay off staff and reconfigure its operations, the company did take some big swings. At a time when airline companies are predominantly axing routes, PAL launched a new direct-flight service in the fall between Moncton and St. John’s.

Janine Browne, director of business development and sales for PAL Airlines, said the company has not shied away from seeking out opportunities.

“One of those things certainly being our new flight from St. John’s to Moncton,” she said. “It’s a direct service. We’re very, very proud of that. That’s a service that people have been asking for, for a long time, and we saw the gap during the last year and then decided we’re going to go out there and make sure that service is there to connect both provinces.”

Browne said the company is now looking toward 2021 with optimism, adding the recently launched Bombardier Q400 with 76 seats will open opportunities to meet demand for customers and clients throughout eastern Canada.

ClearRisk

“We’re a resilient company that helps other companies be more resilient."

- ClearRisk CEO Crag Rowe

The Community Champion Award went to ClearRisk, a software company that has developed a cloud-based risk-management platform.

During the pandemic, ClearRisk launched free pandemic-specific risk-management software to collect data and report on potential exposures within a company, keeping in mind the need to protect employee privacy. This would ultimately help a company to work proactively with public health officials if needed and protect the health of employees.

“We have a team that’s built for a situation like this,” company CEO Craig Rowe said in a video the Board of Trade shared following the announcement of ClearRisk’s win. “We’re a resilient company that helps other companies be more resilient through risk management.”

He said the pandemic risk-management software came together in record time, adding that staff were enthusiastic about the project and willingly committed the time necessary to make it a reality.

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