Wikipedia says it best! “re·sil·ient /rəˈzilyənt/ able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.” It is the story of business—particularly small business—in Calgary.
Although big business usually gets the most media exposure and consumer perception, the solidly documented and undisputed fact is that the Canadian—and Calgary—economy is driven by small business. “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and our job creators,” says Murray Sigler, interim CEO of the Calgary Chamber.
Widely acknowledged economy stats resoundingly show that there are more than 1.2 million small businesses (with fewer than 100 employees) in Canada. The Alberta and Calgary-specific numbers underscore an even greater impact of small business. It is more than 30 per cent of the Alberta’s GDP and, in Calgary, it is a vital fact of almost every business sector.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) underscores the need for a small business boost to support the resiliency and the post-COVID bounce-back of small businesses. “It’s critical to our neighbourhoods and, more generally, to Canada’s economic recovery that we move the needle on small business recovery and help businesses who have been starved of sales survive,” said Laura Jones, executive vice-president at CFIB.
Seven out of ten business owners are worried that customers won’t come back and many still struggle to pay bills. About half of businesses across Canada are fully open, but only one in three are at normal staffing levels and one in five are making normal sales, the CFIB says.
While the broadside of the past six months had no silver lining for any business (with the exception of Plexiglas, mask and hand sanitizer manufacturers) the core of the Calgary business community is answering the call about resiliency, moving forward and readying for 2021.
“Our economic recovery will depend on their ability to adapt and reinvent, as only entrepreneurs can,” Sigler added. “It’s a key reason why Calgary’s dynamic and popular Small Business Week (SBW) 2020 was re-designed to empower small businesses to adapt and reinvent.” For obvious COVID and disrupted economy reasons, last month’s SBW was re-purposed from a full trade show to a completely virtual experience.
“The focus was on business resiliency and digital commerce,” he said. “Traditionally Calgary has had one of the largest Small Business Week celebrations in Canada but this year was very different as Calgary and chambers across Canada continue to cope with COVID-19.”
The six awards presented on September 14 (slightly past press time for this issue of Business in Calgary) recognized some Calgary businesses who had showed resiliency, compassion and determination during COVID-19. The ATB Community Impact Award, determined by a public vote, was given to the business who has made the largest impact in the community during COVID-19.
Sigler detailed that that the goal of the Chamber’s 2020 event was to emphasize resiliency and recognize businesses that have pivoted to remain operational through the health crisis and the lockdown. “Resilient businesses have the ability to rapidly adapt and respond to business disruptions,” he noted, “as well as safeguard people and assets, while maintaining continuous business operations.”
Just a year ago, in understandable contrast, Calgary’s SBW celebrated the gung-ho success of several Calgary small businesses like Routine Cream the 2019 ATB Small Business of the year; Power Properties, the BBB Ethical Business Award winner; and Helcim, the Innovation Award winner.
“This is the time when Calgary small businesses must innovate, innovate and innovate,” says Pippa Blair, the high-energy co-founder of the Calgary-based Routine, the popular and successful manufacturer of natural cream deodorants and other personal care products like face oils, natural shampoos, conditioners, perfumes and soaps now sold in 2,500 locations around the world. “Small businesses should focus on what is needed, not adding to an overcrowded space. Pay great attention to the modern way that people want to receive products and services.”
Neige Blair, Routine co-founder and Pippa’s sister-in-law emphasizes timing for small businesses. “Resistance in these times is to business’ detriment. It is important to look at what people want right now. This is the time for effective products and services, less waste, social responsibility and a general awareness of what is important to consumers. Consumers want to feel heard and listened to.”
Pippa highlights some key aspects of small business resilience and success. “Ideally, it should be a product or a service people actually need, as well as genuine originality. And, of course it’s important to be aware of your competition, but it’s also important to always be one step ahead. If you are too focused on the competition, you’re always trying to play catch up.
“Platforms have changed, we’ve changed. Change is vital. Resilience is important but businesses must be agile and nimble. Setting strict five-year plans can prevent changing ideas and innovating. A key to small business success is a need for fluidity within strategic planning.”
According to Nicolas Beique, founder of the Calgary-based Helcim, the innovative payments company which specializes in easier, smarter and more affordable payment solutions, “Perseverance is vital! More than smarts, money or skills, perseverance can help small business push through difficult cycles and sleepless nights, until success is reached on the other side.”
Jamie Power, president of the Calgary-based Power Properties points out that business curve-balls and speedbumps like the past six months can also be business opportunities. “Stay the same and change completely,” he says with enthusiasm. “Businesses need to stay true to their core values and their purpose, but totally rethink how they deliver their purpose. I just read about how Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant empire has actually grown his revenue during the pandemic by pivoting away from high-end cuisine to more basic fare.
“We get eggs delivered from a farm, and the farmer was lamenting the fact that he’s running out of egg cartons because the carton company switched to making masks. Just two examples of companies rethinking themselves. Businesses will have to reimagine what society will need and how they can deliver that.”
Neige Blair explains that, when it comes to small business resilience, Calgary can be a valuable business edge. “Calgary is an incredibly supportive community. It’s easy to meet heroes and mentors in Calgary because there’s always a connection through the small business community. Calgary is an early adopter to new products and open-minded to new ideas. It’s terrific that Calgarians are not hesitant to support local.”
Beique agrees. “Calgary is the biggest small town! Everyone is connected within a degree or two of each other. So if you’re passionate about your new business you can quickly build an amazing network of advisors, investors and supporters to help you along the way.”
Resiliance is a key factor as Calgary focuses on 2021.
“Calgary is full of opportunities and advantages right now,” Jamie Power says with positivity. “With unemployment hovering around 15 per cent in Calgary is a great chance for employers to hire exceptionally talented people. With commercial vacancy at 25-30 per cent is a great time to find amazing locations at bargain prices that would have been outside a business’ budget just a few years ago.
“And with all the rapid changes people have experienced in the past few months, they are realizing change is not a bad thing and are less rigid in their thinking. I think we will see some fantastic new industries and business open up in the near future as people overcome their fear of the unknown.”