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In September of 2009 the tiny village of Markdale, Ontario, Canada, was struck by a disaster that could have easily been an insurmountable barrier to survival for the community. The entire facility of their primary employer, Chapman’s Ice Cream, the major provider of jobs to the population, burned to the ground. Just a few weeks earlier Markdale had also been hit by a tornado that caused significant damage to the area. The residents most certainly felt a sense of doom at their misfortune.
What could have been an epic disaster for Markdale has turned into a wonderful feel-good story as well as a tale of success, community values, and persistence in the face of adversity.
Founded by David and Penny Chapman in 1973, Chapman’s Ice Cream is Canada’s largest independent ice cream company. At the time of the fire Chapman’s employed 350 local people. Markdale only has a population of 1400. The family owned business has always been noted for its exceptional treatment of the community and its’ employees. Nobody knew ‘how good’ until the fire struck.
The Chapmans could have easily taken their wealth and retired to a warm and sunny locale. They didn’t do that. They could have chosen to rebuild in another location, in a bigger city, closer to transportation hubs. They didn’t do that either.
David and Penny Chapman immediately promised the community that they would rebuild – in Markdale. They also assured their employees that they would be looked after. On this last promise, Chapman offered no specifics according to several employees who were at the post-fire meeting. None of them particularly cared. David Chapman had made a commitment; David Chapman they were nonchalantly certain, would keep it.
As it turned out, he did. No employee missed a payday. Responsibilities may have changed as they worked on the business recovery and rebuilding project, dubbed Project Phoenix, but work continued. “From ashes to ice cream”, is how Penny Chapman phrased it.
Recovery plans were quickly put in process. As a temporary measure, an existing furniture warehouse was converted into a production facility. Used ice cream making equipment was purchased at an auction in Florida. Chapman’s also outsourced production to smaller ice cream producers throughout the region. Retail facilities maintained their stock and the Chapman brand was maintained.
In addition, Christmas bonuses were paid to employees as is their annual tradition. Nobody would have complained if they weren’t paid bonuses but that wasn’t the way of doing business at Chapman’s.
The Chapman’s also began the process of building a brand new facility almost twice as big as the old factory. The new facility is expected to start making ice cream in September of this year. It will also include a separate nut-free manufacturing facility. Out of the ashes rises impending growth.
The return to the company for their actions and loyalty over their 36 years of existence was the faith and support of their employees during the time of crisis. The village could not have survived without the Chapmans efforts and those of the employees working together and having faith in the future for the company as well as their way of doing business.
“It was a miracle” said Penny Chapman of the quick recovery and stop gap measures. She also said, “There was never a moment where we said we’re not going to rebuild”. “They’re investing in us, so we’re investing in them”.
The Chapman’s are revered by their employees and the community, and have always been well respected for their good deeds. The Chapman’s have turned what could have been the demise of a small community into a very positive situation that will continue to reward for generations to come. It is just reward for treating people right.