Montreal-based entrepreneurs Marlee Rabin and retailer Laura Laoun have launched a unique initiative to help small and medium-sized businesses that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. They are encouraging others in Canada to participate by creating similar initiatives in an effort to foster community and help businesses stay afloat as consumers isolate after new announcements by the Prime Minister of Canada during a press conference on Monday.
Over the weekend, Ms. Rabin launched the SUPPORT MTL Online Silent Auction which is intended to provide a financial injection to businesses suffering amid reduced consumer spending in the city. Laura Laoun, Director of Communications at Georges Laoun Opticien, jumped at the chance to help organize the initiative. The SUPPORT MTL Online Silent Auction web platform encourages visitors to buy gift cards from participating businesses to provide cash flow as shoppers remain indoors. “As Montrealers responsibly trade their social calendars in favour of self-quarantine and social distancing, purchasing behaviours have naturally shifted. Local small and medium size businesses are hit hard and working harder to find creative ways to face new challenges,” says the website.
Retailers, restaurants, cafes and service providers are welcome to join the platform which Ms. Rabin launched on AirAuctioneer on Monday. “The goal was to create a sense of community while helping one another,” said Ms. Rabin. “This is a concept that can be rolled-out by anyone across the country, and I encourage people to do so. This will be a very challenging time for businesses across the country and we want them to survive.”
Ms. Rabin explained that without cash flow, businesses that have already been struggling following the December holiday season could collapse at a time when retail was already struggling in many sectors.
Current SUPPORT MTL Online Silent Auction items:
The SUPPORT MTL Online Silent Auction encourages people to bid for their favourite Montreal-based products and services. Visitors to the website can also make a donation. “The total donation amount will be distributed equally among all local businesses who have registered to this website.”
Ms. Rabin explained that she hopes that as many businesses in Montreal will sign up on the new platform and that she is spreading the message far and wide for consumers to log in and make a purchase. Ms. Rabin is the founder of Ocurent, a unique dress rental business that has also seen a temporary slowdown amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
After the December holiday season, January and February are typically quieter months at Ocurent. The spring social season, which included various galas and other scheduled events, was expected to see an uptick in orders. “At the moment, all of our dress reservations have been placed on hold indefinitely, as events are all postponed or cancelled,” Ms. Rabin said. “I decided to utilize my time productively and create a platform to help struggling businesses through this unexpected and difficult time”.
Bringing a message of positivity to a challenging situation is one of the goals of SUPPORT MTL Online Silent Auction. “We need to come together as a community and support hardworking business owners”.
The AirAuctioneer site is live and available for Montreal business owners to register and create gift certificates that can be bought by the masses.
Already, retailers across the country have announced that stores will be closing in an effort to halt the spread of the virus. Shopping centre landlords have also reduced hours and allowed retailers to operate on limited hours as shoppers stay indoors. Restaurants across the country are also seeing declining traffic at a time when margins are already thin.
On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in a press conference that borders would be shut down to non-citizens/permanent residents temporarily, while keeping the US border open for now (likely for political reasons). International flights coming into Canada will be routed through major airports in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary. This will result in a halt in tourism that will have an impact on retailers that choose to remain open. At the same time, global shipments will continue in an effort to keep supplies coming into the country.
One impact of the economic shutdown is an increase in online shopping. Retail analyst and founder of Vancouver-based DIG360, David Ian Gray, said that online habits formed during this time could result in an increase in online shopping once the pandemic is over. That could include a significant boost in online grocery orders as many shoppers may try it for the first time. The online shift could have a longer-term impact on physical retail once things return to normal in this country, he said.