Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

High inflation, interest rates and housing costs continue to drive pessimism in Ontario’s economic outlook, according to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) eighth annual Ontario Economic Report (OER)

 

Despite this, many businesses surveyed remain confident in their own outlooks, with 53% expecting to grow in 2024.

 

“In spite of the fact there seems to be a mood of pessimism in the air, the reality of it is there seems to be more bright lights than there are dim lights,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “We’ve had years where business confidence and prospects of being confident are going to be over 60% but given where we are today, I think having around 50% of businesses confident they are going to have a good year and grow is a positive sign.”

 

However, he says that figure doesn’t minimize the economic issues facing businesses, including affordability and also notes the struggle to achieve necessary tax reform measures continues.

 

“We must also ensure there is a balance or equity in tax distribution from not only a cost perspective but also on deployment so when money is being handed out it’s being handed out appropriately,” says Greg.

 

The OER contains regional and sector-specific data on business confidence and growth, public policy priorities, regional forecasts, and timely business issues such as supply chains, employee well-being, diversity, equity and inclusion, economic reconciliation, and climate change.

 

The report, compiled from a survey of businesses provincewide conducted between Oct. 12 and Nov. 21 and received just under 1,900 responses, states that 13% of businesses are confident in Ontario’s economic outlook. That represents a 3% drop from last year and a 29% drop from the year before with the cost of living and inputs, inflation, and housing affordability as the key factors for the confidence decline.

 

The sector showing the most confidence was mining, with the least confidence being shown in the agriculture, non-profit and healthcare social assistance sectors. The most confident regions were Northeastern and Northwestern Ontario, both at 23%, and the least were Kitchener-Waterloo, Windsor-Sarnia, and Stratford-Bruce County. (The survey indicated these latter two regions had a high share of respondents in the non-profit and agriculture sectors compared to other regions).

 

“As the report suggests, businesses still need to grapple with economic headwinds and many of those headwinds are limiting their ability to invest in important issues within the workplace and that may well be part of the reason they are having difficulty hiring people,” says Greg. “That said, entrepreneurs are interesting individuals, and they always will find a way to wiggle themselves through the difficulties of the economy.”

 

He questions whether the pessimism around growth and confidence outlined in the survey is related to the economy or stems more from the fact many businesses are unable to hire the people they require so they can grow their business.

 

“There are lots of companies out there that need people and that’s always a good thing when you’re at a very low unemployment rate now which is hovering around the 5% rate,” says Greg, noting he receives calls and emails daily from local companies seeking workers. “As inflation starts to drop and as the Bank of Canada rates start to drop, I think we’ll see that pessimism go away.”

 

Read the report.

 

Outlook highlights: 

 

  • Small businesses are less confident (12%) than larger businesses (22%) due to challenges with repaying debt, fluctuations in consumer spending, inflationary pressures, and workforce-related challenges such as mental health.
  • Simplifying business taxes is identified as a major policy priority of 50% of surveyed businesses. 
  • Confidence in Ontario’s economic outlook varies considerably across industries and is lowest within the agriculture sector (3%), non-profit (8%), health care and social assistance (8%), and retail (10%) sectors. 
  • Confidence is highest in the province’s mining (46%) and utilities (27%) industries, both of which benefited from strong growth and investments in the province’s electrification infrastructure and electric vehicle supply chains. 
  • Businesses in Northeast and Northwest Ontario exhibit the highest confidence at 23%, where the mining industry is a major employer.
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While economic and technological shocks will always be a constant feature of our world, experts say small businesses must continue to adapt and innovate to stay competitive and satisfy consumer preferences.

 

“The adoption of technology should be the priority for small businesses and the adoption of AI where it can help bolster their business should also be a priority,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher, noting 98% of Canadian businesses qualify as small businesses.

 

In its recent report entitled, A Portrait of Small Business in Canada: Adaption, Agility, All At Once, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce touches on this issue as it explores the integral role small businesses  in play in Canada’s economy and sheds light on how these businesses can thrive despite major economic forces working against them — including the rising cost of doing business, the highest borrowing costs in over two decades and increased pandemic debt loads.

 

The report, which defines ‘micro businesses’ as having 1-4 employees, ‘scale businesses’ as 5-19 employees, and ‘mature businesses’ as 19-99 employees, shows how small businesses of all sizes, ages and industries are already investing in technology to better access data and applications from their computers, tablets, or mobile phones — whether in the office or on the road — to connect better with their customers and employees. However, as the report indicates, a business’s size is important to its ability to not only adopt technology, but also take advantage of a variety of technology tools. The report finds that even more change is essential.

 

Greg agrees and says the need for smaller businesses to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) is especially imperative.

 

“In all probability, smaller businesses are less likely to adopt AI technology because they may be fearful of it,” he says. “But the fact of the matter is it may be the only tool that can bring them up and allow them to compete.”

