As a member of the Canadian Forces’ elite special operations Joint Task Force 2, Thomas Gerstenecker was trained not to panic in a crisis.
The lessons he learned in the military have served Gerstenecker, the founder and CEO of Almonte-based 3 Sixty Risk Solutions, well as he deals with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the novel coronavirus continues to wreak havoc with industries of all kinds, the former soldier has been forced to adapt his business model on the fly.
“Everything that you’re faced with, you end up learning something from it,” he says.
That’s especially true at the moment for Gerstenecker, who launched 3 Sixty six years ago. The company started out as a consulting firm but quickly branched out into the secure cannabis transport space when the nascent Canadian medicinal pot industry began to blossom.
While cannabis deliveries still account for a solid chunk of the company’s revenues, 3 Sixty has since expanded into other service lines. The firm now transports cash to ATMs at casinos and private retailers such as Canadian Tire and provides security guards for the LCBO and other customers across Ontario.
The company’s decision to diversify appears to be paying dividends as measures aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus have put the clamps on the Canadian economy.
When government-imposed lockdowns forced casinos and many of its other ATM clients to close their doors, 3 Sixty instantly lost about 60 customers and had to lay off nearly 40 people who transport cash to the machines.
But at the same time, Gerstenecker says, there has been a surge in demand for security guards who are being hired by the hundreds across Ontario in an effort to enforce physical distancing measures at retail outlets that do remain open and prevent thieves from raiding stores that have been closed for weeks.
“We are hiring security guards on a daily basis,” he says, noting the company has brought in more than 100 temporary employees to augment its full-time security guard staff of about 350.
“It was the right decision to move into a diverse model. While one business line might drop due to certain conditions, the (private security line) picked up and it ended up balancing out quite well.”
Meanwhile, 3 Sixty’s original raison d’etre – delivering cannabis – remains a vital part of the business, Gerstenecker says, although it’s been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride lately.
The company transports shuttles pot and related products for more than 100 producers across the country, including Smiths Falls-based Canopy Growth. Gerstenecker says revenues took a hit when Ontario initially ordered private cannabis retailers to shut down all their operations, but things have bounced back since the province backtracked and gave the green light to private online sales.
“There is a bit of a dip, but nothing significant,” he says, adding 3 Sixty laid off one of its roughly 75 employees who deliver cannabis and reduced other workers’ hours in a bid to cut costs.
Gerstenecker says 3 Sixty’s 575 frontline workers follow strict safety protocols, wearing protective equipment such as gloves and masks when it’s warranted and regularly cleaning and sanitizing vehicles. The company requires its 650 employees to give a daily update on their health, and so far, he says, none have tested positive for COVID-19.
The biggest challenge in the current labour market isn’t finding people willing to work in public places, Gerstenecker explains – it’s finding enough qualified guards to meet demand.
“Other security companies are experiencing the same thing,” he says.