Shutting down soda - Start ups being missed in COVID relief

When I planned the growth path of Canalside Soda Co. in early 2019, and launched in December 2019, I couldn’t have foreseen the impact the immediate future would have on commerce.

In the three months between when I started the company and were locked down for the first time, we saw rapid week-over-week growth even through what is typically slow sales periods of January and February as word of our new and different business spread in the community.

Come March however, we had no idea if the world was going to end. And we had no sales.  In April, it became clearer that the world wasn’t going to end. We didn’t have any sales that month either, but began reimagining how we were going to relaunch in this new economic climate.

We were fortunate to receive support through the Relief and Recovery Fund administered through Venture Niagara which helped us with the additional investment needed to put our product in safer packing. Most businesses weren’t so fortunate. When farmers markets reopened the last week of May, we were ready and began selling our spicy Ginger Beer. Our first sales since February.

Rapid week-over-week growth continued and between May and October our company grew from being just me, to a team of five full-time and two part-time employees, and

I’m extremely proud that after coming to full stride in our new production facility on a 75-acre farm while paying every employee a living wage from Day 1, we were just covering our costs. Very exciting for a new business about to go into a busy holiday spending season.

Of course things went exactly as expected and revenue started slowing. Our first year sales were 80% direct to customer, as a result of face-to-face (socially distanced of course) contact at locations like farmers markets and craft shows. In November and December those were mostly closed so sales have dropped considerably.

Wages are our biggest expense, and because of that this past weekend all of our employees were laid off. If we qualified for the wage subsidies that every business qualified for we could probably keep most of them, and that bugs me. But we don’t so they’re going to collect EI benefits instead of using our down time to innovate, create and prepare for the busy season that’s ahead of us. And, that’s what they really want to be doing.

Why don’t we qualify? Because the governments (Federal and Provincial) have drawn this arbitrary line in the sand that says if you weren’t at this point in your business by the beginning of the first wave then you’re on your own. It doesn’t recognize that our economy is in a different point-in-time going into the second wave than we are in the first.

This current COVID relief plan fails to account for entrepreneurs that have taken risks and created jobs in the face of the most difficult economic circumstances any of us have ever seen. In fact, by excluding them it makes it more difficult.  

CEBA, Commercial Rent Relief, Wage Subsidies are all benefits that my well-established competitors are taking advantage of. Not qualifying kicks us when we’re down because now, in addition to being impacted by COVID, we’re also at a competitive disadvantage because when our competitors receive a 75% wage subsidy and we don’t.

It’s a double-whammy.

Canalside Soda is going to be OK, and our team is excited about the plans we have for healthier times in the Spring. But as someone who understands very deeply the difficult and unique challenges that start ups are facing, I’m concerned that if support for entrepreneurs continues to be overlooked by all levels of government, we’re going to see a massive glut in the number of new start ups resulting in a prolonged recovery.

Yes, the government needs to continue supporting existing businesses struggling to keep people employed. But it also needs to start paying attention to and supporting the businesses which will be creating the jobs that will replace ones that have been lost and won’t return.

There are thousands of Canadian start up businesses like ours in similar positions who need support. Please consider supporting them this winter through your encouragement, through your purchasing decisions and through your advocacy.

We’d like to thank all of our supporters over the past year who have helped us grow and do some really fun and different things in a very short period of time, because we couldn’t have done it without you. We look forward to getting back to making fun, fizzy non-alcoholic drinks.

Your favourite Canalside Soda flavours will continue to be available through online ordering at with limited curbside pick-up and weekly delivery throughout the Hamilton and Niagara areas. You can also find us at a number of fine, local establishments who would be grateful for your support.

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