Rotate, Adapt, Change: Doing What It Takes to Keep Businesses Open in Waterloo Region
Businesses in the region that hope to return to normal after the original June 2 order deadline in Ontario may be shut down a little longer as part of the provincial government’s three-step reopening plan announced Thursday.
Beginning the week of June 14, the province approved the reopening of certain non-essential businesses and outdoor dining will be permitted. While the second stage will see the resumption of personal care services. The third step will extend to interior settings.
As the pandemic continued into wave three, businesses in the region were forced to reassess their business plans and some were forced to adapt and make changes to survive.
If the Ontario government’s plan to reopen remains on track for the week of June 14, Sandra Gibson’s business will be closed for almost 30 weeks, given the plan and the time it needs to get going. prepare to open the doors to a new location.
Gibson, owner of Deja Vu Spa and Medi Spa, is reverting to his original business plan. It is also moving, selling its long-standing location on Guelph Street for a new, smaller space on Frederick and Edna streets in Kitchener.
When that store finally opens, she will only take one employee with her and be left without two hairdressers, she said.
“My stress and anxiety level has been pretty high because I feel like I have no control over my business because the government basically dictates what I can and can’t do. I can’t work because of this. from what they tell me, “Gibson said.
“I had to let two hairdressers go and I’m going back to my original business model … and I’m bringing a staff member with me.”
‘I was ready to start the computer’
Gibson said she followed all health and safety rules early on, ordering PPE, plexiglass and following hygiene and sterilization protocols. She was also able to sell some products and offer customer support through an online platform.
All of this at an additional cost which she said was frustrating when she had to fill out the online claim form for reimbursement. She said she was able to get a property tax grant, but ultimately didn’t cover all the bills.
She said that once, when she was filling out the form, she made “even the smallest little typo” or left a box unchecked.
“It was all coming to an end, and I spent hours trying to ask for something. I was ready to throw the computer out the front door. And I tell myself that I’ve been here for hours to make a thousand dollars. Almost not worth it. “
Lack of support
Danielle Green, who operates the Artisanal Design Company on Fairway Road, understands the frustration of applying for a government grant.
Although she considers herself lucky to receive a government business grant, securing it has been a long and complicated process.
“I had a service agent [say] when i inquired about my payment she said good luck. So they know absolutely nothing about the status of your program and there are a lot of people who still haven’t even received their first grant installment, ”Green said.
“And then for the second scholarship, [they’re] asking me to explain the nature of my business and what I do. I paid taxes. How do you not know what I’m doing, what my business is doing? “
Green had to make changes to his shop which sold gifts, flowers and balloons, as well as men’s and women’s clothing. Now she sells through an online platform available for curbside pickup.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride and especially since COVID,” Green said. “It’s been a bit of a curse, but I think it’s a blessing more than anything because it forced me to really pivot my business model so I could survive. And I think that’s the thing. most important. “
Green said that with the people at home “deciding to put on their pajamas and relax,” she had to rethink how much summer stock she was going to order. An order that had to be submitted before February. In the end, she decided not to buy so much because she believes by the time they fully open they will be ready for a fall clothing line.
Waiting for the green light
Ryan Lloyd-Craig, co-owner of Ignite Group of Brands, said his team has a game plan for every possible scenario.
They have had time to prepare for it since the early days of the pandemic, when the province announced the first emergency shutdown.
“We’re obviously preparing to open up our outdoor patio spaces to some extent first. We’ve already pitched a tent for a patio graffiti aftermarket and we have a tent pitched at Crows Foot, ”Lloyd-Craig said.
“So potentially we could have 150 people outside for the foreseeable future. But without a tent the weather would really be a barrier to what we found and experienced last year.”
Ignite operates a number of locations including the Rich Uncle Tavern, Graffiti Market, Stockyards Brewery and Stockyards Coffee in Kitchener, and Crowsfoot Smokehaus in Conestogo. He also owns a retail brand called Wilhelms Provisions, which sells barbecue sauce and jams.
Lloyd-Craig is hoping that two of its three large restaurants that can seat 250 people will reopen. But the first potential summer dining experience will begin outside in a patio tent.
In preparation for a green light to open from the government, they started hiring. Some waiters and kitchen crews who were laid off during the pandemic have pledged to return.
“The last time the [government] gave us 12 hours’ notice to find staff and open up, ”Lloyd-Craig said.
“We made the conscious decision [that] “We are not ready”, we are sure we can open and we will be very punctual. But the experience the customer will get would not be up to our standards. “
Ignite Group of Brands also has a growing list of backyard events, including multiple birthday celebrations and weddings.
“[There are] many requests for the 10 to 20 [people] backyard catering events for the summer. Whether it is a family event postponed for a celebration of several birthdays. We have tons of requests, ”Lloyd-Craig said.
Like other restaurants, they eventually switched to what Lloyd-Craig said was a flooded take-out market, leading to waiting for the backlog of take-out containers to adjust the menu and make sure the food travels. good.
“Some people are looking for that poutine that we used to have on the menu. But we don’t want to serve something that when we get home is full of porridge. We have therefore consciously made the decision to change our menus. Lloyd-Craig says.
Excluded from provincial business subsidies
Like other small businesses, the Descendants Beer and Beverage Company refocused its energy from its restaurant and live event space, which were big revenue generators, to keep its Victoria Street North outlet open. and focus on its branded beers to go.
General manager Bonnie Nethery said it was the only remaining source of revenue for the company and represented the lowest percentage of gross sales at 12.5%.
“We had to adapt… Our retail store was always the last thing to focus on,” Nethery said. “We learned a lot about streamlining and improving our production and making it a little more consistent. [We] we have improved the variety we offer and made sure that we constantly have a lot of stock available for our customers. “
The workforce has gone from 20 to two: Bonnie Nethery and the owner of the brewery.
They have requested financial assistance from the federal and provincial governments to help stabilize the 42% drop in overall sales from April 2019 to April 2020.
The provincial government denied their application because breweries and wineries were excluded from the provincial grant. Federal government wage subsidies allowed owners to bring back three more employees.
But with just five people working at the craft brewer, the reopening will take time to get it right, as it includes hiring staff and ordering food to get people back to their restaurant and patio.
Bonnie Nethery remains optimistic.
“Every day that we’re here is another day that we consider ourselves lucky,” Nethery said.
“And we just hope and pray that we can have … another day with the grants, and hopefully when we can reopen, we’ll be able to have some traction and come back.”
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