 

AI and digital technologies

 

According to the report, across all industries, a higher proportion of small businesses planned to invest in AI and digital technologies. While 62% of micro firms (compared with an average of 55% for all small firms) expressed plans for the latter, 30% of mature firms were keen on investing in AI compared with the all-industry average of 24% for all small businesses. Scale and mature businesses were more likely to adopt multiple technology tools, especially those in finance and insurance, professional services, and wholesale trade.

 

“If they (small businesses) don’t get knee deep in AI from a business perspective, they may be missing the boat that was inevitably sent to save them,” says Greg.

 

The report also highlights trends to help small businesses adapt to how Canadian shoppers have evolved. While online shopping accelerated as a result of the pandemic, roughly 75% of Canadian shoppers still visit physical stores for key items like groceries, clothing, automotive, electronics, home and garden, and health products. To meet consumer preferences, businesses need to implement on and offline sales strategies to reach customers.

 

In the report, the critical importance of having an enticing online commercial presence is highlighted, with 83% of Canadian retail shoppers reporting they conduct online research before they visit a store. Having physical stores near customers also supports online sales, with nearly one in 10 Canadians making purchases online from retailers located nearby.

 

“There is still an opportunity for small businesses to capitalize on local business by advertising and marketing themselves locally,” says Greg. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a strong online presence and look for every opportunity in which AI can help advance your cause.”

 

Canadian Chamber President & CEO Perrin Beatty says the findings in this report provides yet another signal that more focus is needed to support growth, especially among small businesses.

 

“We can start by reducing red tape, investing in infrastructure, and enabling an innovation economy,” he said in a press release. “These fundamentals of growth will increase Canadian businesses’ ability to compete and attract investment that will benefit Canadians, their families, and our communities.”

 

Click here to read the report.

 

 

Highlights of the report:

 

  • In June 2023, there were 1.35 million businesses in Canada with paid employees. The over- whelming majority (98% of the total) were conventionally classified as “small” businesses, which collectively employed over 11 million people.
  • In the “small business” category, micro firms are by far the most common businesses type in Canada. In fact, if all businesses in Canada were sorted by employment size, the median firm would have fewer than five employees, which underscores the importance of improving our understanding of the business realities of all small firms, but especially micro firms.
  • Nearly half of all small businesses are in the following four industries: professional, scientific, and technical services; construction; retail trade; and health care and social assistance.
  • Immigrants to Canada own a disproportionate share of private sector businesses (263,850 businesses, or 25.5% of all private sector businesses) compared with their share of population (23%). One strong factor is immigrants’ high share of micro businesses (30%), in contrasts with their underrepresentation in both scale and mature enterprises.
  • The past few years have offered women more flexible work arrangements, encouraging them to find more in-demand and higher-paying jobs, while government efforts to increase the availability of affordable childcare have helped women’s labour force participation to rebound. With the transition back to the office, barriers that perpetuate gender-based differences in labour force participation threaten this progress.
  • An underrepresented group in terms of business ownership (2.2%) compared with their share of the population (22%) is persons with a disability. Given the prevalence of disability, this gap signals tremendous untapped potential for entrepreneurship, but also one with significant potential effects on socio-economic outcomes, including labour market participation.
  • The LGBTQ2+ population (4% of Canada’s total population according to the 2021 Census) is also somewhat underrepresented as business owners (3.3%), lagging most as owners of mature businesses (0.6%).
  • Although they are 5% of the country’s population, Indigenous people’s share of businesses owned remains less than half of that (2.2%), although they appear to be doing better on ownership of mature businesses, the largest type of small business.
  • The most recent data (June 2023) show that, compared with pre-pandemic conditions in December 2019, the number of businesses increased by 7.3% for large firms, 5.0% for medium firms and only 2.9% for small firms.
  • Retail sales data show that e-commerce enjoyed a massive spike early in the pandemic but have since moderated as Canadians go back to in-person shopping. The share of total retail sales from e-commerce increased rapidly from 3.7% in January 2020 to peak of 10.7% just four months later in April 2020. With the lifting of pandemic related restrictions and stores have reopened for in-person shoppers, this figure has since moderated to 5.7%.
  • In addition to age, variation by industry showed a strong trend in technology adoption. Overall, average adoption shares across all industries and all technology tools were lowest for micro firms (12%), followed by scale (16%) and then mature firms (22%). Small businesses — particularly scale and mature — in finance and insurance, information and culture, professional services and wholesale trade were consistently among those reporting the highest technology adoption rates.
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The evolving nature of work continues to shape the employee landscape due to unprecedented changes driven by technological advancements, shifting societal expectations, and the aftermath of a global pandemic. As a result, organizations must adapt to emerging employee trends to foster a resilient and engaged workforce.

 

One way to accomplish this suggests Frank Newman, owner of Newman Human Resources Consulting, is to keep in touch with employees through engagement surveys.

 

“Listening to the pulse of your organization is going to be more important than ever,” he says. “Employers may also want to think about their work culture and in terms of what attracts people, and they want to make sure they are managing leadership effectively.”

