Small business sales still down due to Covid-19

CFIB says shopping local more important than ever

July 27, 2020, 9:50 am
Victor van der Merwe - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Helen Gurski and Kari Kosior of Kari’s Kloset in Moosomin

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses says that, while Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted, small business sales remain low for this time of year.

According to the CFIB “Saskatchewan’s small business recovery ticked up slightly with 75% of small businesses fully open, up from 73% last week, 51% fully staffed up from 43% last week, and 33% making normal sales up from 32% last week.

Additional data from Chase Merchant Services shows credit and debit card sales for Canadian small businesses are on average 25% lower for March-June 2020 than the same time in 2019. Monthly credit and debit sales have improved since lows seen earlier this year in April when more businesses were closed (April was 40% lower, May was 25% lower and June was 15% lower than in 2019).

“While consumer spending through credit and debit seems to be improving, the broader picture shows that there has been a shift in payment methods and sales remain at perilous levels for many businesses,” said Corinne Pohlmann, Senior Vice-President at CFIB.

Independent and small businesses are making an effort to facilitate clients in these uncertain time. According to the latest data 35% of Saskatchewan small business owners report they have increased their use of Interac e-transfer as a method of getting and making payments, while 37% have increased their use of credit cards. Also, one in four have increased their use of debit cards, while 37% have decreased their use of cash since the pandemic started and 3% have stopped using cash altogether.

“Things are slowly getting better, but small businesses depend on Canadians to choose local so the hardware store down the street, the independent pet shop, the mom and pop bakery can survive. This is what the #SmallBusinessEveryDay campaign is all about. We urge everyone to be mindful of where they spend in the coming months and to choose a small, independent business every chance they get,” added Jonathan Alward, CFIB’s director, prairie region.

Since CFIB launched, thousands of Canadians have taken the challenge to support independent businesses. CFIB is also profiling other initiatives across the country that support small business recovery, like The Big Spend, which encourages Canadians to make the conscious choice to spend at small businesses on July 25.

“We are going in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go and we have to make sure, that as a province, we keep as safe as possible so we can continue our economic recovery,” says Alward.

Although some small businesses seem to be doing very well this time of year, there are still some other small businesses that need attention from local consumers.

“Depending on what kind of business you are in, you are still going to be facing some significant challenges. If you look at retail as an example, grocery stores by and large have done very well, but a lot of retail shops are still struggling and part of that is consumer confidence. Businesses are operating safely, but we need to make sure that people have the confidence to go out and shop as long as they follow the rules,” says Alward.

Alward goes on to speak to the very unique time we live in and that people should, of course be safe.

“As cases start to rise back up, I think we need to keep everything in context and practice whatever helped us get the case numbers under control in the first place. Every business I talk to across the prairies is taking this seriously. They want to keep their staff safe, they want to keep their customers safe. They have an incredible number of procedures in place to do that, usually well above and beyond anything that the government requires,” says Altward.

This he hopes will give customers the confidence to patronize their local businesses in a safe manner.

“People in restaurants and hospitality, people in travel industry and people who depend on group events. Anything in the arts has surely been impacted,” says Altward, before going to make clear that it is not just those businesses that have felt the impact of the pandemic.

For those who do not feel comfortable walking around a store, there are other ways to support the local economy.

“There is something important for everyone to remember, when you think about shopping with Amazon, or one of your big box stores or doing online shopping instead of buying local. Most local businesses will try to accommodate you. They will take in orders over the phone, they will deliver, they will offer things for pick up usually. They are going to try hard to get your sale. If it comes down to price for you, don’t be shy to tell that to the small business owner and give them the opportunity to get your business,” says Altward.

He explains that small businesses across Saskatchewan are still struggling yet so important to our local communities.

“Amazon isn’t paying taxes like your local businesses are, Walmart isn’t usually paying for local sports teams or theatre productions. I think it is really important that we make a conscious effort to support all our businesses that are important to our communities,” Altward explains.

Going forward, it does seem that there might be positive long term effects to the quick way that businesses have adapted to accommodate customers in these strange times.

“Many are offering services online now, more customers realize how convenient it is to call ahead for curb side pick up. Small grocery stores are offering delivery. I think those are kind of ways that accelerated the rate of transformation for some businesses,” says Altward.

Safe Shopping at Kari’s Kloset
Kari Kosior, who owns Kari’s Kloset on Main Street in Moosomin, was one of the many independent businesses that had to adapt to new restrictions and new ways of shopping when the pandemic hit. As the province began to open up, a new wave of challenges came with it.

“At first, they had terrible restrictions in place for clothing stores and when I saw that, that was the first moment I was honestly worried. They wanted no trying on clothes and no returning. Then thankfully the premier lifted that and put in the new restrictions, which are still very overwhelming.”

She changed her business practices to comply with the regulations and keep her staff and customers as safe as possible.

“I started with private, by appointment only shopping, to just get our feet in the door and make sure we could stay on top of it and manage it properly and keep up with social distancing. I limited it to five customers at a time,” says Kosior.

She also took up other business practices to help serve her clients. “I would come in, in the evenings and take photos and do some merchandizing and would plan my posts for the next day. That would keep my employee busy during the day. She would help customers with online orders, and she helped with curb side delivery and delivery in town,” says Kosior.

While businesses have been impacted by Covid-19, the CFIB wants to make sure people are shopping local and Kosior wants people to know that she will all she can to make sure people who shop in her store feel safe.