Stay afloat, the goal for local businesses

For two years, local businesses have been called upon to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The restrictions have been tightened and relaxed. Supply in the heart of the country has become more difficult. In addition, interest rates rise and loans are recalled.

Recently, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce (MCC) commissioned a survey of Manitoba business leaders to determine how the pandemic continues to weigh on the economy.

According to the results of this survey, four in five business leaders in Manitoba say COVID-19 continued to have some impact on their business in 2021. However, overall sentiment has improved significantly, 89% of respondents describing themselves as optimistic about their business activities.

“Manitoba business leaders appear to have a renewed sense of confidence that we are moving in the right direction – in terms of business operations and growth forecasts, government pandemic management and competitiveness – but there is challenges ”, we read in a new press release from the MCC, published in early December.

Southeast Commerce Group executive director Maranda Rosko agrees.

“The effects of the restrictions and lockdowns from the pandemic have certainly had an impact on local businesses,” Rosko said. “Some companies are seeing a lingering negative effect from the pandemic while others are starting to recover. Some companies have also noticed that the pandemic is giving them new opportunities to connect with their customers in different ways, which is having a positive impact. Right now, our region is happy not to be under heavy restrictions to allow our local businesses to find their rhythm in this “new normal” and continue to serve their customers.

Of course, that was before new capacity restrictions arrived at the end of December, in response to the wave of new COVID-19 infections from the highly transmissible variant of omicron.

Many companies have turned to a curbside take-out and pick-up model, with some success. And if they did not have an online presence before, many companies finally seized the opportunity to create websites equipped with online dating portals, payment systems and a complete catalog of their products. and services.

“We are seeing a significant shift from in-person to online shoppers,” says Rosko. “Providing an option to buy online can benefit your existing customers and even gain new ones. “

She also encourages many businesses to continue to use the resources provided by their local chamber to network with other businesses in their area.

The Southeast Trade Group spent some time in late November actively planning for the next one to three years. During these sessions, they discussed their intention to continue providing business support through businesses such as the Southeast Chamber Market.

“The Southeast ChamberMarket is like an online mall for Southeastern Manitoba where businesses can sell their products and services, and customers can shop locally from the comfort of their own homes,” says Rosko. “We plan to continue to develop the Southeast bedroom market beyond the holiday shopping season for years to come. “

Busier than usual

Some businesses, such as the Saint-Adolphe pharmacy, were able to remain open throughout the closures because they provide essential services.

But just being able to stay open wasn’t a guarantee that business would run smoothly.

Massoud Horriat, owner of the pharmacy, says the biggest challenge they had to overcome was disinfection. Like many other businesses, they had to hire additional staff to help them with these additional cleaning procedures.

“In itself, COVID was such a challenge, but I had to stay open because I was essential,” says Horriat. “I needed additional staff for the additional disinfection. For me, I have implemented additional cleaning criteria as I do the vaccinations from this location.

Initially, Horriat had to modify the layout of his pharmacy to accommodate pedestrian traffic and ensure social distancing. It took time, of course, but his long hours continued long afterward.

“I am the only one doing the vaccination locally because I am authorized to do so,” he adds. “Doing it at home added a lot of extra steps and precautionary measures. It just adds a lot of time, and I’m the one who has to do it. For example, I was doing vaccinations today so I have been here since 4:00 am because the vaccination requires a lot of paperwork, data entry and tracking. It’s so long hours.

Another new, time-consuming task is navigating the COVID-19 inspections that come their way on a regular basis.

“We receive daily visits from COVID inspectors and we have to meet the requirements,” says Horriat. “We are a pharmacy, so we have to be very careful. “

Horriat says his business was stable, if not busier than usual, during the pandemic.

But there’s one type of customer they’re not happy to see coming back more often. The pharmacy owner says he now has to deal with people who come into his business to try to debate the merits of the COVID-19 vaccine with him.

“I have more and more anti-vaccine visitors who actively come to try and struggle with me,” says Horriat. “I do vaccinations and once or twice a week people come to me asking why I do vaccinations… As recently as this morning, people came into the store to promote a pest control drug instead of the vaccine and I I don’t encourage that.

Horriat hopes the more people are vaccinated, including their booster, the more society can return to normal, allowing businesses to feel less pressure.

“I am optimistic that in the future, as the pandemic becomes endemic, there will be so much less hassle, less hassle of disinfection and so on,” he says. “Some people who are anti-vax, with the new rules coming into effect there are more and more new places they cannot go, and they realize that they need the vaccine. I have good hope. The more we educate people, the more we will see things return to normal. “

Pay off loans and meet demand

While pharmacy has remained stable and companies that can offer remote services have done so, other industries have struggled even more.

The hotel and wellness sector has been particularly affected.

Nicole Devloo is a licensed massage therapist at The Body Repair Shop in Saint-Adolphe. She says she had to take out loans to stay afloat during the two long lockdowns in Manitoba.

Emergency loans were made available and helped many businesses get by. These businesses might otherwise have been forced to shut down forever.

However, many businesses are now feeling the pinch as loan repayments fall due.

“I had to do CERB and the [Manitoba] bridging grant, ”says Devloo. “Being self-employed, yes, it’s difficult. I mean, taxes get you down anyway so [the loans] are, like, just throw it in there. I’ll pay it back anyway, so it might as well be now. Taxes are a big hit for the self-employed, and I always try to stay on top of what I owe.

Devloo says the health and wellness industry often experiences an increase in business before people’s exercise benefit plans end, so she has personally met a lot of clients lately.

But not all of her clients are quite comfortable coming to see her in person, as they perceive an ongoing risk of being in close contact with service providers like massage therapists.

“Most come back to us if they had seen massage therapists before the pandemic hit, and those who have just returned to see us are generally happy when they return,” says Devloo. “They want to use their benefits before they expire for the year, which can encourage their return. And then we had a few that we can say are quite hesitant. They haven’t really left their home except for shopping and now they need a massage so they come to us so they’re a little nervous.

The body repair shop was so busy in mid-December that they were recruiting a new massage therapist to join their team. However, finding staff has been a challenge.

“I’m looking to hire a new massage therapist,” says Devloo. “We’re trying to find one that complements our team… It’s hard for people to change therapists, so we have to find a good fit. But a lot of people aren’t changing jobs right now. It’s a tough time to want to work in the service industry if you don’t need or like it.

Sara Beth Dacombe, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, The Niverville Citizen