 

Among the many trends employers must embrace is creating a more welcoming work environment, especially when it comes to Canada’s growing immigrant population.

 

More than 430,000 immigrants were brought to Canada in 2022 by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), with an additional target of 485,000 this year and a further 500,000 in 2025. IRCC data indicates in 2022, 184,725 of these new permanent residents came to Ontario.

 

“There is a large talent pool available, and employers have to be thoughtful in how they bring new talent into their organizations from our immigrant population,” says Frank. “The whole concept of diversity, inclusion, and equality is rising in terms of what’s important for companies and for individuals. If you’re not having that positive and diverse work culture, that’s going to hurt you in the long run.”

 

AI gaining importance

 

He says the introduction of AI tools, such as ChatGPT, Copy.ai and Kickresume, have not only benefitted Canada’s newcomer population by helping them become more proficient and fluid in the English language, but have become valuable assets for businesses as well.

 

“I think we are going to see more employers looking for people who have some AI experience,” says Frank. “Being able to say you can demonstrate use of those tools is a good thing for potential job candidates.”

 

However, there are potential downsides such as the creation of AI generated resumes and materials that can help a candidate embellish their qualifications.

 

“There are tools to test a document to see if it’s been AI written and you may now see many sophisticated employers doing just that,” he says. “They may also be thinking of asking a potential employee to provide writing samples.”

 

Managing performance key

 

Another trend is the emergence of ‘The Great Stay’ phenomenon, which experts say has been replacing the ‘Great Resignation’ experienced during the pandemic as employees re-evaluated their priorities and migrated to other opportunities.

 

“I’m not sensing The Great Stay too much in this region and am still sensing a fair bit of fluidity, but having people stay longer is always a good thing because it’s less costly,” says Frank, noting it can cost at least three times an employee’s salary to replace them considering the recruitment process, training, and upskilling. “Employers still have to focus on managing performance if people are going to stay longer and they have to invest in leadership and coaching if you want to maximize your investment.”

 

He notes employees may also be a little reluctant to move due to the ‘shakiness’ of the economy.

 

“I think employers may want to continue to monitor salaries which have stabilized quite a bit and want to make sure they are staying around that 3-4% annual change,” says Frank. “But I think in general, employers are cautiously optimistic about things going forward.”

 

 

Job Market Trends 

 

Hybrid Work Models

Employees now seek a balance between the flexibility of remote work and the collaboration offered by in-person interactions. Organizations that embrace hybrid models will likely attract and retain top talent, offering employees the autonomy to choose where and when they work.

 

Employee Well-being Takes Centre Stage

Organizations are placing a heightened focus on mental health, work-life balance, and holistic wellness programs. Employees value employers who prioritize their well-being, leading to increased job satisfaction and productivity.

 

Continuous Learning and Development

With the rapid pace of technological advancements, the demand for upskilling and reskilling is on the rise. Employees expect continuous learning opportunities to stay relevant in their roles and advance their careers. Forward-thinking organizations invest in robust training programs and partnerships with educational institutions to foster a culture of continuous development.

 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

Employees prioritize working for organizations that are committed to fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces. Companies that actively address and rectify disparities in hiring, promotions, and pay will not only attract diverse talent but also create a more innovative and collaborative work environment.

 

Emphasis on Employee Experience

Employee experience encompasses the overall journey of an employee within an organization. Companies are investing in enhancing the employee experience, from onboarding to offboarding. Personalized employee experiences, feedback mechanisms, and inclusive company cultures contribute to higher employee satisfaction and retention rates.

 

Remote Employee Engagement

With remote work becoming a staple, maintaining employee engagement is a challenge for many organizations. Companies are leveraging technology to create virtual team-building activities, foster communication, and build a strong remote work culture. Employee engagement tools and platforms play a crucial role in keeping teams connected and motivated.

 

Job Search and Career Success Hinge on Ethics

Employers are still looking for candidates who create undeniable value, not just put in clocked times, who have above-average communication skills, have a strong work ethic, will be reliable, possess the ability to think critically and above all, will fit their culture. Regardless of the uncertainty ahead, the key to creating job search luck will be the same as it has always been: preparation of hard work. 

 

 ‘The Great Stay’

The current global economic situation, the state of China and other major economies, as well as the ongoing geopolitical conflicts will see recession talk intensify, leading companies to focus on vital roles and hold off on hiring for roles that aren’t ‘must-haves’. Taking these factors into consideration, the next year it will be ‘The Great Stay’ as opposed to the ‘Great Resignation’ when many people switched jobs/careers during the pandemic.

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In this digital landscape, businesses are increasingly reliant on web-based platforms for their operations, communication, and customer interactions.

 

While this technological shift has brought convenience and efficiency, it has also opened the floodgates to a myriad of cyber threats – many no longer just centred on email-based breaches. 

 

As the digital realm expands, the need for robust web-based security becomes paramount for businesses of all sizes due to the escalating frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks.

