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Small Business Sees Benefits of Giving Back. Bargains Group Canada

Megan McElwain’s elevator pitch to Jody Steinhauer of The Bargains Group took on new meaning when it took place on the elevator ride down from the top of the CN Tower.
McElwain, a member of the Entrepreneurs Organization’s Accelerator (EOA) program who runs multimedia/video production outfit McElwain & Company, and Steinhauer, President and Chief Bargain Officer at The Bargains Group and 15-year veteran of the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO), had the long ride down – 553 metres worth of time – to get to know one another. Upon reaching ground, a partnership had been formed.

“By the time we got to the bottom, we decided to work together,” says Steinhauer. “It was the start of a beautiful thing.”

Soon after McElwain & Company would join the ranks of hundreds of volunteers who have donated their time to Project Water and Project Winter Survival, two “Give Back Where You Live” events created by The Bargains Group that provide basic necessities for not-for-profit companies. McElwain & Company, which counts among its clients Nestle, Allstream, TD Canada Trust and RSA, got into the charitable spirit and produced a promotional video for each event in 2012 and 2013, videos that have now been seen by hundreds of thousands of people.

Steinhauer has been organizing charitable events for those in need for the last 14 years through The Bargains Group, a 25-year-old national wholesaler of discount promotional products based in Toronto. Project Water was inspired by the claim that more homeless people die from dehydration in the summer months than from exposure in the winter, an issue the Bargains Group also targets, with its Project Winter Survival.

McElwain had worked in film and television production for a decade prior to starting her company. With the bulk of her staff originally from the film and TV industry, the company — taking their experience and knowhow from the big screen — is largely known for producing videos with edge, a far cry from the standard corporate fare. McElwain says it’s this edge that has enabled them to capture a diverse clientele.

When McElwain, who became an EOA member in June 2012, heard about the two “Give Back Where You Live” initiatives on that fateful elevator ride, she immediately jumped to the task. With video being one of the most effective forms of media today, engaging the community for sponsorships and donations through video marketing is key.

“We didn’t hesitate to offer our services,” said McElwain, who was born and raised in Toronto. “It was so inspiring to be part of the project. Donating our time to such a great cause has been a real pleasure.”

Steinhauer said she feels the videos really captured the importance of these two events because McElwain and her team “listen and care.”

“It’s been fantastic,” Steinhauer says, of working with McElwain & Company. “The videos tell the story. Her team went out to the events and met the people. They were really conscientious about making sure the videos were what they needed to be. It’s a really important video to watch if people are going to sponsor us and donate. It’s imperative the videos pull everything together and also pull at the heartstrings.”

It is not every day that EO and EOA members connect on projects, and McElwain found the experience enlightening.

“It’s a great opportunity for EOA members to learn and grow from successful business owners who have stood in our shoes before,” McElwain said. “It’s a wonderful experience for successful entrepreneurs to come together with EOA members and support our way to success.”

The video for Project Water, which was released in July 2012, showed volunteers distributing bottles of Nestle water to people living on the street who choose not to go to a shelter to escape the summer heat. At the other end of the spectrum, the video for Project Winter Survival, which came out in January, showed volunteers donning their parkas and distributing kits with more than 30 items for the homeless to help battle the cold. In the past 14 years, Project Water has handed out more than 1.5 million bottles of water to 150 social service frontline agencies that deliver the waterthroughout the Greater Toronto Area, and Project Winter Survival has handed out more than 18,000 kits in Toronto and Vancouver.

Steinhauer said the videos have had a massive international audience and has resulted in a variety of avenues in which to showcase McElwain & Company’s work.
“Our videos have been seen by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world … So with our reach, this incredible coverage, it has been a win-win for everybody,” Steinhauer says.

”I think it’s a great partnership. I’m a little bit older and connected,” Steinhauer continued.“It’s great to leverage that relationship. There’s an automatic trust because Megan is EOA and I am EO. I have had hundreds of video companies coming forth to ask about doing videos for these events … but (with McElwain’s EOA associations), you just know they are not going to let you down.”

McElwain & Company also created a video for another EO member, Joel Stevens, of Sparkologee LLC.McElwainapproached the CEO of the year-old company, which produces web tools to enhance the experience of watching videos online, after noticing the absence of a video on his services for his website.

“(McElwain & Company are) very professional, they articulated our business needs, and they created a video we were happy with right off the bat. That was a pleasant surprise. I was really happy with what she came back with and I didn’t have to do any edits to it. It was good to go, which is rare these days,” Stevens laughed.

He said he enjoyed sharing EO and EOA experiences together.

“People in EO and EOA savour the notion of learning and that learning never stops,” said Stevens, who has been an EO member since 1995, soon after he started a computer business. “We know that to improve you have to continuously learn. There is common ground about owning a business and starting a business. It’s good to be able to associate (together). And it was great to work together on projects with people who have similar interests and business goals — which are to constantly learn, improve and to grow.”

Meanwhile, Steinhauer says her company’s mantra is “Giving back makes great business sense.”

“Megan is a true example of doing that, because she has given back and it is also a great win for her business,” Steinhauer says.

Steinhauer says it’s in the best interest for companies to donate their time like McElwain & Company.
“I really, truly believe our volunteerism sector is in big trouble. I feel like people in this day and age are too busy. I think more people should volunteer.”

And besides, Steinhauer says: “People want to do business with people who are giving back.”

While continuing to work with The Bargains Group on its upcoming initiatives, McElwain & Company is currently working on videos for PCL Construction Canada, Banana Republic, a broadcast commercial for Manitoulin Transport and a promotional video for the Human Resources Professional Organization to promote volunteering for its summer event June 25th. As well, there are more sunny days ahead for McElwain & Company – the company is looking at closing a deal in Trinidad to provide video production services in the Caribbean.

For more information, visit www.mcelwainandcompany.com. The videos for Project Water and Project Winter Survival can be seen on their respective websites, at vimeo.com/mcelwainandcompany and on YouTube:

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