Opportunity in crisis

Written by Lee Oliver

Less than five days after news reports in mid-March identified a deadly outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Toronto, the delivery drivers at Grocery Gateway were sporting a new addition to their signature green uniforms: bright white latex gloves.

Rather than let the health scare drive away business and endanger staff, the e-grocer which has always utilized a “small business” approach of weekly decision-making meetings and near-instantaneous implementation, managed to avert the crisis and at the same time take advantage of a fleeting marketing opportunity.

With the gloves came a new flexible policy allowing customers to request grocery drop-offs at the door (rather than having the delivery staff carry the boxes inside), and an option of paying over the phone as opposed to in person. The policy was designed to help both drivers and customers avoid exposure to SARS.

To let customers know about the precautions, Grocery Gateway announced the move to every single on-line client through a mass e-mailing.

Where many businesses reported reduced traffic as shoppers avoided the malls, Grocery Gateway executive vice-president John Mozas says the Toronto-based e-grocer experienced a “significant increase in sales as the result of the scare.”

“Thinking like a small company allowed us to respond the situation quickly,” explains Mozas. “Our senior managers work closely together, bouncing ideas off each other daily. And we follow up the informal exchange with a weekly meeting to discuss changes and opportunities in the marketplace.”

The SARS plan, born in a Tuesday afternoon formal meeting, was policy Thursday morning. “It’s not like we had to run the idea past 11 different levels of management and then put it to a committee for study before we could act on it,” quips Mozas. “We agreed on the plan, ordered the gloves and moved forward.”

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