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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In the past year local businesses have faced many issues surrounding economic and labour concerns.

 

Despite these challenges, many have managed to prevail and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles which is why the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is encouraging local business leaders to recognize their success through a nomination at our annual Business Excellence Awards.

 

“The hard work of our business community is something we should all be very proud of and celebrate, especially during these current economic times,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.  “Our awards are an important way to show how much our business community means to all of us.”

 

The Business Excellence Awards is the Chamber’s premier event and has honoured the achievements and contributions of business leaders in the City of Cambridge and Township of North Dumfries since 2000. 

 

It features 11 award categories, most of whom require nominations. These include Business of the Year, Spirit of Cambridge, and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award presented to the owner or director of a new or existing business that has achieved great success this past year.

 

“We have so many dynamic and innovative young business leaders in our community,” says Greg, referring to this award. “This is a great opportunity for them to be recognized for their work at building a successful business.”

 

Also included among the award categories are the prestigious Chair’s Award which is selected among from among the nominees and the Community Impact Award which is presented to an individual who has contributed, or continues to contribute, to the overall prosperity, economic growth, or vibrancy of the community.

 

“These awards really speak to the calibre of businesspeople we have in Cambridge,” says Greg, adding the awards are great way to let others know what local businesses have accomplished. “This is the time to share your story.” 

 

The awards will be held May 29 at Tapestry Hall. Nominations close Feb. 23.

Click here to submit a nomination.

 

 

Award Categories and Criteria:

 

Spirit of Cambridge AwardThis award recognizes an outstanding effort and commitment to making Cambridge and/or Township of North Dumfries a better, more prosperous community through corporate leadership and social responsibility.

 

Business of the Year (1 – 10 employees)This award is given to a good corporate citizen who exhibits a competitive edge through technological innovation in one or more of three following areas: customer service; workplace environment, products and services, growth in business, employee retention.

 

Business of the Year (11 – 49 employees)Given to a good corporate citizen who exhibits a competitive edge through technological innovation in one or more of three following areas: customer service; workplace environment, products and services, growth in business, employee retention.

 

Business of the Year (More than 50 employees)This award is given to a good corporate citizen who exhibits a competitive edge through technological innovation in one or more of three following areas: customer service; workplace environment; products and services; growth in business; employee retention.

 

New Venture of the Year Award –   This award is presented to a new or existing business that through innovation of design and technology has significantly improved the esthetics and functionality of their operation.

 

Outstanding Workplace – Employer of the Year - The recipient of this award goes above and beyond to ensure it provides employees with the best overall workplace, with a strong focus on a happy and healthy work culture and environment.

 

Marketing ExcellenceThis award is presented to the business or organization that has best demonstrated excellence, innovation, and originality in traditional or new-media marketing.

 

Young Entrepreneur of the Year AwardThe recipient of this award is presented to the director/owner aged 18-40 of a new or existing business who has achieved outstanding results by successfully building it up to a new level.

 

WOWCambridge.com Customer Service Award - Each month the Chamber has recognized an individual at a business who has gone above and beyond, providing extraordinary service in everyday situations. These individuals and the businesses they work for exemplify service excellence. This award is presented to one of those monthly winners as the Grand Award Winner.

 

Community Impact Award - This award recognizes an individual who has contributed, or continues to contribute, to the overall prosperity, economic growth, or vibrancy of our community through their business, volunteer or philanthropic endeavours, and exemplary overall service to assist others.

 

Chair's Award - The Chair's Award recognizes an outstanding organization or individual who makes an exceptional effort which goes above and beyond the call of duty in any area of business and/or community development.

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In the fast-paced world of business, the success of any organization hinges on the quality of its workforce. Hiring mistakes can be both expensive and detrimental to a company's growth and stability, especially in this changing job market which is now seeing an influx of potential candidates in certain fields.

 

“I really do feel that the market over the last year has softened,” says Lisa Marino, Senior Recruitment Specialist with H2R Business Solutions, noting there are always a handful of roles that are specialized resulting in fewer available candidates.

 

Her colleague Sue Benoit, Head of Recruitment Services at H2R Business Solutions, agrees.

 

“On the trades side there still is a labour shortage, especially since those types of roles are really hard to fill,” she says. “But if you have an accounting or bookkeeping role to fill there’s 100 plus applicants.”

 

As a result, finding the right person to fill those types of positions means putting systems in place that can help you avoid potential pitfalls, such as taking too long to decide on a potential hire which is a common mistake many employers make, says Sue.

 

“If they’re taking too long in the decision or interview process, they can lose that great candidate who might have been hard to find in the first place,” she says. “Then it it’s a matter of having to start over a lot of the time because employers are not going to just settle, necessarily.” 

 

As well doing their due diligence regarding reference checking, her colleague suggests making a select group of others in the company part of the hiring process.

 

“Bring in one or two other people from the company into the process rather than letting the hiring manager do it all because somebody from another department may be instrumental helping you gain a different perspective of the candidate,” says Lisa, adding incorporating some of type of skills testing during that process, depending on the level of the role, can also be helpful. “It can give some insight of how a candidate thinks.”

