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It can be done! Successful small business launches during COVID

It can be done! Successful small business launches during COVID

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The onset of the COVID-19 health crisis brought a number of business-related difficulties along with it. Stores, restaurants and businesses of all sorts had to quickly adapt to the volatile economic environment in order to weather the storm.

But for some newly-minted Image360 owners, the challenges accompanied new opportunities and the chance to prove their mettle in a major way.

Dan Kolody and Emma Southwood brought extensive experience in previous corporate positions, plus their marriage of 25 years, to the job. The pair signed on at the start of 2020 after being impressed with Image360’s franchise model and having the opportunity to chat with several other franchise members.

They had a smart strategy laid out: with a little knowledge and advice from Chad Salewski, Franchise Business Consultant for Alliance Franchise Brands’ Signs and Graphics Division, they were able to secure and purchase a bankrupt sign company in Calgary, Alberta. Stocked with a large materials inventory and located in a great part of town, it was exactly what they needed to get off on the right foot.

And then disaster hit. Though Dan and Emma had planned on opening their new Image360 Centre in May 2020, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic created a huge hurdle for them.

“The shutdown of cross-border traffic between Canada and the U.S. made training at the home office in Maryland impossible,” Southwood said.

At one point last spring, Dan and Emma were selling and fabricating signage, all while building out their new business space and completing training virtually all at once. It was a perfect storm of stressors that might have left even a seasoned business owner looking for help. But Image360 Calgary South opened their doors in July, and has been thriving ever since.

They’re well on track to hit their sales goals already, and thanks to the veteran franchise owners at KKP Calgary – another AFB brand – Dan and Emma found some key local support.

“Having a nearby resource was a great help,” Southwood said. “Tim and Bruce from KKP Calgary assisted with printing projects, advised on pricing and costs, recommended local vendors and helped a pair of newcomers solve many challenges.”

When they first opened, Dan and Emma were the only Image360 for hundreds of miles. But by the end of the year, Image360 Calgary South was joined by Image360 Calgary North, run by another husband-and-wife team, Vladimir and Tanzilia Iglesias. Despite the numerous restrictions in place to control the spread of COVID-19, Image360 Calgary North is also off to an incredible start.

Vladimir and Tanzilia became Image360 owners after deciding it was time to make a career change, and thought that the signs and graphics industry was a more consistent, “recession-proof” path to explore. The pair spent a month working with a franchise exploring various ideas, and after some serious soul-searching – and after being impressed by the kind of corporate support that Image360 owners get – they bought in.

The challenges of opening up a new business are hard enough during more normal times, but the pandemic added a whole extra layer of difficulty. Vladimir noted that normally, the store would have had a support team in-person to help set up shop, but everything had to be done virtually. On top of that, Canada’s lockdown measures made the initial push for customers difficult.

“Once we opened, half of the economy were shut down. A lot of the businesses that are typical clients for us were shut down or were uncertain of their future,” Vladimir said. “Having a large part of the economy shut down due to the pandemic has been a major challenge. Besides the fact that training had to be done virtually, the supply chain was entirely disrupted.”

However, Image360 Calgary North opened in mid-September and immediately got the ball rolling with early successes throughout the fall, building momentum that Vladimir and Tanzilia are carrying into the spring and summer already.

Having the Calgary South team in the area to provide guidance and camaraderie has also been a boon for Vladimir and Tanzilia, and the centers have shared experiences and advice with each other to build on their respective successes.

The fact that they’re so close to each other was key for Calgary North when, just before Easter, a rush job came through. The client had wanted signage printed and ready to go before the holiday weekend, but late that Thursday before Good Friday, one of the printers gave out. It was almost time to go home for a long weekend, but Vladimir made a phone call to ensure the job got done on time.

“I called Emma,” Vladimir said. “It was almost 5’o’clock, and they were shutting down and ready to go home for the long weekend. They had been really busy, but they started the printers, and I sent the files and drove over. They stayed late in order to get everything printed.”

Vladimir added that his team also has a strong working relationship not just with the KKP in Calgary, but with the other Image360 centers in other regions of Canada. The owners regularly meet for “online coffee” to chat and share experiences with each other.

“The cooperation in Canada is great,” Vladimir said.

Image360 is continuing to look for expansion opportunities throughout Canada. In addition to the two new Calgary centers, we also have successful locations in Markham and Windsor. But there’s always room for growth, and the momentum is building in Canada thanks to these new teams who are off to the races in Calgary. We can’t wait to continue this expansion into exciting new markets!

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