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7 business owners share lessons they've learned through success and hardship during the pandemic – CBC.ca

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A few weeks ago, Erin Moraghan and her staff celebrated the five year anniversary of her fitness studio. This week, the studio permanently closed its doors.

Like so many small businesses across the country, the fitness operation was no longer financially viable because of the pandemic.

A few hours before leading the final class at the Revkor studio in Cambridge, Ont., Moraghan was trying to be positive about the experience.

“There will be a lot of tears, there were some good tears this morning. It’s tough, but to be honest, we also really recognize that we’re in a very real global situation,” she said.

Moraghan has several pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs, including how important self-care can be.

“It’s been a lonely journey for a lot of business owners,” she said.

It’s just one helpful suggestion among many lessons a group of small business owners shared from their successes and struggles this year.

‘Trusting the numbers’

Moraghan’s fitness studio struggled because the number of participants was heavily restricted. Instead of 60 or 70 people for a class, there was a limit of just 12.

The small capacity was partially Moraghan’s decision because she wanted to go above and beyond the provincial government’s restrictions to ensure customers would be comfortable.

“We really wanted our studio to always feel like a safe haven for people,” she said.

WATCH | The challenge of reopening:

Erin Moraghan says it was challenging to re-open her fitness studio and ensure everyone was comfortable. 1:13

While the process of closing down the operation has been difficult, she credits having a business coach for preparing her for the tough decisions she had to make.

Her other recommendation, especially for people in the service industry, is to be practical and honest about the financial situation.

“We really can’t serve our communities if we are deeply compromised, personally, and so trusting the numbers, sometimes it’s very tough to face those realities.”

Erin Moraghan is now shifting her focus to Litethriive Wellness, a business she started in the spring that focuses on improving a person’s mindset through online meditation, workshops and life coaching. (Submitted by Erin Moraghan)

‘Call me cautious’

Kaevon Khoozani was at the Winnipeg airport in early March about to board a plane for a fitness trade show in Ohio when the event was cancelled.

His aspirations of growing his business in the United States seemed to be getting derailed.

Khoozani designs fitness equipment targeted toward people interested in powerlifting and CrossFit workouts. Calgary-based Bells of Steel opened 10 years ago and has seven employees in Canada and the States.

In March, sales began to pickup, but there was a big decision to make. Khoozani and his partner didn’t know whether to stock up on inventory or not. He found it difficult to understand if the pandemic would create an immense amount of interest in home-based fitness equipment or whether demand would fall because so many people would be negatively impacted financially due to lockdown measures.

“We could have jumped the gun a little faster. Call me cautious,” he said. “We waited a few months to see where things were at and because of that we lost out to some competitors.”

Fortunately, they had more inventory than normal to begin the year because of their growth plans in the U.S.

Overall, sales are three times as high this year as they were last year, but growth could have been significantly higher if they had acted sooner to put in orders with their suppliers.

Still, Khoozani said the company was able to grow its market share in the States.

On one day in particular, he said sales were $600,000.

He’s now contemplating expanding to Europe.

WATCH | Whether to coast or be aggressive:

Kaevon Khoozani describes the decision in the spring about whether to stock up on inventory at his fitness equipment company or wait. 1:42

‘A sudden shift’

When the Alberta government introduced lockdown measures in March, Kyle Hansen was able to keep his business open, but he expected sales to drop.

He cut back on staffing at his Benjamin Moore paint store in Calgary and decided to take the weekend off.

About 20 min into opening on the Saturday morning, he got a call from an employee who said, “I need you to get to the store right now.”

“It was a pretty big shift, a sudden shift that we weren’t expecting, and we were very fortunate to have it.”

With most people stuck at home, a variety of home improvement businesses saw a boost in demand.

Hansen had planned to start an online store next year, but worked long hours in the spring to get it up and running. A day after it launched, the online sales began.

Overall, paint sales are up about 40 per cent compared with last year.

While Hansen considers himself a planner, he credits the quick decision making as a lesson he learned. 

Meanwhile, while sales were strong, the store was understaffed at times with three full-time employees. That, too, was a learning experience, Hansen said, as some staff members became burned out.

WATCH | It’s tough to plan when you don’t know what’s coming:

A big business lesson from the pandemic for Kyle Hansen has been the need to make quick decisions. 1:10

‘There are no customers’

At Chiles Sandblasting and Painting in Red Deer, the shop can be busy one week and then absolutely dead the next week.

Owner Brian Chiles describes his business as an autobody shop for heavy duty and oilfield equipment. With a severe downturn in the oilpatch, sales at his business are down between 25 and 75 per cent, depending on the month.

The lesson he has learned is how important it is build up some savings and not carry around debt.