 

She also says once a candidate has been hired, an employer should be diligent when it comes to monitoring the performance of that person during their 90-day probationary period and watch for potential ‘flags’. These can include absences, struggling to meet deadlines, or an overall disconnect with their new workplace or colleagues.

 

“Hopefully, the recruiter is good enough to catch some of those flags in our pre-screen conversations,” says Sue. “How interested are they in the organization? Have they done any research? Employers really want someone who is truly interested in what they’re doing.”

 

 

Tips for avoiding hiring mistakes

 

Define Clear Job Requirements

Before posting a job opening, employers should thoroughly analyze and document the skills, qualifications, and experience necessary for the role. This not only ensures that candidates are well-informed but also assists in filtering applicants more effectively.

 

Create a Comprehensive Recruitment Strategy

Develop a well-thought-out recruitment strategy that includes a timeline, sourcing channels, and a structured interview process. By outlining the steps from job posting to offer, employers can maintain control and consistency throughout the hiring journey.

 

Leverage Technology

The use of technology can significantly streamline the hiring process, from applicant tracking systems (ATS) to video interviews. These tools help in organizing candidate information, assessing qualifications, and conducting efficient interviews. 

 

Thoroughly Assess Cultural Fit

A candidate might have an impressive resume, but if they don't align with the company culture, it can lead to a discordant team dynamic. Incorporate questions and assessments during interviews that delve into a candidate's values, work style, and how well they would integrate into the existing team.

 

Conduct Behavioural Interviews

Conducting behavioral interviews allows employers to gain insights into how candidates handled situations in their previous roles. This approach provides a more realistic preview of a candidate's capabilities.

 

Check References Thoroughly

Reach out to previous employers, colleagues, and supervisors to gain a comprehensive understanding of the candidate's work ethic, reliability, and interpersonal skills. A candidate's performance history can reveal valuable information that might not be apparent during interviews.

 

Utilize Probationary Periods

Implementing probationary periods for new hires allows both the employer and the employee to assess the fit within the organization. This trial period provides an opportunity to evaluate job performance, integration into the team, and adherence to company values before making a long-term commitment.

 

Invest in Continuous Training for Hiring Managers

If possible, equip hiring managers with the skills necessary to conduct effective interviews, assess candidates accurately, and make informed decisions. Continuous training on fair hiring practices, diversity, and inclusion can help mitigate biases and enhance the overall quality of hiring decisions.

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This blog represents the second part of a two-part series on protecting your business. 

 

Operating a business is difficult enough in the current climate, especially as business leaders navigate ongoing economic, labour and supply chain issues. 

 

As a result, keeping their businesses secure and safe from potential criminal threats may not be front and centre, suggests John Burdett, President of Seamless Security Inc. in Cambridge.

 

“Times are difficult for everybody and there are cost pressures for everybody,” he says. “Security is typically not the first thing people want to spend money on, but at some point, if people are calling me, they realize they do have a need for it.”

 

That need appears to be becoming more apparent, taking into consideration local crime statistics. According to the Waterloo Region Police Service (WRPS), since January 2023 to the start of December 2023, officers responded to 21 reports of robberies at commercial properties – not including banks or financial businesses – and 338 reports of commercial property thefts, excluding shoplifting incidents. The WRPS’ 2022 annual report indicates a total of 286 robberies.

 

At the Chamber’s Conversations That Matter lunch Jan. 25 at Tapestry Hall (Tap Room), former Waterloo Region police chief Bryan Larkin, now Deputy Commissioner, Specialized Policing Services RCMP, will discuss the impact crime rates have on the local business community. 

 

“Many of my clients are larger warehouse and distribution facilities, but I’m seeing the issues with them going down and issues with smaller businesses going up,” says John. “There seems to be less internal theft issues and a lot more external theft issues happening these days.”

 

But when it comes to security systems for smaller businesses, he recommends operators may wish to start small.

 

“You really want to know how you’re going to use your security system, especially if you don’t have one already,” says John, adding having an expandable system is a good course of action. “You can always add to it later if you have the right system in place. People don’t have to necessarily spend the bank on their system. But, if you have millions of dollars of inventory to protect, you’re probably going to spend a bit more.”

 

He says deterrence is a key factor for many businesses when it comes to selecting a security system.

 

“Anything to try and get that person to ‘move on’ before they commit the crime is going to be the optimum outcome,” says John, explaining he works closely with potential clients to determine their specific needs. “A few tweaks to what you already have may be sufficient to achieve your goals. It depends on the issues you’re trying to combat.”

 

That ‘tweak’ could also include procedural changes to the way a business operates which he says could minimize the threat of potential losses.

 

“What do you keep on site? What is visible from the window? What type of lighting do you have? There are all sorts of these types of factors that come into play,” says John, adding a theft may be less detrimental to the business compared to the after-effects. “A business could be out of business for a couple of days while they replace windows, or if their point-of-sale systems have been smashed. This could have a bigger financial impact on the business than the actual theft itself.”

