MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (October 24, 2020)

Pleased to be joining the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel from my home studio, alongside Sherena Hussain, Dennis Mitchell, and Natasha Fatah, talking airline refund spats, small business week, and the woes of another Canadian retailer, Le Chateau.

Many Canadians have been waiting for months to receive refunds for flights they had booked and subsequently cancelled by the airline due to COVID19.  Westjet recently announced its decision to issue refunds for flights it had cancelled, drawing attention from its rival, Air Canada.  Without going into the details around how the refund process will work, it seems to me that the focus should be on the customers who have been out of pocket what could be a significant amount of money for months.  It’s true that the airline and travel industries have been met with massive declines in business; a cause for concern in terms of future viability.  Regardless, it doesn’t seem right that customers be the ones to effectively finance this problem by not receiving a refund for something that they could not ultimately realize, through no fault of their own.

Small Business Week is generally a good time to reflect on the importance of the backbone of the Canadian economy; doing so has taken a different slant in 2020.  Small businesses have had to work extra hard to combat the impact of COVID19, be it in terms of financial challenges, keeping staff and customers safe, and finding new ways to deliver products and services.  Times of challenge can bring opportunity, such as better utilization of technology, an improved online presence, and the potential to access new markets.  Critical to this is the role of qualified advisors, who bring valuable perspective and an objective viewpoint, to help business leaders avoid pitfalls that they might not recognize until it’s too late.  Remember that business leaders have a depth of knowledge, as experts of their own companies, while advisors bring a breadth of knowledge, the experience of many situations; these perspectives are related, but they are not the same.

And finally, this week saw the demise of another Canadian retailer; this time, Le Chateau.  Seeking creditor protection and advisory assistance, we will have to stay tuned to see if this brand will find a way to continue into the future in some manner.  Regardless, I remember the years when Le Chateau was a “go to” stop on any trip to the mall, with lots of interest in the party and event section; another reminder of how much COVID19 has changed our lives.  The reality is, we don’t go very far these days, do we?  This makes life a challenge for retailers, airlines, travel, and hospitality companies; at least we have technology to stay connected.

Thanks for watching and for reaching out with your comments on these stories; it is a privilege to bring the business news to you.  See you again soon.

 

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (October, 2020)

A hectic news cycle is a great time to join the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel from my home studio, alongside Elmer Kim and Asha Tomlinson.

Here’s an overview of the topics we discussed:

Businesses face increasingly strict COVID-19 measures.  As cases rise, various regions across Canada are facing tighter restrictions; can companies survive?

Federal aid and the Canada Infrastructure Bank.  As we move into the Fall with COVID-19, businesses are going to need help to get through these challenging days; how could the latest round of support help?

Market turmoil, as Trump is hospitalized.  With the recent announcement of Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, what could the future hold for the stock market?  Is there an impact for Canada?

As the weather becomes cooler and Canadians move inside, we’ve started to see increases in COVID-19 cases, with some areas being hit worse than others.  There is no doubt that an already weary business sector is concerned about the latest round of government restrictions, targeted to decrease the virus’ spread, but as the global pandemic marches on, there isn’t much choice in the matter.  In addition to keeping an eye on cashflow, business leaders can benefit from connecting with peers and business associations and remembering that advisors can help to bring perspective and creative solutions in challenging times.  Also, don’t assume that government fully understands your circumstances; it’s important to speak up if you think your company, business category, or industry is being overlooked.

Infrastructure has taken on a new meaning these days, including much more than roads and bridges.  The Canada Infrastructure Bank attracts and co-invests with private sector and institutional investors in new, revenue generating projects that are in the public interest.  Areas of focus include green infrastructure, clean power, public transit, trade and transportation, and enhanced broadband infrastructure.  Quality internet service is much more than just a “nice to have” perk; this has been clearly demonstrated during times of COVID-19, as many neighborhoods in Canada do not have sufficient service, especially in rural areas.  Another initiative of current interest is in the area of agriculture irrigation projects to strengthen food security; something that is helpful in terms of reducing reliance on other countries.  The Bank represents an opportunity to create a significant number of jobs, an important consideration, given that a number of Canadian companies undoubtedly will not survive the impact of COVID-19.

Finally, with just 30 days to the US election, President Donald Trump is currently in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center with COVID-19.  There are a lot of questions as to how and when he contracted the virus, his current state of health, and what the outcome might be.  Markets do not like uncertainty and this situation is something that we can expect to continue for a while.

