The demand for trusted, cost-effective personal protective equipment (PPE) resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present an obstacle for many businesses across the country. A new online marketplace with community roots and a focus on Canadian-manufactured PPE hopes to help address shortcomings as the country continues to return to work safely. Three Conestoga graduates are among the small team at Supply+Protect connecting Canadian manufacturers and businesses.
Three Conestoga graduates are among the small team at Supply+Protect - a new online marketplace connecting Canadian businesses with Canadian-made PPE. L-R: Justin Frenette, Lexus Hughes and Erin Martin.
Justin Frenette (‘11, Software Engineering Technology), Lexus Hughes (’17, Public Relations) and Erin Martin (’09, Graphic Design) were brought on board by Supply+Protect founder and CEO Amber French to help shape the new initiative. The vision was to support local businesses by providing a one-stop-shop solution to distributing and purchasing certified PPE and other supplies, eliminating the need to navigate multiple vendor sites and helping manufacturers market their product.
“Amber reached out to Him & Her looking for support to launch this concept of supporting Canadian manufacturers and businesses through dropshipping,” said Frenette, chief technology officer and partner at Supply+Protect, and director of technology and co-founder with Martin of Waterloo Region-based multidisciplinary marketing and communications firm, Him & Her. “The nature of the industry presents unique challenges, and there was a need for a unique blend of a brand that’s going to stand out, a technology that’s going to be easy to manage with a small team, and marketing to reach target audiences.”
“It was really a no-brainer for us,” said Martin, chief marketing officer and partner at Supply+Protect, and executive creative director and co-founder of Him & Her. “We have a pretty big mandate at Him & Her of being community-driven, making sure we’re creating impact locally. Many of our clients were struggling with the pandemic, deciding whether they would stay open or figuring out how to pivot. We saw this as an opportunity to use our capabilities and skill set to support them and the local economy.”
A study by Statistics Canada reported in August that two-thirds of Canadian businesses would require PPE to operate safely and in accordance with COVID-related public health guidelines. Of those businesses, close to 70 per cent need four or more different types of PPE, including hand sanitizer, disinfectant, wipes and surgical masks. Depending on the industry, demand for other PPE such as face shields, nitrile gloves and thermometers is also on the rise, as is the need for business solutions such as barriers, floor decals and air purification systems.
Launched in October, Supply+Protect has already partnered with close to 40 vendors, all put through a robust review of quality standards, which includes insurance, licences and certifications, as well as the ability to fill orders on a large scale. Currently, 90 per cent of its vendors and buyers are based in Waterloo Region.
“This initiative is rooted in helping the community and eventually Canada as a whole,” said Hughes, director of business development at Supply+Protect. “The pandemic has really shifted mindsets to support local, and we’re focused on supporting our manufacturers as well as our businesses by providing easy access to high quality, vetted locally-made supplies.”
Hughes began working alongside French early in the initiative, helping onboard vendors and collaborating with Frenette to launch the website. Martin has been focused on marketing and improving user experience.
Supply+Protect is just one of many community projects Frenette and Martin are actively involved in through Him & Her, including Creative Day for Social Good -- a day-long creative blitz to develop free design and marketing assets for non-profits across Canada. Volunteers are pulled from Conestoga’s Graphic Design and Bachelor of Public Relations programs, supported by the local creative community.
Supporting Conestoga programs play an essential role in the firm’s community investment. Him & Her regularly take on co-op students, participate in portfolio reviews and donate to year-end student showcases.
“Staying connected to Conestoga has been really important to us,” said Martin. “As a student, I witnessed first-hand the value of having those industry connections. I do my best to give back as much as I got out of my experience.”
Him & Her also look to the college for talent acquisition. Frenette and Martin estimate that 80 per cent of their team are Conestoga graduates drawn from various programs.
“Conestoga graduates come out of school ready to make an impact,” said Martin. “They get busy right away, getting things done, engaging in different opportunities and growing within a company.”
“We’re very humble in this community,” Frenette added. “We’re building a world-class agency with Him & Her and a world-class Canadian manufacturing e-commerce site with Supply+Protect. Conestoga graduates do have the skill set to build world-class companies.”
Visit Supply+Protect to learn more.