Entrepreneurs let experience take the lead
Mature entrepreneurs beset by the COVID-19 pandemic lean in and let expertise and resourcefulness guide them, writes
The economic impact of COVID-19, with its socialdistancing requirements, limit on in-store customers and heightened health protocols, has been a knockout punch for many entrepreneurs running small enterprises.
“Businesses that have been around for decades, even generations, are in danger,” says Laura Jones, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), a non-profit that represents 110,000 members.
“Small business doesn’t exist to decorate our communities,” warns Jones. “Yes, they make our communities lovely but they need to make sales to survive.”
The Ontario government controversially allowed chains like Walmart and Costco to stay open in lockeddown regions because they sell food and medicine even as they shuttered smaller shops just before the busy holiday season. Manitoba restricted big-box stores to selling essential items only. Independent operators were floundering, with CFIB reporting in December 2020 that only 30 per cent of its members were back to pre-pandemic revenues.
With Statistics Canada reporting that, in 2019, 1.2 million small businesses with fewer than 100 workers employed 8.4 million people – almost 70 per cent of the workforce – countless livelihoods are on the line.
“They are big in terms of jobs but also revenue,” Jones points out. “They pay taxes to city hall.”
A StatsCan survey of small businesses in September and October 2020 showed almost a quarter of thosewhoemployedonetofourworkers reported revenue drops in excess of 40 per cent compared to 2019.
StatsCan’s experimental estimates for all business closings and openings show that, on average, 39,000 businesses closed each month since January 2015 but, in April 2020, that number more than doubled to 88,200. By September, the latest month of data, it was back to 33,000.
And a June 2019 Ipsos poll of 2,007 Canadians for the Royal Bank of Canada showed that among small business owners, 42 per cent were baby boomers aged 55 and up, 34 per cent were 34 to 54, and 24 per cent were millennials. The boomers were motivated to launch businesses because the kids had left the nest (41 per cent) or to supplement their retirement income (49 per cent).
The majority of these entrepreneurs provide something no big-box store can – the personal touch.
“The one thing about small businesses: they know your name. They are there at street level, greeting you,” Jones says.
As the pandemic spread, many quickly shifted online, offering delivery or curbside pickup, while some, like yoga studios, moved classes onto platforms like Zoom. It takes bravery, resiliency and an enterprising ethos to switch gears in the middle of a global pandemic, as cash and credit dwindle and bills mount.
“They have their face to the wind. They are willing to take risks,” Jones explains. “That is the entrepreneurial spirit.”
Here are three stories of indomitable older Canadian entrepreneurs whose experience and resourcefulness is helping them weather the storm.
IN A JAM
In the tiny hamlet of New Glasgow on the north shore of Prince Edward Island, Bruce and Shirley MacNaughton make darling jams and jellies in a converted butter creamery, sell their wares in the gift shop and serve hungry tourists Potato Pie and Seafood Bubbly Bake at their restaurant.
In summer, butterflies and blooming flowers adorn the property overlooking the River Clyde, which they picked for its resident flock of Canada geese. It’s all so twee and