 

Security tips for businesses

 

1. Check Doors and Windows

Consider installing doors made from reinforced wood or steel. If your doors are made from glass, roll-down safety gates may be an option. You could also consider reinforcing frames with metal plates and reinforced strike boxes. If you have a room where a safe or other valuables are stored, consider investing in stronger interior doors for these areas.

 

?2. Upgrade to Smart Locks

For an added alarm system, smart locks can help as a measure for improved access control. As an additional benefit, smart locks can keep access records, so you know who is accessing which door at different times.

 

3. Install Alarm Cameras

With strategically placed cameras, you can capture important evidence against potential shoplifters, violent criminals, vandals, burglars, and employees that may commit crimes. Also, CCTV cameras offer considerable value because they are one of the most effective crime deterrents. 

 

4. Manage Valuable Assets

You could rethink your practices when it comes to handling cash. When you consider expensive equipment or high-value inventory, you need to think about how you store these items and anything of exceptional value should be kept out of sight from the windows when the business is closed.

 

5. Improve Exterior Lighting

Consider adding lights in areas that are dark and make sure your side and back exits are well lit. Installing motion lights in areas that do not see much traffic may also help. Smart lights can mimic the activity of an occupied structure, and this will give burglars the impression that there are people there when the building is empty.

 

6. Nightly Safety Protocols

Set a specific routine for closing time and teach it to any employee who may need to close the business for the night. Your nightly safety protocols should consist of checking and locking all doors and windows, securing valuable assets, checking different areas of the property for small business security issues, setting the wireless alarm, and more.

 

7. Install Affordable Alarm Systems

Even if your business already has an alarm system, you may want to consider its age. Surveillance system technology has come a long way in the last few years, and there could be significant benefits to upgrading to a smart alarm system that is customized for the needs of your business

 

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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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The one constant thing business owners can count on is change, something the last three years have clearly shown.

 

But as business leaders continue to navigate in a changing economy shaped in the aftermath of the pandemic, many have not taken a moment to appreciate how resilient they’ve become.

 

“A lot of people haven’t been able to validate how many changes they’ve had to make doing business, and the transitioning and pivoting,” says Tracy Valko, award-winning mortgage broker and owner of Valko Financial Ltd. “They haven’t been able to look at their business, their goals and what they value in life and take the time to realize how resilient they’ve been.”

 

Tracy says in particularly, women business leaders are less likely to appreciate themselves and what’ve they been through and hopes to help rectify that by leading an informative and interactive workshop at our Women Leadership Collective Breakfast Series: Resilient Mindset later this month at Langdon Hall.

 

“I still see so many women spending time second guessing their skill sets,” she says, noting men seem to have more resiliency and forgiveness for themselves when it comes to pivoting in business. “Women spend more time judging themselves, thinking ‘maybe I shouldn’t speak up because someone’s going to say something’. I think in this world, especially now, women have to stand their ground and come together to support each other.”

 

At our Women Leadership Collective event Tracy will provide strategies for women to become more resilient by offering them a look inside what she refers to as her ‘resilient toolbox’ and share personal stories of what she has gone through creating a successful business over the course of the last 25 years. Besides being named one of Canada’s top individual brokers, she is also a published author and motivational speaker.

 

“I will provide a lot of different affirmations of ways to look at resiliency,” says Tracy, referring to her presentation. “A lot of people just don’t take the time to appreciate how far they’ve come and be able to pivot very quickly in an ever-changing world.”

 

Click here to learn more, or to register for our Women Leadership Collective Breakfast Series: Resilient Mindset which takes places Wednesday, Nov. 29 from 9-11 a.m. at Langdon Hall.

 

Tips about a resilient mindset

 

Embracing Change and Uncertainty

A resilient mindset begins with the willingness to embrace change and uncertainty. 

 

Learning from Failure

Failure is a common part of life, and a resilient mindset allows us to see failure as a valuable teacher. 

 

Cultivating a Positive Mindset

Resilient people focus on the positive aspects of a situation and avoid dwelling on the negative. 

 

Building Strong Social Connections

Resilience is not a solitary endeavor. Building and maintaining strong social connections is a crucial aspect of a resilient mindset. 

 

Setting Realistic Goals

While having big dreams is important, setting smaller, attainable milestones helps build confidence and motivation. 

 

Practicing Self-Care

Resilient individuals recognize the importance of taking care of their physical and mental well-being. 

 

Adaptability

Those with resilience are not rigid in their thinking and are open to new ideas and solutions. They can adjust their plans as circumstances change and are willing to try different approaches to achieve their goals.

 

Developing Problem-Solving Skills

Resilient individuals are excellent problem solvers. They break down complex issues into manageable steps and work through them systematically. 

 

Seeking Support and Seeking Help -

Resilient individuals are not afraid to seek support and help when they need it. 

 

Maintaining Perspective

In the face of adversity, resilient individuals remind themselves of the bigger picture. They recognize that the current challenge is just a chapter in their life's story and that it will pass, making way for new opportunities and growth.

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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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