Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

Like many other business leaders, Valet Car Wash’s Mike Black found himself forced to make some hard decisions when COVID-19 struck.

 

“As things started to close down and we started to navigate our way through this as a business, we had to layoff about 100 employees which is something we’ve never done in 30 years,” he says, referring to the business he began building on Eagle Street North back in 1990 which has now grown to include eight additional locations.

 

Luckily, he was able to continue to operate portions of his business with a reduced workforce. However, not all wanted to continue working due to personal reasons, which Mike says was a difficult choice for them to make.

 

 

“We respected and understood that,” he says, adding those who did continue to work would be instrumental in keeping the business going. 

 

Mike decided some action was needed to recognize these employees.

 

“I said to my managers, ‘I will make sure the employees that stuck through this and allowed us to keep our doors open and still have a business when the other employees come back will be compensated and I will figure out away to thank them’,” he says.

It was at this point he says came his ‘aha moment’ and devised a plan.

 

“We used the wage subsidy (CEWS) to pay every employee who worked from March 16 to May 3 and a special COVID compensation ‘bonus’ of $4 per hour on top of their regular hourly rate,” he says, adding he did not reduce their regular wages. “We calculated all their hours worked during that time period x4 and whatever that amount came to, we purchased gift cards of their choosing.”

 

Mike says the employees could select up to three different cards, with the only stipulation being they could not be VISA or MasterCard gift cards.

 

“I wanted to give them something that helped the economy at the same time,” he says. “It really wouldn’t do much good if it just sat in a bank account.”

 

Approximately 50 employees utilized the cards in a variety of ways. For example, Mike says one purchased new beds for her children, another a new couch for her living room, and another who is studying photography bought a new camera. As well, another purchased a variety of foods from Zehrs to create a special meal and treats, something that employee had not done in months since the COVID-19 crisis began.

“It’s been great to hear those stories,” says Mike, adding these purchases are a great way to stimulate the whole economy. “It works the whole supply chain.”

 

He describes it as a ‘win-win’ for everyone.

 

“The employees are happy, and it’s kept us in business,” says Mike. “When you have multiple locations, you really depend on your staff.”

 

Valet Car Wash Cambridge is located at 2396 Eagle St. N. (behind Greg Vann Nissan), or visit washmycar.ca for more information. 

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The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has been working behind the scenes with local Chambers since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis to ensure the needs of 

the province’s business community are met. Besides weekly ‘town hall’ meetings allowing Chambers to connect with various provincial and federal leaders to obtain firsthand information, the OCC has been advocating government on many issues to assist businesses during their time of need. And as Ontario begins to reopen its economy, there are many changes ahead regarding the way business will be conducted. 

 

We recently chatted with Ontario Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rocco Rossi about the effects of this crisis and what lies ahead for businesses:

 

 

 

Chamber: What role has the Ontario Chamber of Commerce played during the COVID-19 crisis?

RR: We serve as a conduit between businesses and various levels of government so we’re giving them the best advice as to where the real pain points are. As they (government) have been putting out policies, we’ve been actively advocating for changes, adjustments, and then communicating as clearly as we can, to our members, who, quite frankly, have been overwhelmed by this crisis. I think they’ve (Chamber network) been incredibly appreciative, particularly the smaller ones because the smaller the Chamber you are, the fewer resources you have. You literally are wearing every hat. We were very quick out of the gate with an online tool that all our Chambers could share and build on for their own members and customize to meet their needs.

 

Chamber: What do you see as the role of Chambers at the local level, especially as Ontario moves towards reopening?

RR: Chambers have multiple roles and we’re seeing examples of it everywhere. One, is sharing stories. The Cambridge Chamber has been fantastic about raising the issue of franchises and raising the issue that some owners are paying themselves through dividends versus income so they’ve been falling through the cracks, and we’ve been pushing on that. Cambridge was a big part of the push in saving main street and talking about rent subsidies. You also have Chambers like Newmarket that are working with their local governments to create programs helping to encourage shop local and building networks of retired businesspeople to help SMEs navigate their way through this. Chambers are playing an absolutely critical role. 

 

Chamber: Are you satisfied with the response to the crisis from the provincial and federal levels of government?

RR: Governments have been moving at a pace far faster than they ever have before. Oddly, for many, it still won’t be enough because this has gone on longer than anyone has anticipated and in a world with no vaccine, and a required and appropriate slow reopening, there will be more damage and loss. But we’re doing everything in our powers to ensure to keep as much as the economy afloat as possible. As a society, we need to have that recovery at the end of this. The only sustainable solution to all of this is economic recovery. Government cannot continue to print money indefinitely. They’ve done some remarkable and extraordinary things which we agree are important to do, but wow, the numbers are eye watering at this point and will only continue to grow. So, we need to start bringing those unemployment numbers down. We need to start opening businesses appropriately and safely so that we will be able to pay taxes as opposed to the need for more government support. That’s the ultimate way we get to the other side of this.

 

Chamber: Is the right course of action being utilized for Ontario’s reopening? 