 

Hackers are becoming more adept at exploiting vulnerabilities, often targeting sensitive data such as customer information, financial records, and intellectual property. The consequences of a successful cyberattack can be devastating, ranging from financial losses and reputational damage to legal repercussions.

 

These security breaches can erode customer trust and a single security incident can shatter the perception of a business as a reliable custodian of sensitive information, leading to a loss of clientele and tarnished brand image.

 

To address these challenges, businesses need to invest in cutting-edge web security solutions. These include regularly updating software and systems, implementing multi-factor authentication, encrypting sensitive data, and conducting regular security audits. Collaborating with cybersecurity experts and staying abreast of the latest threats intelligence is equally crucial in maintaining a proactive defence against emerging cyber hazards.

 

 

We asked John Svazic, Founder and Principal Consultant of EliteSec Information Security Consultants Inc. in Cambridge to share his thoughts on what businesses can do to ensure they are prepared for potential web-based security threats:

 

 

Q. When did more browser-based cyber threats begin to surface as opposed to spam emails?

 

A. This is a hard question to answer, but these types of attacks aren't new and have been around for a while, likely since the early 2000s at least, but not in any volume.  Most cyber-criminal attacks are based on opportunity and ease, so the rise can generally be attributed to companies adding more sophistication to their websites, especially as they try to go online.  

 

Q.  What brought on this apparent shift?

 

A. Opportunity is the biggest reason here.  With the rush to go online, which the pandemic only exacerbated, some companies may be taking shortcuts to get online by going with free/low- cost options to maintain margins.  While I can sympathize with this point, losing most of your margins to fraud may be reason to re-evaluate.

 

Q. Are there warning signs business owners should watch for indicating they might be susceptible to an attack?

 

AUnfortunately, not. The best way to prevent this is to go look for vulnerabilities yourself or get someone who is skilled to go looking for you.  Having said that there are a few things that can be done on your own to better protect yourself, including:

 

  • Making sure all your software is up to date. This is especially important if you are using a Wordpress site to host your online presence. Making sure any plug-ins or add-ons that you are using are up to date is important.
  • Protect your online social media with two-factor authentication (2FA). Yes, this can be annoying, but it is a proven way to protect your accounts. Nothing is more painful than trying to get your Facebook or Instagram account back from a hacker, and many companies either pay up or are forced to create new accounts.
  • Never re-use passwords!  Getting a password manager is incredibly useful to prevent this and provides a great way to help share accounts between employees if necessary. Most can help store your 2FA code as well, so you don't need to share a single phone between individuals.
  • Hire a security professional to do a vulnerability assessment or penetration test of your web presence. Be sure that they are qualified by asking for references and samples of their work.  This is the costliest option but one worth considering if you want to be sure.

 

Q. What is one of the first steps they should take in terms of boosting their security?

 

A. Make sure that whatever you're using is fully patched. If this is offloaded to a hosting company or some other third-party provider, ask them what their patch cycle is. How frequently do they update, and do they do any third-party testing of their own infrastructure?  If a company is doing online sales, using a trusted partner like Shopify, Squarespace, etc., is a great way to check these boxes as these are reputable firms that take security seriously, which helps to offload the risk to someone else, albeit at a cost. 

 

Q. Are smaller businesses more susceptible to potential attacks than larger ones?

 

A. Sadly yes. While news headlines often focus on bigger named companies getting hacked and having to pay ransoms, the reality is that hundreds of smaller companies are getting hacked each day and not making headlines because they're just not big enough to report on, or they're too scared to report the attacks themselves out of fear of losing customers/reputation. Smaller companies often lack the resources or money to seek out help, so it can be a real catch-22.

 

Q.  If an attack has occurred, what should be the first step a business owner should take?

 

A. First check your business insurance to see if you have cyber insurance. Often, these policies will dictate who to call and what to do. Many brokers will recommend this type of insurance if you have an online presence, so it never hurts to start there. As most of these attackers are coming from outside the country, law enforcement won't necessarily be able to help, but report a cybercrime.  Start with the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security and report the incident. I would then recommend reaching out to a cybersecurity professional that specializes in incident response to help rectify the situation. Again, if you have a cyber insurance policy, this should be covered by insurance.

 

Q. Is it possible to become too paranoid regarding cyberattacks?

 

A. Absolutely. But it's best to always put things into perspective before things become too overwhelming. If you take some basic precautions, you can put most of these concerns aside.  It's always about perspective and the realization that raising the bar on cybersecurity isn't hard, and even small changes can deter potential attackers. Most cyber criminals are lazy, so they won't put in a lot of effort for minimal rewards. But if they can pull of a hack because it's easy, then they're willing to put in the effort for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars of potential payoff.

 

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The Canadian tourism sector has experienced a brisk recovery since the initial pandemic lockdowns, according to economic experts. But that recovery pace has been easing due to higher interest rates, a slowing job market, and broader cyclical slowdown in the U.S. and abroad. In Ontario, many tourism operators continue to face a great deal of debt caused by the pandemic, prompting many to worry about what the future holds. 

