Our Pivot Story
United Canada’s focus has always been quality over everything. From day one, our mission statement has centered around providing a high quality product at affordable prices.
When United Canada first opened our online store, selling only Office Furniture & Accessories and Kids’ Desk and Chair Sets, we imported almost all of our products from overseas. We developed strong connections with our manufacturers with whom we worked with and purchased from, ensuring the product we were purchasing from them were up to our standards and passed all of our quality checks without issue. The desks and other accessories became a hit within the local community, business was booming and UCI was importing furniture and other accessories by the container load each month.
So why stop?
While United Canada had no plans to slow importing down, the world had other ideas. With a global pandemic on the horizon, the cost of freight drastically increased – with prices more than tripling over the course of a few months. We were not the only ones impacted by the rising cost of freight. It seemed that everywhere you looked prices were rising, and it was becoming increasingly harder to not follow the status quo and increase our own products’ pricing to maintain our at-the-time current business operations. Instead, we halted our importing operations and closed our doors while we brainstormed how to continue serving our community in a way that was mutually beneficial.
When United Canada reopened its doors a few months later, it was an almost entirely new company.
During our short close, the pandemic had grown from a few frantic news stories to a full-blown global crisis. People were scrambling to purchase ‘PPE’, a phrase that had become part of everyday lingo in a matter of weeks, and companies were having to turn away customers due to lack of stock. Seeing that there was an immediate need for masks, sanitizers, gloves, and other PPE items, United Canada started researching various PPE suppliers overseas – however there was still the issue of increased freight pricing. We once again put our heads down to find a solution. We found that we were not the only ones who were looking to get into the PPE game, and that many Canadian and American companies were branching out into mask, glove, and sanitizer manufacturing – opening up an entirely new market for distributors to purchase from. Up until this point, PPE manufacturing was left to the giants, companies known within the industry for their notoriously difficult distributor onboarding procedures, procedures that only got more selective with this new wave of demand. The rise of the smaller PPE manufacturer meant more doors opening for distributors of these products, e.g. United Canada. We started connecting with local new manufacturers who were just getting into the business themselves, purchasing their products, and creating new community partnerships.
Feeling inspired by the business we had connected with, we started to look into manufacturing ourselves. We started to look into mask manufacturing during the summer of 2020 and by winter we had our cleanroom built, machines purchased and assembled, and a team ready to go. United Canada started manufacturing our own brand of Medical Masks at the end of 2020, debossed with our signature maple leaf in the corner. All of the material used in the production of our masks (including the machine itself) had been manufactured and/or purchased from either Canadian or American suppliers, effectively keeping our manufactured mask supply chain completely North American.
Making the choice to start purchasing from local suppliers instead of continuing to import products benefitted us in more ways than one. The most immediate benefit was the lack of astronomical freight costs, allowing us to keep our prices relatively competitive, something our customers have come to know us for. However there were a number of additional benefits we realized as we continued connecting with local manufacturers and suppliers, including the quality of the products, the turnaround shipping times, and the overall sense of community we were building. Purchasing from local suppliers instead of taking our purchasing dollars overseas also meant we were contributing to the Canadian economy, helping to create local jobs, and cultivating a sense of Canadian pride amongst our customers. There was really no downside.
Once we had established connections with multiple smaller manufacturers and distributors, we focused on our customers. During this period, United Canada focused on advertising, expanding our team to better serve our customers and listening to and implementing customer feedback, all while continuing to expand our product offering and thereby expanding our customer base. Over the course of 6 or so months, United Canada was able to almost quadruple our customer base, add over 500 new products to our website, and win the Richmond Hill Board of Trade’s Pivot Award, an award given to businesses who drastically changed their business operations to better serve their community during a period of uncertainty. We continue to be honored to serve our community and look forward to continuing to serve not only our local community, but all of our customers across Canada.
Our journey is still continuing to this very day, as we continue to supply not only PPE but a wide range of medical supplies, personal care items and safety & janitorial products alongside our original product offerings. We have become a sort of one-stop-shop for many businesses from all different sectors, saving them the hassle of having to purchase from multiple locations for all of their needs. Our continued success has led us to connect with larger distributors and manufacturers within Canada and the US, further expanding the inventory we offer, and allowing us the ability to pass on savings to our customers. By investing in ourselves from the very beginning, we built a business and community that we can continue to grow and expand, and we’re looking forward to where our journey will continue to take us.