Brands in Canada Must Adjust to a New Reality Post COVID-19 or Perish: Expert

When the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic eases down the road, many people are wondering what brands are most likely to survive this extremely challenging economic environment.

“I think it is a time for reflection and a time to look ahead and a time to act versus react,” said John Torella, an advisor with the J.C. Williams Group, a retail and marketing consulting firm based in Toronto. “One of the things to look at, particularly if you are a small to medium sized retailer, is how are you different, how are you unique, how are you special? Because if you’re not, you’re a commodity. You’re interchangeable and you won’t make it through this.”

“What I’m saying to clients is do a little self-reflection. Know thy self. Be very objective and subjective in terms of your real strengths. We put them through a little exercise. What is it? Is it your merchandise that’s unique? Is it the store look? Is it your service attitude? Is it the whole experience? Because once you get that starting point then you can start to build on it, differentiate it and bring it to life and give it some colour, narrative, and storytelling – all those kinds of things.”


Torella said that based on his experience one third of the people he talks to are facing the realities, see the new realities, and are being very objective realizing it is a time for change and they’ve got to act. Another third is sitting on the fence and don’t know where to go, they’re confused without the resources or skills to respond. Another third will never change and they’re doomed. It’s unfortunate but it’s reality.

“It really depends on your mindset and that’s the hard part. The monkey brain is attacking us all the time with all the negatives and can’t do’s and what about this. And then your self has to take over and say ‘wait a minute, I’m bigger than this. I’m going to work my way through this, I’m going to build the relationships. I’m going to think short-term because I have to pay the rent next week but I’m also going to think longer term.’ Those are the ones I’m hoping will have the substance and the perseverance and the persistence,” said Torella.

He said there will be pent-up demand coming when the crisis settles down. There will be desires for experiences, getting out, socializing, and social shopping which is an important part of retail.


“That’s all going to come back and you’ve got to be ready for it. It may necessitate change. The change may be more in focusing maybe on the total experience of your store that it’s not just the product, it’s not just the service. It’s the whole experience. And is there an emotional connection in that experience,” said Torella.

“You know, we shop rationally but we buy emotionally. More and more retail has got to understand this need to satisfy both of those demands. We have needs but we also have wants and they’re important.”

Torella said the people benefitting from this and making the adjustments are companies like Walmart which is hiring 10,000 additional people across Canada.


“Some people are definitely benefitting and taking advantage but they are also looking at many tactics that I think everybody should be thinking about. So whether that’s store hour adjustments or staff adjustments or free shipping or being very hyper local, very concentrated in your neighbourhood, click and collect, gift cards, all of those kinds of things should be in the toolkit,” added Torella.

Torella has been in the industry for many years and he’s never seen anything like this current situation that has hit the retail market.

“Way beyond anything I could imagine. I mean 9-11 was hard. The recession was hard. But this goes beyond that.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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