COVID AND CONVENIENCE
CAMA goes to bat for its members.
By Naomi Szeben
Since the moment the Coronavirus (COVID-19) reached Canada, Marie St-Ivany and CAMA’s Board of Directors advocated tirelessly on the part of the membership.
When the number of COVID-19 patients began to climb in Canada, there was some discussion and ever-changing information from levels of government about which businesses were going to be closed. Speculation started in March as to whether people were going to be asked to self-isolate; nobody was sure if a governmental response package financed by the government was forthcoming.
“The first thing we did was to convene a board meeting and we prepared how we would move forward as the industry association advocating on behalf of the stakeholders. We wrote a letter to Finance Minister Morneau,” said St-Ivany in a phone interview in early April. “From the get-go, we’ve sent this letter from the association and copied all the COVID-19 response committee members on it as well. We sent it via mail, fax, and email. And that was just to let them know about our industry and who we represent – making sure that we weren’t forgotten.”
Communication is a key component to CAMA’s process, and St-Ivany takes pride in how they constantly and consistently keep association members in the loop.
“We emailed all our members as well as our non-member stakeholders, asking them to contact their local MP and MPPs to advocate on behalf of the industry, because there’s a lot of strength in numbers.”
Keeping people informed and reassured can seem like two very dual tasks at this moment. As of this writing, there are new options available for funding made by Provincial and Federal Governments, yet no-one is certain what direction the virus will take, nor how long the quarantine will last.
The level of uncertainty during this time means that associations can direct their members to sources of information such as which sites to visit to explore securing loans, or which businesses are affected for those in the convenience industry.
“A lot of it is a reaction to what has been unfolding,” reflects St-Ivany. “When we found out that essential business lists were going to be put in place in Ontario and Quebec, we once again convened for an emergency board meeting. We prepared a letter to both the Premier of Quebec and the Premier of Ontario. It was imperative that we share our concerns with them before they made their announcement. We knew the industry per se might not be recognized as an Essential Business, but we wanted it recognized as an essential service in the food supply chain so that our members who clients include hospitals, nursing homes, fire and police stations and online delivery companies such as Amazon, could service these businesses.
“We also wanted to ensure that our industry was included in the funding programs the government were putting into place in response to COVID-19. As [the relief packages] rolled out, we didn’t know how it was going to be presented nor who would be included. We just wanted to ensure that the vending industry and coffee service and un-attended retail markets were fairly represented.”
Late March and early April was a time of uncertainty for many vending companies worldwide. Charity events and networking events that were often sponsored by vending companies and associations were postponed or outright cancelled. NAMA cancelled its Nashville expo due to obvious health concerns, and to date, shows such as the Coffee and Tea show slated for the autumn are still up in the air.
“At this stage, all we can do is continue to keep our members well informed. It’s really in the hands of all provincial and federal governments as to how businesses will be ordered to function during the crisis. Our role is to advocate on behalf of our members to keep them informed and to keep in touch with them.”
St-Ivany states that part of the challenge lies with operators’ client base. Some may be locked out of properties such as office buildings or public spaces. However, she lauds the efforts of those who manage to ‘think outside the box’ and do what they can to meet their clients’ needs.
St-Ivany recommends that the association members take cues from the industries they service, as the rules for each company may differ from others in the convenience industry, whether it refers to sanitization or simply following social distance regulations; she recommends that CAMA members keep abreast of regulations and follow them. “We advise our members to use the protocols their clients have in place.”
Creative thinking is one of the work-around ways to make sure that clients are serviced and goods aren’t going to waste. “I had heard that we have a member who was putting in a pop-up micro-market,” adds St-Ivany. “They’re putting together what’s needed for it to happen. If you have a hospital which is open 24/7, the people in there will still want their coffee or cold beverage. The operators therefore work with the client to do whatever is needed to service them right.”
“They’re working with their clients on an individual basis; It’s not like there’s an industry standard. The regional Governments and health authorities put those in place and members are working with their clients to service their needs, because it’s not ‘business as usual.’
“These are extremely difficult times, and we don’t know when it’s going to pick up and when we’ll be able to get back to work. I don’t think anyone knows.” St-Ivany offers words of reassurance for those in the vending industry. “Keep safe and healthy, and hopefully our sector will be ready to roll out fully as soon as restrictions are lifted.”