 

Locally, tourism in 2024 is expected to continue to do well, despite the ‘economic crunch’ that may prompt travelers to adjust their plans in the coming year. 

 

We reached out to Explore Waterloo CEO Michele Saran to get her take on what the local tourism sector can expect in the New Year:

 

 

How is local tourism shaping up for 2024, considering the economic realities many people are dealing with?

 

Tourism in Waterloo Region is expected to continue doing well into 2024.  We are beating 2019 pre-pandemic; hotel occupancy numbers and campaigns are driving keen interest in our offerings.  Yes, the economic crunch is impacting everyone and may result in visitors spending a bit less but not completely abandoning all vacation plans.  People consider travel a priority and have been shown to spend less in other discretionary areas to afford some kind of getaway with family and friends. Waterloo Region’s main market is the GTA, and we really lean into the concept of being the perfect road trip destination.  This type of travel can be as budget conscious as one wishes.  There are so many affordable options for fun.

 

 

Are local tourism operators feeling optimistic about what is in store for 2024?

 

The operators I speak with are all quite optimistic about a strong 2024, despite concerns around inflation and its impact on visitor spending.  In addition to leisure travel, we are also seeing incredible interest in the region for meetings, conventions, and sporting events.  The tourism industry is nothing if not resilient. Having come out on the other side of a worldwide pandemic that shut everything down completely, we now have the gift of perspective.  

 

 

What are some of the hurdles do local tourism operators face in the coming year?

 

One of the biggest challenges facing tourism operators everywhere (not just in Waterloo Region) is rebuilding the workforce.  Hospitality workers left the industry during the pandemic, and many did not return.  Industry advocacy organizations are working to address this issue from many angles, from working with government to ease immigration barriers to marketing the industry to students as a career choice. Finding affordable housing is a big hurdle for those in the service sector.  Many of the destinations that are the most popular with visitors are also very expensive places to live.  People want to live in the same area where they work, and this presents another labour-related challenge for the tourism industry as well as many others.

 

Despite optimism for next year’s visitation potential, a very significant issue is the amount of debt tourism businesses incurred during the pandemic just to stay afloat and survive.  According to the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, 55% of operators say they lack confidence they will be able to repay their debts in two years and 45% risk closure in three years without government intervention.  Thirty-three percent of tourism businesses indicate that they hold more than 250K in outstanding debt. This is a serious issue and one all tourism advocacy organizations continue to push with government for solutions.

 

 

Is talk of the pandemic a thing of the past?

 

I recently returned from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s Annual Tourism Congress.  The conversation was around the legacy effects of COVID cited above but I think the entire industry is ready to put the pandemic itself in the rearview mirror and focus on what we do best – welcoming visitors and showing them why our area is fantastic.   

 

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The holiday shopping season has begun, and retailers are hoping for the best despite the fact consumer indicators have been painting a less than perfect picture of the weeks to come. In fact, according to Deloitte Canada’s 2023 Holiday Retail Outlook, Canadians are expected to spend at least $1,300 over the holidays representing an 11% drop from last year. 

 

But how these dire predictions will affect them in 2024 remains to be seen.

 

“I think in 2024 retailers will be facing an awful lot of pressure on inventory management and cashflows just because of the interest rate problems,” says Brad Davis, Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, who specializes in consumer behaviour and trends. “I think retailers are going to have a real deal seeking consumer base who are going to want deals, and that again cuts into their margins and can play havoc with inventory turnover.”

 

He says like the past couple of years, effective retail management will be required noting that consumers, in general, don’t really pay attention to consumer indicators.

 

“We’re not very good a judging what is a good deal or what is good value,” says Brad, noting that many consumers are very susceptible to perceived ‘sales’. “We have this whole apparatus that is designed to stimulate impulse purchasing.”

 

To encourage more in-store shopping, which has been facing turmoil as anti-theft measures and store closures detract from the customer experience, retail experts insist consumers must be provided exclusive products and deals or fun, and experiences they can’t find online. 

 

However, Brad says the true definition of what that special ‘customer experience’ is can be hard to pinpoint.

 

“Experts can never seem to quite define what this is,” he jokes, adding a positive in-store environment with expediated delivery and payments, and return policies should play a role. “We used to just call it good customer service. But for most consumers, when you talk to them about what they think is a good experience it’s ‘Can I find stuff easy?’, ‘I want to be able to check in and out fast’, ‘I don’t want salespeople bugging me unless I need help’. It’s sort of fairly basic.”

 

He says customer mapping is also something to consider, noting that online searching can lead consumers to physical stores. Industry experts often refer to the omnichannel approach where consumers may start their search in one place and make their purchase in another and encourage retailers in 2024 to learn where their audience is discovering products and where they are buying them.

 

“There is still a huge social component of shopping in a mall, particularly with younger generations,” says Brad, noting that humans still crave that ‘tactile’ physical encounter. “You have a generation of young people who is always going to gravitate to that sense of immediate gratification.”