There is a lesson in this crisis for business leaders: do not find yourself in a situation that is similar to that of this White House.  Currently, there are numerous senior officials, in both the White House and the US government, that have contracted the virus or are at serious risk of doing so.  This type of situation is terrible for the continuity of leadership.  In a business context, it is important to ensure that a company can continue to operate over the long term; think about what this means, in terms of knowledge, ability, and safety (hint: a global pandemic is not the time to have a senior team meet together in an enclosed space or for unnecessary in-person interactions).  Think carefully about your actions in the days ahead; your company, employees, and customers are counting on your good judgement.

It won’t be too long until we will have better insight as to how the US election will unfold, although it might take a while to get all of the details.  In the meantime, thanks for watching and see you again soon, CBC!

 

 

MEDIA: When the Stores Come to You (Winnipeg Free Press)

There’s no doubt that COVID19 has impacted the way that we live, be it what we do (less), where we go (not far), and perhaps, most apparent, how we do things (differently).  Although there’s been a shift in how consumers procure goods and services that has been evolving for some time, the days of COVID19 have left many looking for solutions, some of which are not entirely new.

Consider shopping.  The rise of companies like Amazon and improved online shopping and delivery services from a range of retailers have changed how consumers interact with the retail experience.  We’ve come a long way from the nostalgic home delivery services of mid-last century, evolving through a time where mobility was all the rage (think malls, super malls, and the ultimate retail lifestyle experience) to arrive at a period when convenience is perhaps the most important consumer driver, closely followed by selection.  Online and mobile technologies have made a lot of this possible, but improvements in the area of logistics might be an even more important piece, something that is still very much in progress.

Fast forward to a range of upstart companies seeking their space in this lucrative market; fueled by the gig economy of those who have capacity to sell, as we’ve seen in areas such as ride sharing and short term home rentals.  I discussed one of these shopping/errand companies in a recent interview, where consumers can receive groceries and other items from various stores in their area, delivered in one convenient order

Although these services might bring important convenience in times of COVID19, will they last?  The impact of demographics might allow at least some of these companies to survive into the future, with evident trends including aging Baby Boomers, older seniors living in their homes for longer, and some geographic areas where the availability of younger family members to help is limited.

Market opportunity, however, is only one side of the equation; consider the following keys to success:

  • Capacity.  Delivery companies are only in business if they can attract and retain a sufficient number of drivers/contractors to provide services.  In a competitive world with a limited pool of potential “gig” contractors, which companies will be in the best position to attract them?  As a side note, beware of the potential for these workers to be deemed as employees for income tax and other purposes, which could represent a costly impact and need for business model revision.
  • Know the market/area where success is possible.  As this type of service offering is local, the geographic area must be sufficient to draw contractors, customers, and be competitive.  Those who do the math will realize that this isn’t so easy, especially on a sustainable basis.
  • Implementation.  Some might say that the devil is in the details; those who have been business operators know that the devil is in implementation.  Young companies can plan their service offering, but success is only realized by way of strong implementation on a sustainable basis, and with this type of logistical, “transaction heavy” business that utilizes a casual workforce, lots can go wrong.
  • Keeping up with the future.  Recognize that these companies will have to evolve in order to be sustainable, in areas such as enhanced logistics (think autonomous vehicles) and providing a competitive offering, where customers see value over the service cost.  This includes understanding costs, down to the last detail, as well managed and better capitalized companies will be in a stronger position to compete over the long term.

There’s no doubt that we will continue to see changes in how we live, including over what is expected to be another challenging season of COVID19 into the Fall and Winter.  Companies considering their next steps would benefit from the advice of those who have experience in building and managing businesses; it’s an advantage to have strength in your corner.

 

 

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (September, 2020)

The Labour Day Long Weekend is a great time to be in my home studio for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Elmer Kim and Jennifer Hall, talking consumer debt levels, Walmart taking on Amazon, and flying cars (yes, you read that right!).

Here are some quick thoughts on our discussion.

As Canadians combat the challenges of a global pandemic, we’ve seen consumer debt levels increase, mostly due to mortgages: payment deferrals, refinancings, and rising house prices can all play into this.  Of note, there’s been a fair amount of renovation activity taking place over the “pandemic months”, which could contribute to higher housing prices, and perhaps, some enthusiasm to say yes to a new home.  Conversely, decreased mobility means less spending in areas such as travel, dining, and retail, offset by what was evidently a fair amount of online shopping.  Let’s see what the trends show over the Fall months.

