Independent Retailers in Canada Struggle for Survival

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The challenge for smaller independent retailers and businesses these days is clear.

Rising costs including rent and property taxes, wages, and operations, are making it extremely difficult for many of them to simply survive. Combine that with the big players of the world who are making it tough to compete on price point and of course the proliferation of ecommerce, and you have a scenario where being an independent retailer in today’s world is most likely a tough go.

So how do you survive in that environment?

July was Independent Retailer Month where consumers were encouraged to shop locally and it also cast a light on how independent retailers can not only survive in these tough times but also thrive.

The key is for them to provide unique experiences for customers, great customer service and develop personal relationships with those people who are coming into their places of business and spending money.

Robert Phelps is President of Silver Chef Canada, a leading dedicated hospitality financier that has supported 30,000 hospitality businesses globally, including more than 3,000 in Canada, to either create their business or expand their business.

“Our ultimate purpose is to help people achieve their business dreams,” said Phelps.

“The hospitality sector as a whole is an art and a passion. It’s a dynamic and vibrant industry. The operators with their business are able to display that passion which creates that element of differentiation and that’s why a lot of operators actually set out to start a business in the industry. That differentiation point is what consumers, as we continue to see, are looking for from a point of difference in the experience and whether that creates an extended stay, whether that’s an opportunity to connect for a longer period, or that drive for additional choice. Consumers are looking for a point of difference.”

Silver Chef has supported the hospitality sector for more than three decades – 32 years in Australia, 15 years in New Zealand and five years in Canada.

Creating unique customer experiences and developing closer customer relationships becomes a key differentiator for independent businesses as they strive to compete in an increasingly competitive world. It’s also a key in getting return business – repeat customers.

“It’s essential,” said Phelps.

Anna McMillan, founder and general manager of The Garden in the Strathcona neighbourhood in Vancouver, has followed that formula in setting up her new venture.

“We opened 10 months ago. We’re a new business. We’re a cafe as well as a retail shop and an event space. The retail section we focus on sort of home and personal products and our key focus is sourcing products from companies that are ethically produced. So we have a big emphasis on local products as well as environmentally and socially responsible companies and products,” she said.

THE GARDEN STRATHCONA IN VANCOUVER, BC PHOTO: BRIAN M VIA GOOGLE MAPS

The Garden has received some financing from Silver Chef for its operations.

“From my perspective and one of the reasons I started The Garden and why it’s sort of a unique offering in the services and products that we provide is to really be a differentiator from those traditional spaces,” said McMillan. “Personally, I’m really passionate about bringing people together in real life to focus on core values and things that people genuinely care about. So that’s why we focus on the sustainable and ethical products and to have some conversation around that.

“Originally my idea was to open a retail store but I knew that it needed to be something a little bit different because traditional brick and mortar retail is struggling as we all know. So including food with that and a really beautiful space that people would want to come together and spend time in was something that is more unique especially in Canada and in Vancouver. And our approach to food is really similar to that of our products. A lot of chain type of restaurants are just not in that space. It’s not a priority in that sense. They’re more of a traditional and typical offering. We’re trying to send out in the type of products that we carry, and the way we present those products to our consumers, and the environment and the experience we’re creating around that, a new experience.”

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