Business on the brink: Pets West owner battered by pandemic and online giants

Most local businesses are suffering these days, and many will close permanently as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns. These businesses are run by your friends and neighbours, and their loss would change Greater Victoria.

We have asked local business people to describe what they are facing. A commentary by the owner of Pets West in the Broadmead shopping centre.

As a small business owner for more than 30 years, I have been watching the news closely over the last few weeks to see how businesses will be supported through this crisis.

It is encouraging to see that there is recognition of our struggles, but many concerns have still not been addressed.

I have a pet store, which has been deemed an essential service, allowing us to keep our doors open.

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We are grateful to be able to continue to serve our loyal customers and their furry family members, but this crisis is still a tremendous blow even for those that can keep their doors open.

These include:

• Business is down in physical stores as people stay home and order online, despite stores moving quickly and decisively to offer curbside pickup and free delivery within the first week of the lockdown.

• Even as we scramble to create online platforms, we are at a severe disadvantage, as we do not have the marketing dollars and metrics that Amazon and other giants do, so we cannot offer the same prices or reach even our local audience as effectively.

• Our rent and other fixed costs, including hydro, phone and internet, still need to be paid.

The government programs are appreciated, but do not go far enough for most of us.

The wage subsidy only covers a portion of wages, and only after a sizable drop in revenue.

Many small business owners like myself are very passionate about what we do and work in our chosen field because we love it, not for a large paycheque.

This means that a drop in revenue of even 10 per cent is often more than we can sustain on meagre margins and high expenses. We are also devoted to our staff, who we work beside day after day and who become like family. For these people, we may put aside our own paycheques in a crisis like this to ensure that they still get paid and have a job, but that cannot be maintained for long.

To endure a drop in revenue of 15 per cent or more, and then recover only a portion of their wages through government grants, still does not keep the doors open.

In fact, these employees deserve bonuses just for showing up to work at a time when it is more dangerous for them to do so, but there is no extra cash for that.

We have been told we can apply to Canada Emergency Business Account, but unfortunately, $40,000 does not go far for small businesses with high expenses. This may cover only two weeks to a month’s worth of expenses, whereas the crisis is expected to last much longer.

In addition, this is just another debt to add to the growing load that includes deferred rent, credit-card interest to be able to pay suppliers, and more. Cash flow is the lifeblood of a business, and this was a good stop-gap, but there will be no additional revenue to pay this back for most businesses, which just means delaying the eventual demise for a couple of months.

I have been in business for more than 30 years. I have weathered economic downturns and recessions, kept up with the latest advances both in my field and in technology, and steadily grown my business into a thriving and well-respected source of quality products and knowledge for pet owners.

I have never asked for a handout or assistance, while injecting a great deal of tax revenue to all levels of government over the years.

But this could be the end of the road for us and many others if there is no additional help on the horizon. We are pleading with the government for more support. We hear so often that small business is the backbone of the economy. If this is true, then the government needs to hear that our backs are breaking, and that does not bode well for the future of the economy. 

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