Walmart is a familiar retailer in many communities, with millions of people living within a short drive of their local store.  The launch of Walmart Plus (occurring on September 15th in the US) could represent interesting competition for Amazon Prime.  Although slightly more expensive and with a free shipping threshold of over $35 dollars, Walmart Plus will include some perks of its own, such as in-store item scanning via the Walmart app and gas discounts.  This program should be part of a larger strategic plan to attract customers, with the potential Tik Tok acquisition providing a connection point to an important demographic.  On a personal note, the Walmart store in my area has provided a good quality shopping experience during times of COVID19 and the mask mandate has made safety considerations less of an issue.  We will have to stay tuned to see when this program will launch in Canada.

And finally, the successful launch of a flying car could bring some interesting applications to transportation and logistics (I have wanted a flying car, Jetsons’ style, since elementary school!).  Commercialization details will be important, including reliability, price, training, and applications, but in the meantime, let’s enjoy the fun of this story, as it’s been a while since we’ve been able to consider technology for the sheer accomplishment of what is possible (doing so almost seems like a return to normal).

Thanks for sharing your Long Weekend with us, and see you again soon!

MEDIA: As the Canadian Emergency Business Account is Extended, What About the Rent?

Pleased to chat with the Canadian Press about today’s news of some of Canada’s COVID-19 business benefits programs being extended.  Although the Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan program has been extended until October 31, 2020, the lack of movement on the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program may have many small businesses wondering how they will meet their obligations of September 1st and beyond.

It shouldn’t be surprising that expenses pertaining to a company’s premises are among the most significant, with, perhaps, only payroll representing a larger monthly obligation.  COVID-19 has been a difficult period for companies of all sizes, and when CECRA was announced, the initial response was one of relief.  Part of the challenge with this program is that landlords must apply to participate, leaving tenants in difficult circumstances if this did not occur.  As at the end of July, 2020, just over $600 million in rent support had been provided, which is regarded as being well below the estimated program budget, expected to be in the billions of dollars.  It is a reasonable expectation that many in the small business community are working overtime, in terms of considering their future and just what steps should be taken.

As Summer, 2020 comes to a close, Canada is facing a lot of unknowns, as it relates to COVID-19.  With schools re-opening and the weather cooling, resulting in a movement indoors, a second, or even third wave of COVID-19 could occur.  Many communities across Canada have recently experienced an increase in COVID-19 rates, even after periods of relative calm.  How will small businesses chart this challenging territory in the months ahead?

We have already seen companies closing, unable to reach viability, or perhaps, simply not being up for operating in the new world of COVID-19.  As leases end, companies may choose not to renew, and large businesses will undoubtedly be reconsidering their future office needs, as a remote workforce may become the new reality in many cases.  Remember also that traffic at businesses such as retailers, restaurants, fitness centres, and personal services (spas, hairstylists, massage therapy, etc.) correlates with the level of consumer confidence: if people do not feel safe, they will stay home.  As we approach what could be the brink of a significant increase in commercial vacancies, will governments and the business community be left to wonder if enough was done in this regard, to help companies remain viable during the unprecedented days of 2020?  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, remember that advisors can help, not only through challenging times, but also to develop important strategies for your company’s future.

MEDIA: Celebrating 3 Years on CBC News Network!

Pleased to be celebrating three years of regular appearances on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel!  Our panel reviews the week in business every Saturday morning after the 10 AM news (Eastern Time), discussing a diverse array of topics.  Here’s just a sample of topics where I’ve provided commentary on air over the past three years:

What I love about this format is the significant range of topics that impact every aspect of our lives and world, as we follow the news cycle.  My favourite stories?  Those that can be tied to a broad range of factors: politics, global trends, how we live, and the future.  This brings valuable context, and yes, it’s critical to be able to view through a strategic lens in order to see the connection points.

2020 has brought its own unique twist, as COVID-19 has resulted in those in the media reporting from their home studios, a new way to connect on air.  CBC News Network has also been streaming globally, bringing our work to a new and broader range of viewers.

Sincere thanks to everyone at CBC News Network and our audience for watching.  It is my privilege to bring business news to you in a time that is still very much unfolding and one that I expect we will not soon forget.  Stay well, everyone!

