Canadian Retailers Say Government Support Needed or Industry Will Collapse

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A group of prominent Canadian retailers are not satisfied with the measures brought in by the federal government to stop the bleeding in the industry as a result of the devastating impact of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

The retailers say more needs to be done to help the multitude of staff that has either already been laid off or will be laid off in the near future.

And retailers who are in a crisis situation right now with limited cash flow are also hoping the federal government comes to their aid so they don’t have to close their doors permanently.

Sophie Boulanger, CEO of eyewear retailer BonLook with 34 stores across Canada in 11 cities, recently closed its locations as a result of the coronavirus outbreak meaning that all of its retail store employees, 330 of its overall 430 employees, have been temporarily laid off.

PHOTO: BONLOOK

When they will be able to return to work remains a big question mark.

“When we announced the store closures last Monday, our official communication was that we were closed for two weeks and that we would re-assess. Seeing how things are progressing we don’t know what will happen after that two-week period. It will take us to March 30. Seeing how things are progressing, it’s hard to say if we will be able to re-open at that date. Unfortunately, I’m as much in the dark as everybody else.”

Boulanger said some of the measures announced last week by the federal government will help in some way those people who are now unemployed.

She said she’s been hearing chatter that some extra measures will be announced in the coming days more specifically for medium-sized businesses like BonLook.

AN EMPTY CF TORONTO EATON CENTRE. PHOTO: THE GLOBE AND MAIL

“In 2008 we were living a systemic problem in the financial world. Right now, it’s more of a black swan event that created a liquidity crisis. For all businesses right now, our main problem is liquidity. We don’t have enough money to pay our employees because revenues were shut down very abruptly and very drastically as well,” said Boulanger.

“What most businesses need right now is an urgent injection of liquidity. My understanding is that it will work through existing systems in places like all the banks and institutions such as the BDC.

“I have faith that the government is not going to let everyone just go down in this crisis.”

If federal measures in this regard don’t materialize, Boulanger said massive job losses will result in the retail industry.

“Our biggest wish is to be able to rehire and to reinstate everybody into the business as soon as possible.”

LA VIE EN ROSE PHOTO: YELLOW PAGES

François Roberge, President and owner of La Vie en Rose and Bikini Village, said the retailer has 266 stores across the country in every province - 200 for La Vie en Rose and 66 for Bikini Village.

The total number of employees is 3,400 but when the stores closed recently that sent 3,300 employees temporarily to unemployment.

“We were losing so much money. We had no choice. It was a question of cash flow. There’s no traffic,” said Roberge, adding the biggest issue for retailers right now is their cash flow.

He said he would like to see more measures to ease the burden of employees caught now without a job.

“For me, I don’t want anything from government in terms of business but for my staff I think it’s important. A lot of people are living with every pay they got every two weeks. So they don’t have any security money or anything. So that’s why I think the government needs to support much more the worker than the company. The company, we’ll figure it out after.

PHOTO: ECKSAND

“It’s going to be big now the layoffs in Canada now for this week and next week.”

Erica Bianchini, creative director and co-founder of Ecksand, a fine jewellery retailer in Montreal who counts the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, as one of its clients, said the company had to take some precautions in limiting the capacity in its headquarters and the store.

The retailer handcrafts sustainable luxury jewellery, engagement rings and wedding rings. The retailer is predominantly online but its headquarters in Montreal has an extension with a retail location. The back end is its office and manufacturing area.

“With everything going and the uncertainty, you could see the massive decrease in foot traffic right away because people are scared,” she said, adding that its retail experience is completely private now as it has made several adaptations because of the coronavirus.

AN EMPTY YORKVILLE LANE, TORONTO. PHOTO: CRAIG PATTERSON

“We had to come down to about a fifth of our normal capacity.”

That has resulted in 12 people being temporarily laid off and heavily reduced hours across the board.

As a business owner, Bianchini has been frustrated and critical of the government response to the crisis. She said one of her main concerns is that the public in general has lacked direction and fear has been instilled in people. Although there are many precautions needed to ensure everyone’s health, she said the government should also have been telling people what to do with a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. If the government had done that, people would feel less uncertain about what’s going on and more organized.

“What’s happening right now is people don’t know what they can do, if they can spend, what’s going to happen, what’s up, what’s down, and that’s killing business. It’s killing business faster than we could ever have imagined,” added Bianchini. “It’s detrimental to our economy right now and that’s what’s scaring us all.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Perhaps the government should offer the cash directly to the consumer and they can in turn pass it on to retailers. That way it’s win-win all the way!

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