Bronze signage business shows it’s mettle during COVID-19

For almost 70 years, Behrends Group in Edmonton built its success by producing and designing cast bronze, aluminum and brass plaques, signage, works of art, memorials and interpretive displays. That changed in March when COVID-19 brought their operations to a grinding halt. Its foundry and manufacturing facility went quiet as orders for product sdried up.To remain viable, the small business had to pivot and adapt.

“The pandemic slowed every-thing down to a crawl,” says company president Gen Russo,who has worked for Behrends for more than 30 years. “Projects were put on hold and there was not much work. Then some of our clients started requesting sneeze guards –something we had never built before.” Fortunately, the business already had the equipment on hand and the capability to make the transition.

Behrends also expanded its printing services to meet the new need for safety and social distancing protocol signage. Russo says a typical large building needs as many as 500 to 600 signs, thus creating a big demand.

“As a small business, you have to be able to quickly respond to what’s happening in the marketplace. So, when the pandemic hit, we adapted and created new products using the talent and skills of our great staff,” says Russo. “And because of that, we were able to keep all of our 30 employees working.”

He credits his company’s ability to navigate through the pandemic to having strong relationships with customers, suppliers and advisors, including its insurance partners. “We asked for advice from our network and they came through with the assistance that helped us make good decisions,” Russo says.

Recently, Behrends decided to switch from its insurance provider of 20 years to Foster Park Brokers. Russo liked their high level of service, competitive rates and proactive approach. For example, his insurance broker suggested bringing in experts on risk management, to help Behrends avoid potential disruption of its operations as the business evolved.

Mark Wiens, the president of Foster Park Brokers, sees this kind of client education as part of his company’s role. “It’s unrealistic to expect our clients to understand the nuances in the wordings of insurance policies,” he says. “That’s our job as brokers. The more we understand the operations and risk tolerance of our clients, the better job we can do when it comes to providing them with the right advice.”

There is no one-size-fits-all solution and an insurance broker can help a business ensure it has enough coverage as its operations evolve. Wiens adds that ongoing risk assessments can help address potential blind spots like cyber protection, which is becoming increasingly important as many small businesses shift to online sales.

“Business owners often have to make quick decisions which can unintentionally affect their risk. This is happening now, more than ever, as small businesses adapt and pivot their operations due to the pandemic,” he says.

Small businesses that have started manufacturing health-related products because of COVID-19 may also face a variety of new safety and risk exposures – some of which they may overlook. That’s where a broker and insurer can step in, work with the business to identify potential exposures and provide a plan to manage them.

Petra Hoerrmann, an underwriting director representing Northbridge Insurance who insures Behrends, says the three parties working closely together is key, especially in extraordinary times like these.

“It’s a unique time for everyone,” she says. “Many of our small business customers had to quickly evolve their operations and we evolved right along with them. With Behrends, that meant ensuring constant communication, answering questions quickly and sharing information and resources that we felt could help them safely navigate change.”

For Behrends, having the support of trusted partners made it possible for the company to quickly shift its focus to supporting the needs of its customers and community.

As Russo explains, “My insurer continues to help protect our business in uncertain times. That has given us a lot of confidence as we move forward.”