SAINT JOHN – Shawn Downey always enjoyed scanning and preserving old family photos and videos as a past time, but last April, it grew from a hobby into a necessity and then a business.
Like many communities in New Brunswick, his family’s property along the river in his Millidgeville neighbourhood began to flood.
“When the flood came, we had all of our stuff down in the basement. The flood came in such a massive way that we didn’t quite understand what was coming,” says Downey.
“We took boxes that we thought were in danger, like our old pictures and stuff, and moved them to higher ground and put them on top of a bed. Then the next day we went down and that bed was across the basement and everything was upside down. We couldn’t believe what we lost.”
But the water didn’t stop there.
“We actually then took it up to a further higher level on a shelf, then that shelf collapsed. We had this sort of cascading disaster,” he says. “We had baby pictures and little first notes from school, reports cards, things that I hadn’t necessarily thought of scanning or didn’t get to scanning.”
The family saved what it could, but after the flood, Downey started to compulsively scan everything. Digitizing family memories became a priority. Turns out, he wasn’t alone.
“As I talked to my neighbours who had flooding, they’d ask, ‘could you scan something for me? Could you take care of transferring this?’ says Downey. “It became this service that people were asking me to do for them. Then I thought maybe there is a business idea here.”
After doing some research about the market and what similar services were offered in the city, he decided to create his side business: Memory Saver.
“There seemed to be a niche in Saint John, so I developed a website, thought of a business plan and started there,” says Downey.
Memory Saver is a professional scanning and digital transfer business that helps people save their most precious and cherished memories for years to come. Currently servicing the greater Saint John area, Downey tries to offer a more personalized service than what’s currently offered by bigger-box retailers or mail-away services.
“I go to people’s homes and gather their stuff or they come here and we sit down and go over the project,” he says. “It’s a very personal high-touch service. I didn’t see a lot of things locally that specializes in dealing with people.”
Downey does more than just a simple scan. He will colour correct, digitize film, and fix any blemishes the photos may have. He then organizes and transfers the digital files to the format of the customer’s choice, whether it’s a cloud-based drive, CD, or even a USB stick. He also coverts VHS tapes to digital.
“Somebody actually just dropped off 25 tapes of Christmases, the kids’ first communions, graduation ceremonies, first day home from the hospital for newborns … it was a tremendous amount of tape they had and they were happy to get it all back,” says Downey.
Since launching just before Christmas last year, Downey’s client base has expanded beyond neighbours, friends and family. Funny enough, most of his new customers have come through non-digital forms of advertising.
“I actually used the ValPack service, getting the little coupon into people’s homes. That was a big success because those are people who have time and they’re homeowners and are probably a bit older if they’re looking at those things,” he says. “It’s perfectly targeted. So when those go and launch, I see a great spike in customers.”
Working fulltime at a search engine marketing company, Memory Saver is still a “side hustle” for Downey, but he isn’t ruling out the idea of eventually doing Memory Saver full-time. No matter where he takes it, he says the company will always remain focused on serving local customers.
“I could make it less differentiated by going to the larger mail-order thing and get people to send me their stuff, but then that I think gets away from the value of the offering. So I think it’s probably like a small storefront physical location,” says Downey.
“I feel like that will give some kind of credibility to the place, whether it’s somewhere uptown or somewhere people can just see the name and get familiar with the service and make it part of the community. We’re looking into if that’s necessary or if it’s an expense that would justify the return, that’s kind of where we are right now.”
As floodwaters begin to rise for the second year in a row across New Brunswick, Downey says being able to create something positive from a terrible situation has been his way of “fighting back.” Originally from Ontario, Memory Saver has helped him become more connected to his community.
“It’s almost like a positive way to fight back. At one point, we just could have packed up and, ‘ok, this town defeated us and the river defeated us.’ But the business and the idea of this helped me connect with my neighbours,” he says.
“It helped me see folks who bring local shots I’m not familiar with and they want to talk about the photos, sometimes they take me through the albums. It really has grown my community involvement and broadened my appreciation of Saint John folks.”