Border Giant Delivers During COVID-19By Nancy Saunders
The COVID-19 pandemic has led many consumers to look at increased online purchasing as a method of receiving goods that are no longer available or accessible in Thunder Bay due to lockdowns and other public health measures. Before the pandemic, many Thunder Bay residents ordered packages to Ryden’s Border Store and to the Grand Portage Trading Post in Grand Portage, Minnesota. This option has not been possible since the closure of the Canada-United States border last March. James Foulds and his company Border Giant was initially writing software that would assist local small businesses with more affordable importing and exporting options. Once the pandemic hit, Border Giant pivoted to provide a broader scope of services that includes parcel retrieval and shipping from Minnesota.
Before COVID-19, Foulds noticed significant demand from local makers to order supplies that are not available in Canada. “We were targeting local makers, things like candle and soap shops, who import certain things … to make their product. We found there was a massive demand,” says Foulds. Border Giant was also meeting the need for less expensive shipping options. “There are disproportionate charges here compared to the United States Postal Service. To mail a candle from here to New York with Canada Post, you’re looking at $19 and ten business days. We can drive it across the border and you can ship it using USPS for $4, and it gets there in 1-3 business days.”
In a nutshell, Border Giant’s software can be compared to programs like Turbo Tax or QuickBooks for small businesses. “We provide an easy-to-use tool, a source of information and a little bit of expertise to go along with it, but ultimately the idea is to build something that is more do-it-yourself.” Foulds describes how the software took a bit of a back seat due to COVID-19. “We’re building this software, and the best way to test anything is to use it yourself. So, we had a bunch of small clients and we were slowly developing the software, working out the licensing, and doing runs back and forth for these clients to get a little bit of revenue and to test things out. Then COVID comes around and the border’s closed, and all of a sudden there’s nobody else in town who is licensed and willing to pick up and drop off personal parcels,” says Foulds.
Not long into COVID, Border Giant started receiving a significant amount of calls about picking up parcels from the United States. Some of the first things Foulds and his team picked up were not parcels at all, but puppies. “There were people who had ordered puppies from breeders in the States, and the puppies had been born and whelped, and there was no way to get them here. So we picked up a few of the dogs,” says Foulds. From there, it seemed that word spread quickly—as Foulds says, “You know you can’t keep a secret in Thunder Bay.” Border Giant also received calls from MPPs on behalf of constituents who had items like wheelchairs that were stuck on the other side of the border. “So, word got around that we’re licensed and willing to do this.”
Due to a clear demand, Border Giant flipped from focusing on software development to actually providing a service that they had not intended to focus on until the software was fully developed. “Before COVID we saw our typical client being Ryden’s or the commercial carrier or the customs broker, but now we’re promoting it straight to the end user.” This promotion has required new thinking about a website, as well as social media marketing. As Foulds explains, “Even though we’re a technology company, we didn’t really need a great website with a certain look and feel, social media, things like that. But now, all of a sudden because we’re pivoting to this COVID service, we need it really badly. Especially with the type of service we’re running, there are so many rules and complexities with import-export that people just aren’t used to.”
Border Giant put together a basic website with information and a registration form using Google Sheets. Foulds looks forward to using the Digital Main Street grant to continue to build the website, and to also create some “explainer” videos to showcase their services and answer common customer questions. Border Giant is working with Shout Media on its overall feel and brand, and with a freelancer on additional projects like the videos.
“We figure we have four to six months here to get everything viable again. There’s a lot of demand, and it’s not what we had planned for, so a lot of our resources have been drawn away from our main product. We have to regroup and get to a place where we planned on being in a year from now, in four months.” Foulds explains that their three-year plan is to develop the software and then sell it or license it. The demand is there, and Foulds points out that Thunder Bay’s relationship with Ryden’s is not unique—there are similar stores across from most Canadian border crossings all across the country. With Border Giant’s software, businesses can save a lot of time and money on things that Foulds says are unnecessary. “The problem is that it gets really expensive … because the customs brokers have to do all this paperwork, the carriers have to do paperwork, and there is a lot of redundant data transfer that happens. We figure that if you go and buy something off Amazon or eBay, all the data you need is already generated. Who sold it, what it cost, what it is, where it’s coming from, all that. So if we build this system that will take that information on behalf of our clients, format it for whatever part of the delivery chain needs it, that will cut down on the cost of being able to import,” Foulds says.
While seven months ago, Border Giant consisted of Foulds working alone in his garage, (“It was just me in the garage with the dog, no customers”), the company has expanded to five employees and two contractors, and is continuing to grow. Foulds is well-versed in the new Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), and United States legislation like the Supreme Court decision, South Dakota v, Wayfair (2018), that changed the way states collect tax on e-commerce goods. This amassed knowledge and the fact that they are a commercial carrier, a Canadian customs broker, and will soon possess a bonded freight-forward licence means that, as Foulds says, they “fulfill all the pieces of the puzzle” in assisting businesses and individuals with importing and exporting to the United States.
Visit Border Giant’s website and social media accounts for more information on services, and for updates on the development of its software program.