Why supporting small business is a big deal right now

How do you show someone you care when a special holiday is approaching and you can’t be together?

For Katy Williams, owner of Miller Box Co. in Hamilton, Ontario, sending gifts from Canadian small businesses in environmentally friendly packaging shows not only that you care about the person receiving the gift, but also that you're committed to supporting local businesses in communities across the country.

The idea for Miller Box Co. came to Williams years ago, but the business really took-off after the coronavirus pandemic hit. In May 2020, before Ontario introduced social bubbles, she received a message with an urgent order.

“A daughter of a lady who lives in Hamilton messaged me asking if I could deliver a gift box the next day on Mother’s Day,” she recalls. “I said yes, and she ended up making this lovely housewarming gift for her mother with the cutest message from her family.”

Miller Box Co. launched earlier this year while many Ontario businesses were ordered to shut down to combat the spread of COVID-19. The new company arrived at a time when many in the small business community were scrambling to find new ways of generating revenue and reaching customers.

Since then, Williams has been able to grow her company with the help of the Side Hustle program from Futurpreneur Canada, a non-profit organization that provides financing, mentoring and support tools to aspiring business owners aged 18-39.

Just in time

A typical gift box might include gifts such as soaps, socks, candles, tea, coffee, linen napkins or sweets. Customers can choose from a selection of themed boxes, like 'Feels Like Home' and 'Netflix & Sweets' or get creative with their own customized selection of items.

“People can write notes to whomever they’re sending the gift box to,” Williams said.

“That overall has been pretty emotional and heartwarming because people are sending ‘I miss you,’ ‘I love you,’ and ‘Happy birthday, sorry we can’t celebrate it together.’ It’s the little messages people are sending to support each other during this time.”

Williams’ business is as helpful to customers as it is to fellow business owners; all the company’s gift boxes contain products sourced from Canadian businesses.

“Right now, supporting small businesses is so important,” Williams insists. “What I typically do is I go on social media and I look for products that fit the quality I want to provide while supporting ethical and sustainable businesses as much as I can.”

Williams supports local businesses in her personal life too. She promotes small businesses on social media and buys grocery boxes from different coffee shops to help during the pandemic.

“As an individual, I’m all about supporting local,” she shares.

Community support

While Williams is doing so much to help the community around her, she feels she is being supported too. The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce featured her business on a local news channel, and it was community support that helped get her business off the ground.

“I think after I saw my dad’s courage to start a business – my mom and my brother work there – it ignited this sense of entrepreneurship,” she explains.

Gift giving played a special role in her parents’ relationship and became a Williams family tradition.

“With gift giving, I really do feel it’s my love language.”

With the concept of Miller Box Co. forming in her mind, (a tribute to her mother’s maiden name), Williams came across a timely opportunity.

“I think I was just browsing Facebook when I saw the Futurpreneur’s Side Hustle program, and I thought, ‘That sounds great, how can I get involved?’”

Help for entrepreneurs

The Futurpreneur Side Hustle program, sponsored by TD, helps eligible entrepreneurs establish and run side businesses alongside their full-time job by offering up to a $15,000 loan, help from a mentor, and access to valuable resources.

Steve Lawton, Senior Manager of Small Business Banking at TD, says sometimes entrepreneurs apply for the Futurpreneur program and sometimes TD refers them.

“When someone opens a small business account with TD, they typically get a follow-up call from the account manager to learn more about the business and how we can support them," said Lawton. "If it's a newly created side-business, we may suggest they apply to the Side Hustle program for additional help. It’s a terrific opportunity.”

The program helped Williams launch her business in ways that go beyond financial support.

“My Side Hustle mentor Allison is good with checking in with me and asking how I’m doing,” Williams shares.

Futurpreneur also organizes webinars and mastermind groups through which Williams met other small business owners, establishing a network where they can learn from one another and share ideas.

“We really worked together to think of ways to help one another,” she shares, adding that she ended up buying products from someone she met.

Support for small businesses

Lawton says the pandemic has imposed a “challenging operating environment” on local businesses.

“It’s been a humbling experience working through the pandemic with our customers,” he said.

“We have a deep appreciation of how hard it is to keep businesses operational. Our clients are looking for additional support, and our teams are ready to support them.”

“For the first two months, I called my boyfriend, Taylor, and my parents every time I got an order,” Williams remembers fondly. “I can tell you that every small business owner would agree that when you purchase from a small business, you really are supporting someone’s dreams. Everyone is so grateful for the support right now.”