MEDIA: 2020 Delivers Canada Post a New Business Model (CBC News)

COVID19 has brought interesting times to many companies and organizations, including Canada Post.  It was not that long ago when people might have viewed this longstanding organization as having a waning future, as society became increasingly mobile and digital in nature; then, 2020 came along.

With Canadians confined to their homes on an ongoing basis, the need to procure goods was, and continues to be, of heightened interest, while efficient movement of money and information has also been in need.  This situation has presented both opportunities and challenges for Canada Post, a topic I recently discussed with CBC News.  This story is of significant interest, as the Holiday Season approaches, appearing in print and also on CBC Cross Canada Syndicated Audio (great to chat with radio in major markets, from coast to coast to coast!).

There is much that can be said about business model evolution.  One of the interesting things about this particular example is the notion of “everything old being new again”.  Some viewers will remember the old days of home delivery, be it milk, department store trucks, or other household items being sold door-to-door (yes, people actually earned a living this way).  We waited by the mailbox for important letters, cards, and parcels; perhaps, if we were lucky, there was a cheque in the mail.  Having a family member that worked at the downtown Eaton’s store meant that the delivery man was at the door, often.  Why was this business model so popular at the time?

As recently as the 1970’s, many Canadians had limited mobility; think about the relative norms of women taking time off from the workforce to raise children and families having one vehicle, at most.  This created a need for products and essential goods to be brought to the doorstep.  Studies have shown that women have significant purchasing power, in terms of shopping decisions made by households, further supporting this business model of the past.

Increased mobility brought progress, where the 1980’s, 1990’s, and 2000’s meant that a lot of time was spent out and about.  This new freedom included Canadians spending a significant amount of time in shopping malls and restaurants, as well as at events and attractions.  As 2010 and beyond arrived, it is interesting to see how much this trend has changed.

In short: technology has provided a different type of mobility, one that we can hold in our hand.  Be it by way of a smartphone or tablet, Canadians can order just about any type of item for delivery, as well as transmit information and money.  Many businesses have capitalized on this trend, including major courier companies and financial institutions, as well as relative newcomers, such as Amazon and food delivery upstarts; this has also changed how businesses, in general, operate.  The masses of envelopes that once included letters and payments can now be sent electronically, representing a decrease in traditional mail, while parcel traffic has increased (at the time of this writing, thousands of parcels are stuck across Canada, as a result of volume increases and COVID19 protocols, including one of mine).

What this means for Canada Post’s business model is actually not that different from the case of any business: know where the company can successfully compete and have the pieces in place to do it well.  So, while traditional letter mail will continue to decline, there is an ongoing need to get goods to Canadians.  Integral to doing so on a competitive basis are the logistics infrastructure and capability, within acceptable cost parameters.  This includes continuing to invest in technology, for both Canada Post staff members and customers.

This brings the story full circle, where getting goods to Canadians (rather than going out to get them) is the priority.  The reason, this time, is not due to a lack of mobility, but rather, it is a function of how mobility has changed (it is now digital, not physical), as well as the time constraints that have become a way of life for many.  Think about this the next time a purchase is being contemplated, and ask: what is driving this decision?

Thank you for including me in your stories, CBC, and best of the Holiday Season, everyone!

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

It’s a great day to be on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, especially when you get to talk about the business of Space!


Alongside Mark Warner and John Northcott, here’s an overview of what we discussed:

As the end of the Fall nears and Winter is upon us, it’s no secret that Canada still has difficult days ahead, in terms of COVID19.  With the announcement of a number vaccines and as planning for distribution unfolds, many Canadian businesses are still struggling, especially those that are classified as small.  The CEBA program thus far has allowed businesses to obtain a $40,000 loan (of which $10,000 is eligible to be forgiven) and the announcement this week provides an additional $20,000 that can be obtained, 50% of which is eligible to be forgiven.  These loans can be used to fund certain business expenses, and to date, almost 800,000 businesses have been approved for a total loan value of $32 billion.  These loans can be the difference between companies surviving and not and are important for Canada’s economy; just think about all of the jobs that are associated with 800,000 companies.

Speaking of funding, Canada is experiencing a savings boom, with $170 billion in excess funds on deposit.  What is important to remember here is that the profile of Canadians underlying this statistic is varied, as are the reasons for the money.  High income Canadians who haven’t travelled or made major purchases represent one group; another is the urban employee who hasn’t incurred the expenses associated with commuting to work; as is the front line, essential worker who hasn’t had time to shop.  There are also small businesses that have accessed loan programs, such as CEBA, on a “just in case basis”, which adds to their bank account balance.

There is a forgotten group, however, that likely does not have a large bank account, due to reduced hours or somewhat lower revenue levels, with limited options for support, or perhaps, who are simply doing what they can to earn a living.  The point: the profiles of individuals and families underlying this statistic are not the same, and help is still needed.  COVID19 has been a very difficult period for many, something that is evident in what can be described as a “quietness” among people; on email and social interactions, for example.  It is evident that people have had a lot going on in their lives, on a work, personal, and family level; it is important to keep this in mind.

On another topic, those in the business world who have worked at senior levels understand first-hand how difficult it can be for women and minorities to reach the executive and governance office.  The NASDAQ has taken steps to mandate at least some diversity on the Boards of listed companies, to address a wrong that should have been corrected long ago.  Bottom line, most of these companies, and many others, have had decades to satisfactorily address this area and have not, despite the fact that, gender diversity, for example, has been proven to yield better performance.  This is a story that I will be watching closely, along with similar recommendations for TSX companies.