 

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (July, 2020)

Back in the home studio for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, talking NAFTA 2.0, the Atlantic travel bubble, and Facebook advertisers, all hitting the streets in their own way.

Here’s a few thoughts on our discussion.

In a long overdue move, a number of large corporations are boycotting advertising on Facebook for the month of July, in protest of a lack of action against inaccurate, racist, and hateful content; Canada’s banks have joined this initiative.  Facebook appears to be defending its position, however, many are of the view that the Company hasn’t done enough to address longstanding content problems.  Dismissing concerns raised by citizens, corporations, and other groups may well land Facebook in a greater regulatory environment, and it’s fair to say that reasonable people can tell the difference between free speech and hate.  As the US election nears and the temperature continues to rise on a number of diversity issues, there is an opportunity to ask ourselves: what kind of world do we want to live in?  Let’s hope that this boycott is the beginning of a move towards much needed change.

In the category of “what a difference a year makes”, NAFTA 2.0 (or 2.1, depending how you look at it) quietly came into force on July 1st, reminding us that this was a high profile topic in 2019.  While companies continue to focus on COVID-19, industries that will be significantly impacted by new NAFTA provisions should have been actively planning for months, if not longer.  With just four months to the US election, it will be interesting to see what actions Donald Trump might take in an attempt to strengthen his position, given that his voters tend to respond well to a tone of putting other countries in their place.  Might we see tariffs or similar actions on the horizon?

And finally, the launch of the Atlantic travel bubble was met with long lineups and who can blame them?  In what is one of Canada’s most beautiful regions, this approach provides an opportunity for some much needed relief for local travel and tourism industries.  I am fortunate to spend time in Nova Scotia on a regular basis and can attest to the many things to see and do in Atlantic Canada; I hope that I will be able to travel to the Coast again soon!  In the meantime, I hope that local residents have a chance to visit friends and relatives or a place that they’ve been wanting to see or revisit for years.  These are the days to do just that; let’s make them good!

IMG_4002

 

IMG_3382

Thanks for watching and see you again soon, CBC!

MEDIA: So Many Questions, As the COVID-19 Commercial Rent Program is Extended

Pleased to chat with the Ottawa Bureau of The Canadian Press about the extension of the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program.  Next to payroll, the most significant item for a company to fund is often its premises, be it by way of rent or a mortgage.  Whatever the structure, both of these represent cash outlays for a business.

COVID-19 has resulted in significant revenue declines for many, if not most companies; some have lost a relatively moderate percentage of income (say, 25%), while others have faced declines of 50% to 100%, in some cases.  Although wage subsidy programs have helped to retain staff, fixed expenses (including rent) represent a steep funding challenge for many small businesses.

CECRA’s structure requires landlords to apply, leaving many tenants in a tenuous and uncertain situation.  In the event that their landlord does not apply, for whatever reason, tenants may be left with some very difficult decisions to make about the future feasibility of their company.

An important question to consider is this: Who benefits when businesses are forced to close, simply because they are unable to cover all of their expenses due to the impact of a global pandemic?  Recognize that these unusual days will not last forever, and in the context of a company’s existence, may represent a short period of time.

When businesses fail, jobs and economic wealth are lost and their leased premises are left empty; this leaves landlords with rental spaces to fill, at the worst of times.  Financial partners who hold a mortgage on these properties might find their borrowers in a weakened financial position or in default, at which point, another important question comes to mind: Now what?

This is why the structure of these programs, in practical terms, is so important.  With what seems to be relatively low uptake of the CECRA program thus far, did the Federal government get it right?  Are landlords thinking carefully about the implications of not applying to the Program?  And where will the future of Canada’s small business community, the backbone of our economy, be left in all of this?

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (June, 2020)

How fortunate am I to enjoy another Saturday morning, live, on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel; this time, alongside Elmer Kim, Dennis Mitchell, and John Northcott.

On a busy news week, as we approach the mid-point of 2020, here’s some of what we discussed:

  • Travel bubbles and opening up the economy As Atlantic Canada launches its new travel bubble and provinces take their next steps to open up their economies, what can we expect to see and experience?  Will tourism and hospitality finally catch a much needed break (as in, some good news)?
  • Airlines bring back the middle seat.  It’s no secret that airlines have been highly impacted by COVID19, with travel down almost 100% in some cases.  As Canada’s airlines seek to increase capacity, will travelers be on board?
  • A new fund promoting diversity.  A group of Black executives is launching a new fund to invest in Black-led companies.  As we take a first look, how can this approach impact diversity going forward?