 

He says the key for retailers going forward is to remain flexible in their approach to conducting business.

 

“Something that worked before and got you where you are now does not mean it’s going to get you where you need to go next,” says Brad. “Things are just happening so fast in multiple directions, and you have to be open to rethink and revisit what you thought was truth before.”

 

 

Released this past fall, the 6th annual RCC X Leger Holiday Shopping Survey from Retail Council of Canada (RCC) unveils the evolving shopping patterns of more than 2,500 Canadians: 

 

A few findings:

 

  • Savvy Shopping in Spotlight: Economic apprehensions, including inflation and rising living costs, weigh on many. Accordingly, 88% (vs 83% in 2022) of Canadians are turning to proactive holiday shopping tactics, most notably hunting for sales (52%), preparing in advance (41%), and adhering to a precise budget (40%).
  • Retailer Selection: To help shoppers decide which retailers to buy from this year, Canadians are prioritizing holiday sales/promotions (66%) and free shipping (55%). They are also looking for in-store exclusives (48%) and distinct online promotions (60%) to provide additional value.
  • Shopping Experiences Enhancers: In-store shopping will benefit from value bundles (26%) and product sampling (25%). Conversely, online shopping will be amplified by unique product offers and extended return policies, both at 33%.
  • Lead Spending Categories: Clothing emerges as 2023’s frontrunner, constituting 17% of the holiday budget, followed closely by home entertainment and essentials like food and alcohol grabbing 16% of the planned spend. 
  • More Gift Cards:  45% of shoppers are leaning towards purchasing gift cards for others this season, with a notable 37% of Canadians (up from 32% last year) expressing a preference for receiving gift cards over traditional presents. Dining gift cards top the charts (42%), while big-box retailers come in at 33% and food outlets register at 27%.
  • Local Shopping Upswing: Supporting local businesses this holiday has seen an increase in intent, with 82% of Canadians accentuating its importance, a leap from 74% last year.

 

Source: Canada News Wire

 

 

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While running a business, it's easy to get caught up in the complexities of the day-to-day operations surrounding production, quality control, and supply chain management. 

 

However, one aspect that often takes a back seat but is equally crucial to success is customer service. Exceptional customer service is a critical component of operating a business and providing employees with the right training is essential to meet and exceed customer expectations.

 

“If people are not well trained, that’s going to have an impact,” says Frank Newman, owner of Newman Human Resources Consulting. “There are a lot of opportunities for people to go through formal customer service training and we know that makes such a huge difference.”

 

Customer service is not just a necessary requirement but a strategic investment that can assist businesses – in all sectors – the opportunity to build lasting relationships, foster loyalty, and ultimately, drive long-term success.

 

Acknowledging clients

 

“You really want to drive home a customer service mentality in all your staff because every sale is important,” says Frank, adding giving employees the autonomy to make decisions benefits the customer experience. “It takes away the frustration for the consumer or client, so they don’t have to wait for a customer rep to go see a manager.”

 

As well, he says acknowledging a client or customer – perhaps with a thank you card or phone call - after the transaction has been completed can also go a long way to building professional relationships.

 

“The follow through is very important to show how you go above and beyond in your business,” says Frank, noting even having an employee answer the phone rather than an automated system can make a noticeable difference. “Ultimately, you want to surprise and delight your customer and offer them a little bit of the unexpected, especially in an era when so much customer service is you pick up the phone and wade through five different phone menus.”

 

Unique experience 

 

He says differentiation and creating a unique experience are important.


“It’s thinking about what the whole customer service process is like,” says Frank. “From the time that customer makes that first call, to the way the order is handled, and the acknowledgement sent, you need a consistent process, making sure clients or customers receive similar treatment from all employees.”

 

He says developing a customer service training program doesn’t have to centre on videos and that assigning a ‘mentor’ to assist new employees navigate the workplace can be a benefit.

 

“The other thing to think about as you bring new people onboard is to provide them with stories featuring examples of great customer service,” says Frank. “Sometimes, the best way to train someone is often through storytelling. People learn by examples.”

 

 

The Essentials of Customer Service Training

 

  1. Product Knowledge: Comprehensive product knowledge enables them to answer customer queries, provide valuable insights, and recommend suitable solutions.
  2. Effective Communication Skills: Clear and concise communication is a vital skill in good customer service. Training should focus on teaching employees how to communicate complex information in a way that customers can easily understand. 
  3. Problem-Solving Abilities: Employees need to be equipped with strong problem-solving skills to address customer issues efficiently. This includes not only finding solutions but also preventing similar problems from arising in the future.
  4. Time Management: Customer service training should include time management skills to ensure that customer needs are met promptly without compromising on quality.
  5. Emphasis on Quality: Employees must prioritize delivering quality service that reflects the company's commitment to excellence.
  6. Personalized Service: Training should emphasize the importance of understanding each customer's unique requirements and finding ways to meet them effectively.
  7. Crisis Management: Training should include scenarios to prepare employees for managing unexpected challenges.
  8. Continuous Improvement: Regular training and feedback loops are essential for continuous improvement.

