For two years, local businesses have been called upon to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 called back.
Recently, the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce (MCC) commissioned a survey of Manitoba business leaders to determine how the pandemic continues to hurt the economy.
According to the survey results, four out of five Manitoba business leaders say COVID-19 continued to have some impact on their business in 2021. However, overall sentiment has improved significantly, with 89% of respondents describing themselves as optimistic about their business operations.
“Manitoba’s business leaders appear to have a renewed sense of confidence that we are headed in the right direction – in terms of business operations and growth forecasts, government pandemic management and competitiveness – but there are challenges,” reads a new MCC statement released in early December.
Maranda Rosko, executive director of Southeast Commerce Group, agrees.
“The effects of pandemic restrictions and lockdowns have definitely impacted local businesses,” Rosko says. “Some businesses are seeing a lingering negative effect from the pandemic while others are beginning to recover. Some businesses have also noticed that the pandemic has provided them with new opportunities to connect with their customers in different ways, which is having a positive impact. At this time, our region is happy to be free of heavy restrictions to allow our local businesses to find their footing in this ‘new normal’ and continue to serve their customers.”
Of course, that was before new capacity restrictions arrived in late December, in response to the spike in new COVID-19 infections due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Many businesses have moved to a curbside pickup and takeout model, with some success. And if they didn’t have an online presence before, many companies have finally taken 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 shoppers to online shoppers,” Rosko says. “Offering an online shopping option can benefit your current customers and even win you 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 Commerce Group spent 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 companies such as the Southeast ChamberMarket.
“The Southeast ChamberMarket is like an online shopping center 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 grow the Southeast bedroom market beyond the holiday shopping season for years to come.”
busier than usual
Some businesses, like St. Adolphe Pharmacy, have been able to stay open throughout the lockdown because they provide essential services.
But just being able to stay open was no guarantee that business would go smoothly.
Massoud Horriat, owner of the pharmacy, says the biggest challenge they had to overcome was disinfection. Like many other companies, they had to hire additional staff to help with these additional cleaning procedures.
“COVID in itself was such a challenge, but I had to stay open because I was essential,” says Horriat. “I needed additional staff for additional disinfection. For me, I have additional cleaning criteria in place because I do vaccinations out of this location.
Initially, Horriat had to modify the layout of his pharmacy to accommodate foot traffic and ensure social distancing. It took time, of course, but his long hours continued long after.
“I am the only one to do the vaccination locally because I am authorized to do so,” he adds. “Doing it at my location added a lot of extra steps and precautionary measures. It just takes a lot of time, and it’s me who has to do it. For example, I was doing vaccinations today, so I’m here since 4 a.m. because vaccination requires a lot of paperwork, data entry, and monitoring. It’s such long hours.
Another time-consuming new task is navigating the COVID-19 inspections that regularly come his way.
“We are visited daily by COVID inspectors and we have to meet the requirements,” explains Horriat. “We are a pharmacy, so we have to be very careful.”
Horriat explains that his business was stable, or maybe even busier than usual, during the pandemic.
But there is one type of customer he hasn’t been happy to see coming back more often. The pharmacy owner says he now has to deal with people coming into his business trying to argue with him about the merits of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I have more and more anti-vaccine visitors who are actively coming to debate with me,” says Horriat. “I do vaccinations and once or twice a week people come and ask me why I am doing vaccinations… Just this morning people came into the store promoting pest control instead of the vaccine and I don’t know. don’t encourage that.
Horriat hopes that the more people are vaccinated, including their boosters, the more society can return to normal, allowing companies to feel less pressure.
“I’m hopeful that in the future, as the pandemic becomes rampant, there will be so much less hassle, less worry about sanitizing and all that stuff,” he says. “Some people who are anti-vax, with the new rules coming in, there are more and more new places they can’t go, and they realize they need the vaccine. I have good hope. The more we educate people, the more we will see things return to normal. »
Repay loans and meet demand
While pharmacy has held steady and companies that could offer remote services have done so, other industries have struggled even more.
The hospitality and wellness sector has been particularly hard hit.
Nicole Devloo is a licensed massage therapist at The Body Repair Shop in St. Adolphe. She says she had to take out loans to stay afloat during Manitoba’s two long lockdowns.
Emergency loans have been made available and have helped many businesses out. Otherwise, these businesses might have been forced to shut down permanently.
However, many businesses are now feeling the pinch as loan repayments come due.
“I had to do CERB and the [Manitoba] transition grant,” says Devloo. “Being self-employed, yes, it’s difficult. I mean the taxes beat you anyway so [the loans] are, like, just throw it out there. I’ll pay it back one day anyway, so it might as well be now. Taxes are a big blow for the self-employed, and I always try to stay on top of what I owe.
Devloo says the health and wellness industry often sees a spike in business before exercise benefit plans end, so she’s personally seen a lot of clients lately.
But not all of her clients are completely 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 come back to see us are usually happy when they come back,” says Devloo. “They want to use their benefits before they expire for the year, which may entice them to come back. And then we had a few that we can say are quite hesitant. They haven’t really left their house except to shop and now they need a massage so they’re coming to see us, so they’re a little nervous.
The body repair shop was so busy in mid-December that it was recruiting a new massage therapist to join its team. However, finding staff has been a challenge.
“I’m considering hiring a new massage therapist,” says Devloo. “We try to find someone who completes our team… It’s difficult for people to change therapists, so we have to find a good candidate. But a lot of people just aren’t changing jobs right now. It’s a tough time to want to work in the service industry if you don’t need it or don’t like it.