Franco-Ontarian version of the Blue Basket: few products and no sales

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Franco-Ontarian version of the Blue Basket: few products and no sales

The platform launched with funding from the Government of Ontario is far from achieving its objectives.

Retailers agree that the site is beautiful and functional, but regret the lack of publicity surrounding the project.

In winter 2021, the Minister of Francophone Affairs, Caroline Mulroney, promoted the launch of Quartier d'affaires, a website that would allow Franco-Ontarian businesses “to grow and conquer new customers and markets”.

A year and a half later, the Ontario government-funded platform inspired by Quebec's Blue Basket is disappointing the majority companies listed there.

Radio-Canada has identified only 34 retailers on the platform and has contacted 20 of them. All but two do not believe they have sold any products or services through the site.

Unlike its big brother in Quebec, Quartier d'affaires is not a transactional platform and does not benefit from major investors. It is therefore difficult to measure its impact.

People don't know what it is. No one told me about it. After a year and a half, it has brought me no sales, says Chantal Brisson, owner of a clothing store in Embrun, who joined Quartier d'affaires at its inception.

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Some also wonder about the disparate supply of goods and services found there. The portal notably offers motorcycle garages made in France at nearly $10,000, whiskey stones from an SME in Trois-Rivières, or even dog food.

It disappoints me, but it shows the difficulty of doing that, adds Françoise Briet, who sells beer jellies from Toronto. It's hard to change consumer habits.

An example of a product on the Business District website

The only Northern Ontario company on the platform, Fromagerie Kapuskoise, says it saw an uptick in sales in Toronto after joining Quartier d'affaires, but its leader, Denis Nadeau, believes that 'they come mainly from the creators of the site.

One ​​of the creators of Quartier d'affaires, Richard Kempler, confirms to Radio-Canada that he bought more than $1,000 in products on the platform.

The Quartier d’affaires portal is far from being able to benefit from the tens of millions that propel Le Panier bleu. The amounts invested by Ontario represent only about 1% of this funding.

In 2020, the Ford government granted half a million dollars to promote Francophone businesses , half of which was used to make Quartier d'affaires a reality, based on an existing pilot project by Franco-Toronto firms Detroit Productions and Red Dot Digital.

The other half was paid to the Canadian Club of Toronto to create the Federation of Business People of Ontario (FGA), an organization that now oversees the Quartier d’affaires portal and other services. In 2021, the FGA received an additional $500,000 for its various initiatives.

Businessman Richard Kempler is at the heart of the Business District project.

Owner of Detroit Productions, he is also general manager of the Canadian Club and general manager of the FGA. Even though he wears all of these hats, Mr. Kempler believes there was no conflict of interest, as he pulled out of the negotiations when his pilot project was selected.

It is Red Dot Digital, and not his private firm, he adds, which administers the platform on behalf of the FGA.

Richard Kempler, Executive Director of the Fédération des gens d'affaires francophones de l'Ontario

Disappointed with the lack of registered retailers, he is asking for more time and, above all, for more subsidies. Really, with an additional $500,000, we would change the scale completely.

Mr. Kempler promises announcements and improvements shortly. It also reports that more than 4500 visits were recorded in the first months of 2022. It is a startup, a platform that started in the midst of a pandemic. The problem is related to the advertising and investment budget.

Marketing expert and professor at the University of Ottawa Luc Dupont says he has never heard of the Quartier business, likely due to the apparent lack of a major advertising campaign.

If the avowed objective is not to compete with Amazon or Shopify, obviously, there is still a lot of work to be done, according to Mr. Dupont, to make it a showcase for Franco-Ontarian entrepreneurship and recruit committed retailers. .

In addition to the 34 companies that are displayed there, underlines Richard Kempler, Quartier d'affaires would have more than 300 additional French-speaking SMEs registered in another section of the site called B2B, reserved for trade between companies.

Traders say results are mixed.

It helped me zero, says Natalie Bernardin, owner of Amixie Solutions, an Ottawa-based performance agency that represents Franco-Ontarian artists. The idea is great, but I've never had any feedback or contact with other companies, she says.

Annick Rousseau of the Berry Homestead farm in Lyndhurst, near Kingston, says on the contrary that she has created links with French-speaking businesses in the region. We were able to work in tandem. But at the platform level, I have no client who told me they found me thanks to Quartier d'affaires.

By email, the spokesperson for the Minister of Francophone Affairs, Marilissa Gosselin, says the Ford government wants to continue promoting Ontario's Francophone economy here and in other major Francophone markets in order to contribute to Ontario's prosperity.

This digital platform [Quartier d'affaires] provides an online presence and helps connect French-speaking entrepreneurs with other entrepreneurs as well as with consumers. […] It is anticipated that the popularity of this type of business support service will grow in the post-pandemic context with the emergence of new entrepreneurs, she adds.

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