Canadians are certainly feeling restless, with much of our communities and local economies having been locked down for months.  As COVID19 rates stabilize, an opportunity exists to re-open parts of Canada; a new example being the travel bubble in Atlantic Canada (count me in!).  As tourism and hospitality have suffered immensely, locales with well managed COVID19 rates represent an opportunity to bring much needed traffic to these industries, in a manner in which travelers feel comfortable; this is key.  I will be watching this coastal bubble very closely, with fingers crossed for good news and results, in terms of both business recovery and COVID19 rates that stay under control.

Speaking of travel, Westjet and Air Canada recently announced that they will be ending the middle seat moratorium in order to increase capacity on flights (I’m sure that a lot of travelers were hoping that these seats would be permanently removed, but that’s another discussion).  Part of the rationale relates to travelers being subject to temperature checks and masks, as well as the enhanced aircraft cleaning and reduced food service on board.  Everything I have seen or read in recent months indicates that air travel levels are down by as much as 98%, year over year, with current activity remaining slow.  I can’t help but wonder why this move is desirable for all flights, as an absence of consumer confidence will not fill airplanes.  Couple this with the nostalgia of Summer road trips, RV’s, and drive ins, suggesting that Canadians have an interest in trying something new (old, actually) over the next couple of months; it’s back to the future, for some of us!

Diversity has made news on a global level in recent months, particularly in terms of the stories coming out of the United States involving racism against members of the Black community.  The launch of the Black Opportunity Fund, investing in Black-led companies, is an important development for Canada and has the potential to help grow a sector of the economy that has been relatively overlooked.  Diversity is an issue of importance across many groups, and we all have a role to play in combating systemic bias; are you doing your part?

It’s a privilege to bring the week in business news to our audience across Canada and streaming globally.  Thanks for watching and see you again, soon, CBC!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (May, 2020)

Pleased to join John Northcott and Elmer Kim for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, talking business in times of COVID19.

 

Our world has been living with COVID19 for much of 2020; here in Canada, the impact has been felt for months, as our communities and businesses have been essentially closed.  Here are some impacts:

  • Ongoing retail woes, with store closures, layoffs, and bankruptcy or creditor protection filings from various companies, including Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works, Reitmans, J Crew, Hertz, and Neiman Marcus.  Although some retailers have been in a weak market position prior to COVID19, the closures in this sector only reinforce how difficult it is to remain connected with customers and the extent to which online shopping and service (or lack thereof) can impact a company’s market presence.  The significant decline in sales foreshadows what we can expect to see in the coming months, as the most recent numbers pertain to March (a decline of about 10%), which only reflects a portion of the true impact.
  • Support for big business, with the announcement of the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF), companies in need can apply to this “lender of last resort” program.  Although interest rates are relatively low, companies will have to comply with additional provisions, such as issuing warrants to purchase shares, adhering to executive pay caps, and providing the Government with observer status on the board of directors.  Although some might complain, in context, these provisions are not that unusual, given the level of risk.  It will be interesting to see the extent to which large companies (who are also large employers) access this program.
  • Re-opening with green in mind, as in excess of 150 companies have signed a statement supporting the future of business being in alignment with climate action.  Given the positive environmental impact that has been observed in recent months, as much of our world has been shut down for a period of time, it’s easy to understand the desire to capitalize on this situation.  Not sure there’s been much of a difference?  Have a look.  What new ideas and business practices might emerge from this movement and how sustainable will they be?

In the weeks ahead, I will be watching the level of progress that is made as communities re-open.  What will happen to COVID19 rates?  Will communities be able to move forward with the next stages of reopening or will they be forced to backtrack?  What changes will companies make to their business models?  How will consumer confidence levels be impacted?  How many companies will find that they do not have a way forward?

Thank you for watching and a special thanks to everyone who has been in touch to share their thoughts about the challenges that the business world is facing, their ideas and experiences, and support of our work.  It matters a great deal that you are thinking about your community and asking: what is working well, where are there challenges, and where do we need to know more in order to make good decisions.  In these days like no other, we can collaborate, we can care about companies in our community, as well as our families and friends, and, yes, we can be kind.