 

 

Benefits of Effective Customer Service Training

 

  1. Enhanced Customer Satisfaction: Well-trained employees can address customer concerns with confidence, resulting in higher levels of customer satisfaction. Happy customers are more likely to become loyal customers.
  2. Customer Retention: Satisfied customers are more likely to return for repeat business. This reduces the need for costly customer acquisition efforts.
  3. Positive Brand Image: Exceptional customer service contributes to a positive brand image. When customers receive excellent service, they're more likely to recommend your company to others.
  4. Competitive Advantage: In a crowded manufacturing industry, excellent customer service can be a unique selling point. It sets your business apart from competitors who may focus solely on the product.
  5. Increased Sales: Happy customers are more likely to make repeat purchases and buy additional products or services, resulting in increased sales and revenue.
  6. Reduced Costs: Effective customer service can lead to a reduction in customer complaints and returns, which can lower operating costs.
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It’s no secret small and medium-sized businesses play a crucial role in our community’s economic landscape, but they continue to face many challenges that impact their growth and competitiveness.

 

Knowledge is key when it comes to finding business solutions which is why the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has organized its inaugural Small Business Summit: Evolve and Thrive to provide entrepreneurs the opportunity to learn from local experts on a variety of topics relevant to operating their businesses.

 

“Business changes every single day, and we need to always stay focused ensuring we are working on our business and not just working in our business,” says Cambridge Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher. “And working on your business can mean participating in programming that helps you uncover new techniques in management, inspiring your employees and leadership training.”

 

The Small Business Summit: Evolve and Thrive will focus on a variety of areas over the course of several hours at Tapestry Hall. The discussions will centre around:

 

  • Creating an immersive customer experience;
  • Mental health practices for the modern entrepreneur;
  • Streamlining your business with new technologies;
  • Communication across cultures;
  • Exploring the future of ChatGPT and artificial intelligence;
  • Intrapreneurship.

 

The summit speakers are leaders in both the business and post-secondary sectors who will share with participants some of their vast and practical expertise on these topics.

 

Among them is John Stix, co-founder of Cambridge-based Fibernetics, who will lead the session on intrapreneurship and Jay Krishnan, CEO of The Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, who will outline how AI is revolutionizing business. As well, mental health advocate and meditation practitioner and serial entrepreneur Iman Grewal will also provide her expertise.

 

“We hope by hosting this summit we can provide entrepreneurs of SMEs with the tools they need to help them better navigate what may be some very choppy waters in our economy over the next few months,” says Greg.

 

The Small Business Summit: Evolve and Thrive takes place from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 22 at Tapestry Hall.

 

Click here to learn more about this informative learning event.

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The collective strength of the Chamber network took centre stage as Chamber representatives nationwide gathered in Calgary recently to debate and approve policies aimed at boosting Canada’s economy.

 

Several hundred delegates were in attendance Oct. 11-14 at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s CCEC Conference and AGM to not only discuss policies but hear from several high profile political and industry leaders, including Treasury Board President Anita Anand who spoke about the economic concerns facing businesses and taxpayers, and her plans to launch a spending review to find savings.

 

“The key has to be on efficiency, process and purpose,” she said, noting the need for the government to pivot on the economic front. “There are continued lessons to be learned in terms of how we can improve. I know we have to continue to build an economy that works for everyone.”

 

Her sentiments were echoed by Canadian Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Perrin Beatty who stressed the need for filling infrastructure gaps to meet the needs of the nation’s growing population.

 

“We require infrastructure that’s both resilient and sufficient so when increasingly frequent climate change emergencies and labour disruptions occur, we can continue to supply ourselves and our allies,” he told delegates. “Canada has a great many economic, and green growth ambitions, but only ambition matched with action results in achievement.”

 

The Canadian Chamber leader also spoke about the power of the Chamber network when it comes to lobbying the government to do what is necessary for businesses to succeed.

 

“We only accomplish so much because of our partnership with you. You, the provincial, territorial and local Chambers, and Boards of Trade, are the engines that drive responsible growth in Canada.”

 

Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher says the AGM and conference play an important role in developing policies that will benefit businesses, and in turn, create an environment for communities to prosper.

 

“These policies are valuable advocacy tools when it comes to urging both the provincial and federal levels of government to make decisions that will benefit the economy, and in turn, the places we live and work,” he says. “Having the Chamber network work as a collective group to inspire change is a very valuable asset.”

 

Cambridge Chamber policy approved

 

This year, of the 66 policy resolutions presented by Chambers and Boards of Trade nationwide, 62 were approved by 293 voting delegates on hand. The policies – which now become part of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s ‘official playbook’ - touched on the following areas: natural resources, energy, and environment; transportation and infrastructure; finance and taxation; agriculture; digital economy; human resources; as well as international and indigenous affairs.

