While the pandemic continues to have worldwide repercussions, in B.C. the opportunity is ripe to acquire or start a business in one of the province’s smaller communities: here’s why.
By Kate Robertson
With media and experts throwing around pandemic-related terms like recession and economic crisis, the entrepreneurial-minded see the upside in starting a small business now. “The smaller B.C. communities, in particular, embrace new businesses, especially if you’ve done your research and know the service or product is needed,” says Darrell Goertzen, a business advisor at the Port Alberni office of Venture Connect, one of six B.C. locations that help entrepreneurs and facilitate connections between business buyers and sellers. “You need to spend on advertising to get noticed, you can be a big deal quickly and build a loyal following if you deliver good services.
You can also have a work-life balance in small communities that you will never achieve in a city. Today, more than ever, jobs are mobile and can often be done remotely, so you can live where you want, choosing affordability and lifestyle while finding work satisfaction.
An example of small businesses performing well during the pandemic are some non-restaurant food businesses, many of which are thriving as people look for local options and food-transparency, plus all kinds of home-servicing businesses, from renovations to landscaping. “In some smaller B.C. communities, home services businesses are run off their feet and turning away work, as people spend time at home,” Goertzen says.
Tourism and accommodation businesses have been hit hard in some communities, but there are also smaller communities that reported a good 2020 summer tourist season, as B.C. residents opted to tour their home province instead of crossing borders.
To provide assistance when the pandemic hit, Tourism Vancouver Island pivoted its entire organization to support the survival of 3,000-plus tourism businesses in the region, through creating the Vancouver Island Coastal Tourism Resiliency Program. Today, the province-wide BC Tourism Resiliency Network is helping hospitality businesses adapt, by providing support in everything from financing, staffing and business transition to creating accessible industry training programs, like webinars on e-commerce and consumer trends.
“We’ve seen businesses can be successful at securing financing aid, partnering with other tourism operators to offer new tours and experiences, increase their digital readiness and marketing, connect peer-to-peer with businesses in the same sector to discuss shared challenges and solutions, and more,” says Anthony Everett, President & CEO of Tourism Vancouver Island. “We are also aware of some tourism operators proceeding with opening a brand new business for the first time during the pandemic,” such as Bespoke Spirits House in Parksville, a craft distillery and tasting room that opened this past spring.
Leasing a retail space for your small business is a great way to jump in and get your feet wet without the commitment of buying a property. Smaller communities experience shortages of commercial real estate less often than big cities do, a boon when searching for suitable commercial or high-traffic retail locations.
In communities like Kelowna, the pandemic has actually resulted in a surge of commercial real estate interest, dubbed the “suburb effect,” due to people wanting to leave the large, population-dense cities. “Kelowna has some incredible projects currently in the queue, which will give tenants more options and bring an elevated caliber of office real estate,” says Meghan O’Mara, vice-president of sales and leasing for HM Commercial Group. “There is a similar story with retail, as most of the new mixed-use projects have podium level retail space,” storefronts with built-in foot traffic from neighbourhood condo residents.
Although the pandemic is something completely different than we have seen in our lifetimes, the reality is that there are many business owners who have adapted their model or practices and are doing fine. “Even though some businesses are closing, there will always be someone else with a dream and a passion who will start up another time,” says Goertzen. “We see start-ups absorbing the lessons of the pandemic shutdown and focusing on more diverse business models and practices to ensure they will succeed.”
Perhaps now is the right time, after all, to make your small business dream a reality.
SMALL-TOWN SMALL BUSINESS TIPS
Our experts offer the following insights to starting or acquiring a small business now.
- Secure an experienced commercial broker to guide you through the process of negotiating a commercial lease.
- Create a giant website for your business, to connect you during times when customers are staying home and inside.
- Look for novel ways to deliver services and products, from mobile dog-grooming to pizza subscription services.
- Plan to pay more for good employees than has historically been the case, particularly in traditionally low-wage industries, because this demographic has been affected by government and immigration policies.
- Connect with small business resources like your local Chamber of Commerce, Community Futures and Venture Connect office; and register with your regional Tourism Association to access programs like the BC Tourism Resiliency Network.