RR: I will say, to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, ‘It’s the worst possible reopening plan, except for all the other reopening plans’. The bottom line is we’ve all sacrificed, some sadly and tragically with their lives. We have to do this right the first time and so it has to be slow, we applaud the government for that. We don’t want to have spikes that will take us back to a total lockdown because that would be deadly for our psyche, for our confidence, and for our economy. So, we want to do this properly and to do that we need more testing capability, we need more tracking and tracing, and we need more access to PPE that goes beyond our healthcare workers that have, rightfully, been the focus up until now. If you’re going to open up businesses and build confidence, that PPE is going to be seen more in businesses and training for our employees so that again, both the employees and consumers have confidence that every step that can be taken is being taken. Until we have a vaccine, we will be co-existing with COVID-19. No one can promise, without a vaccine, that there will be zero future infections and zero future deaths because that is not attainable. What should and must be attainable is zero tolerance for incompetence and zero tolerance for doing things too quickly. If we have the training and the PPE, and the testing, tracking, and tracing, anytime it flares up we can quickly put that fire out. 

 

Chamber: What is an important takeaway for business owners from this crisis?

RR: One of the big things we’ve seen through all of this is to uncover and highlight even more so the digital divide in Ontario. Those who’ve been able to make the transition to be able to do more of their business online have actually been able to weather the storm stronger and those habits being created now – even my parents who are in their eighties are now shopping online – are not something that’s going away. However, it underscores the need for the infrastructure for broadband to be everywhere because right now, too many communities, individuals, and businesses don’t have access to broadband. If they are going to recover and participate in the economy of the 21stcentury, that infrastructure has to be there in the same way that in the post-war period a network of highways and other infrastructure was required to rebuild and grow the economy. 

 

Chamber: What advice can you offer SMEs?

RR: Make sure you’re thinking about how you can safely reopen. I know you’re worried about cash flow; I know you’re worried about debt and worried about meeting that next rent cheque, but the reopening is beginning. Those that plan everything out so that when they do reopen consumers and employees will want to go there, are the ones that are going to thrive in this next stage.

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The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has a brand-new online look.

 

The Chamber’s new website offers visitors a fresh and vivid digital experience as they access information on the many learning programs, incentives and events we offer that benefit our local business community.

 

“We’re thrilled to be able to offer a new site that is easy to navigate and still provides our Members with the valuable information they’ve come to expect,” says Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher.

 

With a click of a button on the home page or from the ‘events’ page, Members will be able to easily access and manage their own accounts using a simple username system. They will not only be able to update their profiles to add or delete employees but will also be able to pay bills online.

 

“This feature will be a huge benefit to our Members and streamline our operation so we can concentrate on what we do best: helping businesses grow and prosper,” says Durocher.

 

The site itself is much brighter and colourful and contains fewer links which in turn will make using it a far more engaging experience for visitors.

 

As well, a new mobile site is included which means much clearer access on all digital devices.

 

“We have no doubt users will find this feature a huge bonus,” says Durocher, noting how much communication is conducted on smartphones.  “It’s important for all businesses to adapt to the latest trends.”

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REM Web Solutions Extends 10% Discount to Chamber Members on New Projects

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is proud to announce our latest Affinity Program, where our members can receive a benefit through the collective buying power. Recently through the graciousness of one of our members, the Cambridge Chamber had its website overhauled and revamped (www.cambridgechamber.com) and we couldn’t be happier with the results, nor could we have achieved it without the great support from REM Web Solutions (www.remwebsolutions.com).


"All I can say is WOW!"  Both to the results of a number of months of work from my staff and Rob Matlow's, but even more of a Wow for the fact that he was able to make this financially achievable.  REM Web Solutions works with hundreds of companies and organizations creating websites that are fully customer manageable. One of the absolute musts for our Chamber was to have it fully accessible to my staff, so that changes could be made on our schedule and that new information could be added at a moment’s notice, easily and exact. REM Web Solutions has an incredible back end product that makes it easy for anyone to use. It's flexible and so expandable.


REM Web Solutions Inc. was founded in 2001 and is a full service Web Professional Services Firm based in Waterloo Region.   REM found that many businesses were paying high costs to have their website maintained and had no control over their website content.  REM developed WebWiz@rd to give small to medium sized companies the ability maintain their own website content with only basic computer skills


REM’s employees have many years’ experience developing solutions for the web and understand what it takes to establish a successful online presence.  They worked with over 800 customers across North America. REM also has experience working with not-for-profit organizations and associations.


A finished website does not mean that REM’s relationship with their client is over.  Every member of REM’s team is 100% focused on building lasting relationships with their clients.  Only a phone call or e-mail away, REM offers the best technical support possible.


Other Affinity Programs Available through Your Membership with the Cambridge Chamber

The Chamber has a number of other Affinity Programs that bring a distinct buying power advantage to their Members, pricing that simply isn’t available to most businesses. Our Group Benefits program is probably our signature piece with over 300 member businesses on the program, and offers full coverage, including dental and extended health benefits at prices that simply aren’t available to the average business.

 

We have great program for Visa, MasterCard and debit card transactions through First Data, where the rates are at least half of what a business can normally get. Bulk buying helps us help our members to get affordable services, it is simply a must and our Merchant program with First Data has help businesses survive because the fees are so low. 

 

The Chamber of Commerce also offers a Group Retirement Program called Chamber Pension Plan (CPP),  photocopier program with Information Network Systems (INS) in Waterloo. Home phone and internet program through Worldline that simply can’t be beat. Discount with Dignity Memorial on funeral services as well as a host of other Chamber Perks offering our members and their employees discounts. .

 

Check out all the Chamber’s Affinity and Member to Member discount programs.


Our Affinity Programs are predominantly from LOCAL providers, Chamber Members helping Chamber Members, we’re so proud of them, they really make the benefit of being a Chamber Member one of the most valuable assets we have.

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