 

The Cambridge Chamber’s policy resolution, entitled Created Systems to Provide Adequate Child-care Spaces to Ensure Parents – Particularly Women – Have Equal Opportunities to Enter the Workforce, received overwhelming support and resulting in the approval of several recommendations calling for the Government of Canada to undertake the folllowing:

 

  1. Work with provincial/territorial governments to explore all prospective ways that could increase compensation for ECE workers in effort to attract more workers into the child-care sector with the goal of reducing waitlists at licensed child-care centre, setting the stage for more parents – particularly women - to enter or re-enter the workforce.
  2. Work with provincial/territorial governments to examine all potential solutions to ensure there are systems in place, possibly financial, to ensure adequate child-care spaces are available to provide parents – particularly women – the opportunity to enter or re-enter the workforce.
  3. Recognize the critical role of private sector in delivering childcare services and advocate for a continued role for entrepreneurs and businesses to provide childcare through public debate on the subject, and through the CCC’s advocacy with federal policymakers.

 

Cambridge Chamber co-sponsored policies approved

 

Collaboration among Chambers when crafting policies that can benefit the network is key. This year, the Cambridge Chamber co-sponsored two policies submitted by the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce which also received support from delegates.

 

The first resolution, entitled Review of the Canadian Tax System and Business Taxes, was approved, and called for the Government of Canada to:

 

  1. Not implement any new business taxes or increases on existing business taxation levels until a review of the current system, particularly related to competitiveness and productivity, is completed.

 

A second policy resolution, entitled Closing the National Digital Divide, was also approved, and called upon the Government of Canada to:

 

  1. Continue with broadband infrastructure investments across rural/remote areas and First Nations;
  2. To build an inclusive economy for all Canadians, ensure all financial resources allocated to increasing broadband capacity are urgently distributed for addressing the digital divide;
  3. To evaluate the effectiveness of government broadband policy in delivering connectivity, particularly in rural and indigenous areas, there should be an evaluation of connectivity coverage, quality, and adoption.
  4. Commit to businesses and citizens in rural and remote areas that necessary infrastructure to allow them access to competitive broadband speeds will be constructed.

 

Click here to see the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s full compendium of policy resolutions.

 

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Our Chamber of Commerce over the years has not only learned how to pivot, but how to address the concerns, issues and needs of the small and medium-sized businesses in our community.

 

The events of the last few years have only strengthened our reason for being. We not only champion small and medium-sized businesses but are a source of information, guidance, and the most powerful connector there is.

 

We have now taken that connection to a new level thanks to ‘The Link’, a place where YOU, an SME business owner/manager can source solutions in a one-stop shop atmosphere. And since this is Small Business Week (Oct. 15-21), it's very important to always remember and celebrate the contributions SMEs make to our economy.

 

For the last seven months, our Chamber has undertaken this huge project (for us). To say we’re excited is a dramatic understatement because for you, we’ve invested and created an exciting, inspirational space that will not only knock your socks off but provide a place where you can share your troubles and find connections to help you navigate those issues that sometimes surface for every business.

 

At The Link you can source HR solutions, legal forms and information, access grant writing, and discover business services of all types that help you streamline, or even eliminate operational costs, and yes, of course, we also have direct access to financial resources only for business.

 

Another aspect to this renovation project is the creation of additional meeting spaces. We can now offer two boardrooms, one that can seat more than 20 and the other between eight and 10, plus a more informal meeting space for five and a private soundproof meeting “pod” also for up to five people. As well, have casual conversation areas and provide a wonderful coffee service.

 

The Link is modern, accessible, and a great place to have a coffee and share conversation all contained in little over 2,220-square-feet of prime real estate at Highway 401 and Hespeler Road.

 

Along with this incredibly cool and unique space comes some unbeatable programming to help you and your team get onside, get ramped up, and get excited for what comes next.

 

Programming at The Link has already been released and space is very limited, so you need to get in early and make sure there is a seat for you. Our Program Manager, (Amrita Gill), is already developing new and different ways for us to connect with meaning, with passion, and as always, with inspiring ideas.

 

The doors opened Oct. 1 and we already have some committed entities ready to set up shop at The Link, but there may still be room for you and your organization. Do you serve only small and medium-sized business? If so, send me a note and maybe, if all the checkmarks are in place, we may just have a spot for you at The Link, but you need to hurry. Yes, there is a cost because we are not a “funded” organization and our support comes from our membership.

 

Speaking of membership, did you know the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has NOT increased its membership fees in more than 25 years? Talk about an inflation stopper, wow! That is what serving business means to us. We will always find ways to support you and now we are looking for your support to continue the work we do.

 

So please share your expertise with us and book a pod at The Link, or come in and get help from organizations and businesses that are here for you. Even better, drop in and enjoy a coffee, latte, cappuccino, espresso, or my personal favourite, a mochaccino. Hey, I might even buy you one. See you soon at The Link, 750 Hespeler Rd., the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

 

 

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