Grand & Toy launches ‘brand refresh’ as it narrows focus to business customers

Grand & Toy invented next-day delivery, so the story goes.

In 1882, long before online stores and big-box retail, the Canadian office supplies company loaded goods onto a wheelbarrow or horse-drawn wagon and delivered items to business customers within a day.

The company grew steadily for a century, opening dozens of stores and becoming a household name in Canada for office catalogues and back-to-school supplies.

Then, after a period of mounting competition from U.S. retailers like Staples and Walmart that saw the company sold to a U.S. firm, Grand & Toy closed all its retail locations in 2014.

While the company’s legacy as an office supply store in the mall remains in the minds of some consumers, Grand & Toy has spent nearly a decade returning to its 141-year-old roots as a business-to-business supplier of office products and services.

“People grew up with the brand and remember buying school supplies at Grand & Toy,” said Chris Henwood, senior director of marketing and product management.

“But those stores were an insignificant portion of our total revenue. Business-to-business sales have always been a very substantial part of what we do.”

The stores, which once dotted malls across Canada, also weren’t reflective of the company’s expansion into technology, health and safety and office furniture, he said.

“It became increasingly difficult for us to demonstrate all of those capabilities in stores with a small footprint,” Henwood said.

So the retailer shuttered its stores, moved fully online and focused on meeting the needs of businesses.

Grand & Toy now has 30,000 business customers in 20 different industries across the country, ranging from large retailers and financial institutions to the federal government and small businesses.

Yet for consumers who see a Grand & Toy delivery truck or stumble across its website, the shift to serving business customers hasn’t always been clear.

The retailer’s website has added to that confusion, Henwood said.

“We have historically had an ungated website with consumer street pricing on it,” he said. “We may have confused the marketplace a little bit.”

The company’s website will become fully gated in the next month. Only business customers with an account will be able to log into the site to buy goods.

It’s also launching what it calls a “brand refresh” with the slogan Give Work Life to help make Grand & Toy’s raison d’être more clear in the marketplace.

It’s shift precipitated in part

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Small business owners balance rising costs with keeping customers happy: survey

Almost a third of Canadian small business owners raised prices by more than 10 per cent in 2022 to offset rising costs, a survey found — and the trend is continuing this year.

The survey by Ownr, a small business and legal management platform backed and operated by RBCx, found that so far in 2023, more than 23 per cent of small business owners have raised prices by more than 10 per cent.

“The two major concerns for entrepreneurs right now are both cash flow issues and then the backdrop of inflation,” said Derek Hopfner, chief revenue officer at Ownr.

Inflation has been moderating from last year’s highs, but remains elevated, with a reading of 4.3 per cent in March. Meanwhile, the Bank of Canada is holding interest rates high in its bid to fight inflation.

Some of the other pressures most acutely facing small firms right now are labour supply and cost, borrowing costs and supply chain issues, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’ monthly Business Barometer index report.

Though it’s a difficult decision for a small-business owner to make, Hopfner said eventually entrepreneurs have to translate those concerns into higher prices.

“There is this kind of balance between what makes sense from a margin perspective as a business owner, and then making sure that you’re able to attract customers as well,” he said.

Hopfner said he’s seeing more people start businesses as a reaction to economic uncertainty so they can make additional income.

“It’s really interesting to see both if you’re operating the business already, how you react to (inflation), but what you might do if you’re not operating a business yet, and how you might choose entrepreneurship as a path for supplementary income,” he said.

Almost a quarter of the small business owners surveyed said they started their business as a way to make additional revenue, a number Ownr said is increasing from previous surveys.

Natasha Acuba-Bailey is one of many entrepreneurs whose side hustle has turned into their full-time job. Acuba-Bailey launched Burnaby, B.C.-based Telly’s Manila Kitchen in 2020, selling jarred adobo flakes, a Filipino food, featuring her grandmother’s recipe.

At the beginning of 2022, Acuba-Bailey decided to leave her job in retail and make Telly’s her main gig.

Since she took that leap, inflation has soared, sending the costs of materials and raw ingredients up with it. For example, she said the cost

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