And finally, what’s more fun than Space?  As China lands a lunar probe on the Moon, it is a reminder that humans are explorers at heart.  As technological advancements in areas such as the Spacex program, research, communications, and life in Space continue, it is exciting to see significant investment being made to generate even more of an impact.  An interesting project is Starlink, poised to bring highspeed internet service to remote locations, including in Canada.  Conversely, large telecommunications companies, for the most part, have been less than ideal in addressing what has become essential infrastructure.

At any rate, it would be a lot of fun to do some work with companies that are in the business of space (feel free to be in touch with opportunities!).  In the meantime, there’s always memories of cars in space.

Thanks for watching, everyone!

 

MEDIA: Are COVID19 Rent Subsidy Caps Unfair? (Global National News)

Pleased to chat with Global National News about the latest coronavirus rent assistance program, the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS), and challenges around the caps, in terms of the maximum amount that a business can receive.  In particular, there has been criticism of the $300,000 cap for businesses and other eligible organizations with more than one location.

This is a difficult issue, as it might seem to some as being unfair for larger companies; perhaps, analogous to “penalizing success”.  The reality is that COVID19 has been difficult for everyone, including smaller businesses with limited resources.  There are at least three sides to this challenging issue.

Larger businesses with multiple locations certainly feel the stress of steering a larger ship, with many employees and financial obligations, such as rent.  With more jobs at stake, it is understandable that not being able to make ends meet could have an adverse employment impact on a greater number of people.  The other side of this situation is that larger companies tend to have access to a wider range of financial resources, including established cash reserves, existing financial partners, and, perhaps, potential investors.  There are also other programs available, including those that support wages.

Smaller, standalone businesses that collectively represent the backbone of the Canadian economy can find themselves with fewer resources in financially challenging times, and attracting support from financial institutions is not easy (many, if not most, small business owners know just how difficult this is).  This category of businesses also knows what it is like to be overlooked, as the early days of COVID19 support programs left out various types of small operators (much of which has since been rectified).

The third side of this situation is the taxpayer (in this case, represented by government).  COVID19 has been extremely challenging for so many, be it on an individual, family, employee, business, or wellness level.  It is not feasible to simply open public funding in an unlimited manner; rather, balance is required.  With the objective of keeping as many businesses as possible on some form of “life support” as the pandemic unfolds and begins to move into a more hopeful phase in early to mid-2021 (fingers crossed), balance is important, in order to get to the other side.

The other thing that many companies with multiple locations will be considering is just how many are needed going forward.  COVID19 has changed a lot of behaviors, routines, and workplaces.  Although the situation will not be the same for everyone or every community, locations that built their business based on office traffic or proximity to large workspaces might have to rethink the way forward.  This is an area that requires thoughtful analysis, to make tough decisions and understand the impact on the road ahead.

Thank you for including me in your TV and print stories, Global National News!

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

What a historic day to join the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, within a mere hour of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris being projected to win the Presidency and Vice Presidency of the United States.  As someone who has closely followed US politics for decades, it’s a pleasure to have this opportunity.

Our discussion, including Elmer Kim, Mark Warner, and John Northcott, focused on what had become Election Week in the US, with a handful of remaining states continuing to count the final ballots to determine who would win the Presidency.  With all eyes on Pennsylvania, it proved to be the defining factor, at 11:24 AM ET, on November 7, 2020.

What could a Biden Administration mean to Canadian companies?  With the US as our largest trading partner by far, Canada has faced uncertainty over the last four years, from an administration that imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum imports, bluster around the negotiation of NAFTA 2.0 (both have been Business Panel topics), as well as limited attention overall, focusing instead on countries outside of traditional US allies.  The US response to COVID19 has been devastating, with the highest number of cases and deaths globally, resulting in significant job losses, companies closing, and many households in peril.  What could the future look like?

Once the proverbial dust settles in areas such as election related legal disputes and the transition of power (which might not be particularly easy, depending on whether the current administration decides to continue to fight or, instead, brush off the White House as not being particularly important and move on to something else), it’s a reasonable expectation that a Biden Administration would quickly move to combat and manage the coronavirus in a manner that has not been seen in the US thus far, as well as reconnect with traditional allies who have been of limited focus over the last four years.  Joe Biden is well suited to this type of conversation, recalling childhood advice to “keep the faith”, but to also spread it around.

Canada and its business community should expect to see a better level of stability with its neighbour and a more collaborative, productive relationship.  It’s difficult to predict the impact on the longstanding Keystone XL pipeline, however, politicians have a way of keeping their options open, especially when times are tough.  Infrastructure and similar projects have the potential to create a significant number of jobs, which is especially relevant, given the massive number of job losses in 2020 due to COVID19.  Also, expect an increased focus on “kitchen table” issues, including employment and wages, as we know that these are areas that are very close to Joe Biden’s heart, as the stories of job losses in his own family have been told many times.

It has been said that changes in leadership have the potential to bring a level of uncertainty that is counterproductive and risky.  In this case, the circumstances may be different, as what has been a tumultuous last four years fades into the past; but, we are not quite there yet.  The US remains as a country that is highly divided, bringing to mind an important reality that experienced business leaders know: deals often get done “in the middle”, when parties are able to arrive at solutions that allow both sides to win.  In the absence of the necessary skills and experience to arrive at this point, little is achieved, with potential and lost opportunity being left on the table.  Think about the practical implications of what is lost in this type of situation, including in terms of new paths forward and dollars and cents.  In the meantime, all eyes will be on what will unfold up until Inauguration Day in January.

Finally, in advance of Remembrance Day on November 11th, we honour the service and sacrifice of those who have given so much, allowing us to be True North, Strong and Free, every single day.  We will remember them.

 

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!