COVID-19 has created economic challenges across the globe. As businesses navigate through pandemic recovery, many are forced to pivot to a ‘new normal’.
We know that New Brunswickers and their businesses are resilient, innovative, and agile. Many of our companies have adapted to the new reality and are succeeding in a post-COVID-19 world.
Knowlesville’s South Ridge Maple Co., makers of organic maple syrup and maple sugar, have pivoted in the face of the pandemic towards a new surface and hand sanitizer, Bath Springs. Founded in 2015, the family-owned business has seen many changes in recent weeks, both in its sales and its operations.
Founders Zak and Karen Hargrove tell us more.
ONB: What have been the biggest changes for South Ridge Maple post-pandemic?
Zak: There has been a change in our retail markets as much of our retail business is outside the province, in both Canada and the U.S. We can’t travel right now, so we have had some challenges on the sales side there. Fortunately, we also have an online business and online sales have significantly increased in Europe thanks to our partnership with agents overseas. We hope online will outpace our retail sales for now until we can hit the road in North America again.
In terms of operations, our workplace safety program has been completely revamped. We worked closely with WorkSafeNB on that and followed all their recommendations. We are outside in the woods a lot, so it has not been difficult to social distance. We’re fortunate that the nature of our business allows for that.
The big change, of course, was the launch of our surface and hand sanitizer business. It was a natural fit for us, given we already have large storage tanks and high-speed bottling equipment. We’re well equipped to deal with large amounts of liquid. We had the means to scale up and bottle large amounts of sanitizer very quickly.
Karen: To manage the hand sanitizer plant, we hired a local restaurant owner. He had to shut down his restaurant due to COVID-19. We also hired many of his former restaurant staff. Altogether, we were able to hire 25 new employees to help with the sanitizer operation. Most of those people are locals.
How do you see the business being affected long-term?
Zak: A second wave would be awful for the region, and our family too as we have three school-aged children. We remain concerned about that but feel we can still safely provide employment to our full-time people and probably some additional people if there are more waves and lockdowns. Again, due to the nature of the business — a lot of outside work — we should survive.
Like everyone, we’re hoping for a vaccine, but in the meantime, we are committed to the region and all our employees, friends, and neighbours. The business will continue to operate and grow.
Karen: We are still producing our sanitizer and seeing export success with it across North America. This part of the business is still growing; we just introduced 100ml size bottles for easier travel. The Bath Springs name is taken from a natural healthcare business Zak’s mother used to own. She retired and gave permission to use the name for this line of sanitizer products. It’s great to be able to keep the brand name alive in a new way.
Has there been a silver lining for you during/since the pandemic?
Zak: Everyone that we employ or work alongside with has remained safe and healthy. And we were able to provide employment for our neighbours during a bad time. We felt that there was an opportunity to step up as good corporate citizens and it’s a good feeling to be able to help people find work.
Karen: We didn’t have to turn anyone away, and none of our existing staff wanted a layoff to take the CERB. We have seen incredible commitment from all staff across both businesses. Our entire region has really stepped up in the face of this challenge and we are happy to have played our part in it.
Finally, what three words come to mind when thinking of this period?
Zak: Innovation, consistency, community.
Learn more about Bath Springs at https://bathsprings01.weebly.com/
Visit SouthRidgeMaple.com to learn more about the Hargrove’s maple products.
Keep an eye on all the support ONB can offer as it relates to dealing with COVID-19.
Written by Jason Boies