Shoppers Drug Mart’s annual gathering of its associates and front-of-store managers is a much anticipated event. During the pandemic, the festivities went online. “I think our audience really enjoyed them, there’s just nothing that can replace an in-person meeting for that sense of community and connection,” says Karen Bossin, director, conferences and events at Shoppers Drug Mart, based in Toronto.
So, as restrictions eased, Bossin and her team began to plan a face-to-face event for the weekend of February 25, 2022 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC). “It had been two years since we brought our associates and front store managers together from across Canada. And they told our senior leadership team that they really wanted to have this experience, the opportunity to connect with their peers again,” says Bossin. “We also wanted to reward them for all their hard work during the pandemic, because they were on the front lines. I think we could all use a boost of energy and excitement, about now, that a live meeting brings with it.”
The 2022 conference was originally booked for New Orleans, while Toronto was scheduled to host in 2023. The two cities agreed to swap dates and Destination Toronto worked closely with local partners to line up MTCC as well as Bossin’s preferred hotels, says Debbie Miller, Sales Director, Canada and International Corporate, Destination Toronto.
“We rallied our partners to make it work. It was a quick turnaround but our community was excited by the possibility of hosting our first citywide convention since the start of the pandemic,” Miller says.
The conference had a dedicated chief COVID officer who was responsible for communicating all measures and restrictions to the 1,600 attendees in advance:
• Attendees were required to take an antigen test prior to travelling.
• Proof of vaccination was required before attendees got their name badge.
• An online health check survey had to be completed daily.
• N95 masks were supplied and were required to be worn at all times, except when participants were actively eating or drinking.
MTCC has not escaped the labour shortages currently being experienced across the industry, says David Chisholm, Vice-President of Sales at the MTCC. “We have had a lot of people retire or leave the industry. So for us to get 100 hourly staff back to work for that weekend took 175 calls.”
That said, adds Chisholm, “It was exhilarating for people to see each other again face to face. They came back together so fast and were so happy to just be working and doing what they love to do.”
FOOD & BEVERAGE
Breaks and meals were seated events, says Bossin. Breakfasts were buffet style, but all items were individually wrapped. Both lunches were plated service coming from the kitchen. Saturday night’s gala dinner was plated service with bars around the room for people to take their drink back to their table. Wine was available at the table, poured by servers.
While the pandemic has changed how food and beverage is being served, it’s had other impacts as well, says Chisholm. “The prices of commodities have gone up immensely and some of our food suppliers have changed. We’re not able to get the quantities of different types of foods that they used to be able to do so we really had to work hard in delivering a very good food and beverage product.”
This article was originally published by Ignite Magazine, www.ignitemag.ca.