“I’ve been around a little bit. It would be very difficult for a new company to start up right now, so I am thankful for the financial situation we’re in.”

Still, there are challenges ahead. Not only are sales down, but even if the business closed, he can only reduce his expenses so much. Chiles owns his building, which costs money to operate. It’s an asset he can’t sell or rent because, he said, three-quarters of the buildings in his industrial park are already sitting empty because of business closures.

He’s unsure if his shop will experience the same fate.

“The problem happens to be there are no customers.”

‘I went with my gut’

After her Vancouver-area fitness studio was forced to close in March, PJ Wren decided over the next month to leave the brick-and-mortar gym in the past and pivot to an online business, Fitness with PJ.

“What I learned the most was how to make some tough decisions with very limited amount of information, as well as the fear of the unknown. So I went with my gut,” she said.

The world of online fitness coaches and programs is saturated, so Wren decided to focus on women over the age of 40. There was a learning curve, especially with understanding so many new online platforms where she can offer her services.

So far, the new venture is a success. Her revenue is similar to when she operated her fitness gym, but her expenses are lower. Instead of a staff of 12, with her online business she has three.

The 50-year-old said she’s less stressed and has more free time.

PJ Wren says her online fitness business is reaching people as far away as Europe, Australia and throughout North America.  (Submitted by PJ Wren)

‘When they call, you answer your phone’

For Vittorio Oliverio, the big lesson of 2020 is communication.

As the pandemic arrived in the spring, uncertainty swept across the country. For many people, it was centred around their jobs, their bills, and how they were going to make ends meet.

At his mortgage business, Oliverio admittedly had just as many questions as clients, but he purposely tried to reach out to as many people as he could to share what information he had.

In hindsight, he said that gave him an edge over his competition as he gained a level of respect as a business that was actively seeking to help and get answers for people.

“Everyone was struggling with what to do,” he said.

“Instead of hiding, we decided to go on the forefront and provide help and advice on how to handle their financial situation,” said Oliverio, who runs Centum Professional Mortgage Group in Lethbridge, Alta.

Over the summer, the phones kept ringing at the office as people wanted more information about mortgage payment deferral programs and other issues.

“It was surprising to me that banks make all these announcements without any indication to the client how to contact them,” he said.

The company ended up gaining a significant number of new clients, he said, and sales of mortgages are up 30 per cent compared with last year.

“It’s been phenomenal, business-wise,” said Oliverio. “A lot of times, people just want to know that when they call, you answer your phone.”

Vittorio Oliverio, second from left, and his staff from Centum Professional Mortgage Group. (Submitted by Vittorio Oliverio)

‘Once everything is normal …’

Of all the times to start a business, this year was not the best.

That’s the reality for Mohammad Anis, who began a new venture in the automotive sector.

After more than a few decades in the industry, he started his own business in Toronto to help local companies expand internationally and, conversely, work with foreign firms about how to grow into the Canadian market.

Since COVID-19 arrived around the time his business began, he hasn’t moved past the starting line.

His lesson?  No matter the business idea, there can be impacts outside of your control, like a pandemic.

“Once everything is normal, then definitely it will be easier to convince people and convince the industries to look at this [venture],” he said. 

It’s a setback, but he’s not giving up. He’s keeping costs low with hopes the business can pick up next year.


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Asian shares open higher following stellar month of gains – Reuters

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Healthcare

Paulina Duran
Jessica DiNapoli

(Corrects to China’s index, not futures, in paragraph 3)

SYDNEY/NEW YORK, Dec 1 (Reuters) – Asian share markets opened slightly higher on Tuesday buoyed by the prospect of a COVID-19 vaccine, reversing the previous day’s dips as investors took profits at the end of a record-breaking month.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.26% on Tuesday after closing the month 9% higher, the best November since 2001. Japan’s Nikkei and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 were each 0.9% higher, while South Korea was up 1.4%.

China’s blue-chip CSI300 index was 0.72% higher on Tuesday, after data on Monday that pointed to a continued recovery in the world’s second-largest economy against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve seen clearly a huge wave of liquidity coming to equities in response to the vaccine news and in response to U.S. election news,” said Hamish Tadgell, a portfolio manager at SG Hiscock & Company.

“But there are still risks, and as a result we could see the market pull back, I think, particularly as we come into sort of the Christmas period.”

Wall Street was weaker on Monday, partly driven by a rebalancing of portfolios, as investors cashed in on gains after a strong month punctuated by updates of COVID-19 vaccines progressing and hopes of a swift economic rebound next year.

“There was profit taking around the world so we ended a record month with a whimper not a bang, and you know, taking a little bit of a breather,” said Interactive Brokers Chief Strategist Steve Sosnick.

