The end of the year is always a time for retrospection. For businesses, the final quarter presents an opportunity to review annual performance, identify shortfalls, and plan for what hopes to be a prosperous new year. In the midst of the COVID-19 economic climate, there has been no shortage of financial revaluation and strategic maneuvering. The fight to keep profit margins above water rages on as businesses work to navigate health guidelines and a sluggish economy.
For some businesses in the region, staying afloat has required a reconfiguration of business models and a dash of innovation. Finding ways to not only provide services for clients in line with provincial mandates but also keep revenues above the red line is the new ‘normal’.
As Jacqueline Tong of Rozé Events shares, the pandemic is no minor obstruction for event planners in the region. Juggling health guidelines and dynamic gathering restrictions has presented the industry with significant challenges and a sense of caution when it comes to examining business finances.
“We’ve had to look over our books again as everything we do is impacted by this pandemic, from the smallest things like giveaways and wedding planning books. We need to ensure there’s income to justify the money being spent,” Tong explains. “We’re dealing with uncertainties on almost a daily basis. At any point events can be terminated or capacity allowances changed – then, so too does the need for an event planner. We’re projecting this might be the next two years and are working on ways to be able to stay open amidst this pandemic.”
Despite financial hardship, the local business is looking ahead and adjusting business plans to prepare for financial strain. Sitting tight and waiting out the storm is not a viable option for those in the event industry – and for Rozé Events, planning for the muddled path ahead includes a revamp of services.
“Going forward we’re going to be looking at more online services, more physical products, and reassessing previous services that we were able to offer for free, as everything costs to be able to continue generating income and keep our doors open,” Tong shares.
Event planners aren’t alone in the race to stay ahead of the pandemic. For those in customer-facing industries, COVID-19 has been a direct hit. As Brandon Boutin of Town Square Brewing Co. shares, the global health pandemic has presented no shortage of challenges.
“We had two very interesting dynamics happen all at once. On one hand, our restaurant was forced to close causing us to have zero revenue from that portion of the business. Then on the other hand, the brewery experienced a spike in demand, which is a saving grace but also a strain when you are racing to get ingredients for the product which would not be available for sale until, on average, a month later,” Boutin says. “The juggling of cash got very interesting and we had to get creative fast. We asked our suppliers for longer terms in a time of global uncertainty and we worked long hours to expedite our product production so we can turn a positive revenue stream, which was just cut in half by losing the revenue from the restaurant.”
For the south Edmonton business, the way forward demanded a revaluation of priorities and a sturdy business plan cognisant of uncertain economic realities.
“Priority number one was trying to retrain and rehire our staff to help mitigate the impact of this global crisis. With all the closures, fears, uncertainties and the disruption of our team’s ‘normal,’ we tried to create stability any way we could. Cross training and job creation were key. Cross training our team has helped balance hours for not only us as a company but also our team, while providing them with new skills and additional hours,” Boutin explains. “Priority number two was keeping the love for our craft alive.”
Boutin notes a sharp rise in demand for delivery has been a saving grace. While a notable barrier, COVID-19 has been the catalyst for the business to move forward with preliminary plans for online services and new products.
“In a time of uncertainty, it is so easy for a business to pull back on new product development to minimize the risk and cost of new product performances. For us, we felt it was key to keep the passion alive and utilize this time as an opportunity to share with as many as we could,” Boutin shares. “With the development of our online platform and home deliveries, it provided us a wider array of customers that may never make it down to our brick and mortar.”
In addition to quick maneuvering, the local business worked with its financial advisor and banking provider to utilize federal funding. Though welcome, Boutin notes the funding was not a long-term solution.
“I am not going to lie, meeting some of the requirements has not been easy and as most, if not all, hospitality-focused businesses would agree, we wish there was more financial support provided for us than currently offered.”
Despite the uncertainty posed by the global health pandemic, Town Square Brewing Co. remains focused on expanding capacity and capitalizing on opportunities to grow.
“Even though this crisis brings constraints to cash flow, delays on ingredients, rising cost of supplies and possible slower market growth, there are still opportunities and room to grow as a team and a business, which will springboard Town Square Brewing Co. to a new level once this interesting season is over.”
Flexibility and drumming up new ways to feed revenue appear to be common trends amongst business owners, and not just for those in the service industry. As explained by Courtney Buhler, CEO of Edmonton-based beauty product supplier Sugarlash PRO, navigating the pandemic has required an honest analysis of financials, flexibility when adjusting to new economic realities, and a forward-looking business plan.
“We really had to take a hard look at our finances and understand where we stood. These insights affected all areas from headcount, spending, and product development. Our suppliers were also impacted in varying parts of the world, which impacted our supply chain, making us look at our inventory and processes differently as well,” she says. “As much as the pandemic forced us to take it day-by-day, we knew we couldn’t stop moving forward with the plans we were supposed to do; we pushed our goals for the following year. If we stopped, we wouldn’t have anything to carry us forward.”
Like many businesses impacted by COVID-19, Sugarlash PRO has accessed funding programs and breaks to regain lost traction. The financial assistance provided stable footing but relying on the aid alone would not be enough for the company to achieve its business goals.
“The grants and subsidies undoubtedly are helping many businesses, but they weren’t going to help us fast enough. Ultimately, we had a choice: look to a subsidy to help us or implement these initiatives to help us do what we needed to survive.”
With sales taking a hit, the business has looked to their online services and shifted the focus to promoting learning courses. To stabilize revenue and support lash artists, many of which have found themselves out of work due to shutdowns, Sugarlash PRO has offered product discounts, webinars, and free lifetime access to one of their most popular courses.
“The future is always going to be uncertain, especially when you are dealing with a pandemic. If we want to keep growing our company, we have to try as much as possible to lift ourselves out of the weeds of the day to day and keep our goals in clear focus,” Buhler shares.
It should come as no surprise that COVID-19 has placed businesses in precarious positions. A slowing economy paired with a global health pandemic is not what one would call an ideal environment to conduct business. As businesses around the region are exemplifying, making it through a challenging environment takes commitment and a willingness to embrace change.