From brick and mortar to online: Staying strong through the pandemic

3 minute read

It takes determination and heart for small businesses to persevere and overcome the unique challenges of 2020. North Shore Sports Medicine won the Grand Prize in the Weathered the Storm category of our 2020 Tales of Triumph contest. They found a way to forge ahead and come out stronger.

Canada’s small businesses were hit especially hard by the seismic changes of the last year. In the initial weeks of the pandemic, North Shore Sports Medicine’s (NSSM) revenue fell an alarming 95 per cent. At one point, the respected North Vancouver multidisciplinary healthcare clinic was left with only enough cash on hand to cover three months of operations.

The need to reinvent themselves as a small online business was not only urgent, it was critical – challenge accepted.

The pandemic forced us to recreate our business.

Paige Larson

Founder and owner

North Shore Sports Medicine NSSM

Moving healthcare from brick and mortar to online

The NSSM team recognized the threat of COVID-19 to its patients – and its business –immediately. “We projected that the lockdown and its attendant changes would be with us for the long term,” says founder and owner Paige Larson. “Based on increased remote working and other changes caused by the lockdown, we reinvented ourselves as a telehealth business.”

Telehealth is the delivery of health and wellness care and information through digital communications technologies, including videoconferencing.

Raising funds and transitioning to telehealth services

Quick access to funding from two financial partners enabled NSSM to retain virtually all its staff and remain open remotely during the early stages of the pandemic.

Giving their patients options

Next came a major push to provide an expanded range of telehealth services. NSSM spent almost all its revenue during the closure hiring a videographer to create instructional videos for patients. These online physiotherapy videos helped inform and reassure the NSSM patient base.

Physiotherapy practitioners were trained to conduct telehealth physiotherapy visits, ensuring clinicians and their patients were comfortable with the process.

Connect with the North Shore Sports Medicine team!

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Keeping patient-practitioner relationships strong

To most small business owners, it may seem counterintuitive to increase spending on social media and one’s website during a time of financial uncertainty, but that’s precisely what NSSM did. In fact, NSSM quadrupled its investment in these two key digital channels.

The goal was to maintain connections with patients during the transformation to telehealth services and beyond – until physical locations reopened.

“When we eventually reopened, we were at 85 per cent capacity right away and we have continued to flourish, getting 100 per cent of pre-COVID revenues within two months,” says Larson. A phenomenal achievement by any measure.

“After we reopened at the first allowable moment, our revenue remained lower since we had fewer clinician areas due to social distancing; while our costs, such as for cleaning and PPE, increased,” Larson explains. “Even so, we decided to add staff hours to maintain our past high level of connection with our patients, even under social distancing, and to change two patient -facing jobs for at-risk staff to remote positions, so they could continue to work.”

Community outreach: Stepping up to help

Social responsibility is a fundamental part of NSSM’s business strategy and always has been. Every year, staff provide many free hours of service to dozens of teams, schools, healthcare initiatives and charities, as well as pro bono and subsidized treatments for low-income patients.

This commitment to community outreach and helping others continues in this time of uncertainty and anxiety. “We met with local, provincial and federal politicians about what support we needed and what was working. Giving back to our community has always been integral to our business, so our telehealth program and communication with government at all levels was a natural fit.”

North Shore Sports Medicine is a business that has proven its resilience over the past 30-plus years – through crises, competition and change. But no challenge has been quite as overwhelming as the one brought on by the pandemic. The fact that NSSM navigated its way back to health – while staying true to its values – should be an inspiration to every business, regardless of size.

Tales of Triumph returns for another triumphant year in 2021!

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