“I think that markets are pricing in, if not fully pricing a recovery, they are pricing in the vast majority of it (and) it’s very hard to meet these elevated expectations.”

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe was roughly flat. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index futures were down 0.36%, while China’s CSI 300 futures were 0.36% higher.

In the United States the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.91% on Monday while the S&P 500 lost 0.46%. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite ended down 0.06%.

Moderna Inc applied for U.S. emergency authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine after full results from a late-stage study showed it was 94.1% effective with no serious safety concerns.

“U.S. markets were a little bit lower, that’s what was holding us back a little bit,” said Chris Weston, head of research at Melbourne brokerage Pepperstone. “People are pretty optimistic for a good 2021.”

The dollar was under pressure on Tuesday, after closing out its worst month since July with a little bounce and as investors reckon on even more U.S. monetary easing.

Oil prices were slightly lower on uncertainty about whether the world’s major oil producers would agree to extend deep output cuts at talks this week.

U.S. crude eased back 11 cents to $45.23 a barrel on Tuesday, while Brent crude futures were largely unchanged at $47.86.


© 2020 Reuters. All Rights Reserved.

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Housing growth, auto loans drive up demand for credit in third quarter: Equifax – Business News – Castanet.net

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Consumer demand for credit intensified in the third quarter, driven chiefly by increases in mortgage balances and new auto loans, according to data released Monday by credit reporting agency Equifax.

Mortgage balances and new auto loans were up 6.6 per cent and 11.7 per cent year over year, respectively, according to Equifax. Overall average consumer debt increased 3.3 per cent compared with the third quarter of last year.

Rebecca Oakes, assistant vice-president of advanced analytics at Equifax Canada, said in an interview that growth in mortgages last quarter was especially high, with the largest increase among people under 35. That trend comes even as economic fallout from the pandemic and associated lockdown measures hit young people especially hard.

“In terms of new mortgages, that could be refinancing, or it could be brand-new, first-time homebuyers or it could be people moving house,” Oakes said. “That was actually the highest value that we’ve seen ever.”

The increased demand for auto loans in the third quarter could have been a result of pent-up demand from people who had to wait to buy cars later in the year, Oakes said.

The figures in Equifax’s report are drawn from banks and other lenders that provide data to the credit rating agency.

Equifax pegged total consumer debt at $2.04 trillion, while Statistics Canada reported in June that household debt had reached $2.3 trillion, with $1.77 in debt for every dollar of household disposable income.

More than three million consumers have chosen to use payment deferral programs since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Equifax. Since the start of this year, some banks have offered consumers the option to suspend their loan payments for several months, in recognition of the financial strain the pandemic has created for many households.

However, under the payment deferral programs, interest continues to accrue during the months for which payments are suspended.

The percentage of balances where credit users have missed three or more payments was at its lowest level since 2014, with deferral programs likely masking the true delinquency rates, according to Oakes.

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Housing growth, auto loans drive up demand for credit in third quarter: Equifax – Business News – Castanet.net

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Consumer demand for credit intensified in the third quarter, driven chiefly by increases in mortgage balances and new auto loans, according to data released Monday by credit reporting agency Equifax.

Mortgage balances and new auto loans were up 6.6 per cent and 11.7 per cent year over year, respectively, according to Equifax. Overall average consumer debt increased 3.3 per cent compared with the third quarter of last year.

Rebecca Oakes, assistant vice-president of advanced analytics at Equifax Canada, said in an interview that growth in mortgages last quarter was especially high, with the largest increase among people under 35. That trend comes even as economic fallout from the pandemic and associated lockdown measures hit young people especially hard.

“In terms of new mortgages, that could be refinancing, or it could be brand-new, first-time homebuyers or it could be people moving house,” Oakes said. “That was actually the highest value that we’ve seen ever.”

The increased demand for auto loans in the third quarter could have been a result of pent-up demand from people who had to wait to buy cars later in the year, Oakes said.

The figures in Equifax’s report are drawn from banks and other lenders that provide data to the credit rating agency.

Equifax pegged total consumer debt at $2.04 trillion, while Statistics Canada reported in June that household debt had reached $2.3 trillion, with $1.77 in debt for every dollar of household disposable income.

More than three million consumers have chosen to use payment deferral programs since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Equifax. Since the start of this year, some banks have offered consumers the option to suspend their loan payments for several months, in recognition of the financial strain the pandemic has created for many households.

However, under the payment deferral programs, interest continues to accrue during the months for which payments are suspended.

The percentage of balances where credit users have missed three or more payments was at its lowest level since 2014, with deferral programs likely masking the true delinquency rates, according to Oakes.

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