A few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, Philippe Marill and Carolyn Kvajic, a husband and wife team who own Salt Spring Island Sea Salt – located on Salt Spring Island, BC, of course – thought it was the end for their business.
Like many small businesses who rely on tourism, the summer season is their most important. They traditionally participate in a variety of markets that involve face-to-face engagement with customers. Additionally, retailers who cater to visitors and carry their products weren’t buying the same quantities. They couldn’t see a path forward at the time, but knew they needed to pivot.
Salt Spring Island Sea Salt turned to the Vancouver Island Coastal Tourism Resiliency Program. “It has helped us sift through the noise and answer our questions,” says Marill. The couple met with a Program Expert in marketing and she provided affirmation of what they were already doing well and then provided suggestions and resources to move to the next level.
Marill and Kvajic immediately shifted their energy to the online space. They invested in more digital advertising and social media posting, which they hadn’t done much of previously and, to their surprise, it worked! They were also fortunate to receive editorial coverage of their business which created some buzz and helped to drive sales. All totalled, this kept them afloat.
The Vancouver Island Coastal Tourism Resiliency Program also assisted Salt Spring Island Sea Salt to determine which government relief programs they qualified for. They are in the midst of receiving a loan from the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and feeling cautiously confident about what lies ahead.
Salt Spring Island Sea Salt is 100 per cent Canadian-made and supporting local companies is something Marill is seeing from customers nation-wide. “Buying local really means something,” he says. “It creates a sense of solidarity and pride; especially during a global pandemic.”
The salt company has also come together with other food producers and businesses on Salt Spring Island. “The community has been very supportive, sharing information and being there for each other,” says Marill. “This is true of the tourism resiliency program as well. Our Program Advisor continually checks in. Knowing that someone is there for us is incredibly valuable.”
Salt Spring Island Sea Salt had to let go of their part-time staff member, but plan to bring this role back. It will help to free up Marill and Kvajic to focus on increasing sales. They’ll use their new digital marketing skills to expand their social media success and start a rebranding process. They also hope to make an investment in more equipment so they can increase production with time.
“We adapted, kept moving forward, and have done what we can to make sure our business is still viable,” concludes Marill. “And we still make the best local product we can!”