Survey finds B.C. businesses facing major hurdles, as province seeks to reopen economy

More than four in 10 B.C. businesses say they’ll need ongoing federal and provincial help to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey.

The survey of 1,300 businesses was conducted by the BC Chamber of Commerce, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade and the Business Council of British Columbia, and highlights a number of areas where companies are struggling, as B.C.’s seeks reboot the economy.

Just 26 per cent of respondents said they thought they could generate a profit during Phase 2 of B.C.’s restart plan, with a majority saying they’d take at least two months to reopen.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Which B.C. services can start to reopen on Tuesday, May 19?

Michael Gayman, owner of Hook Seabar in English Bay, is one of those entrepreneurs worried about viability.

“It’s hard to say,” he said.

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“We’re operating at less than or close to half capacity.”

Gayman said his company has been lucky — it’s been able to bring back most of its front of house staff and all of its managers.

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But other businesses are struggling to do the same — the survey found 39 per cent of respondents were having challenges getting staff who were laid off back on the payroll.

READ MORE: B.C. shops reopen as retailers, shoppers adjust to the new normal

“The CERB benefits and others have created some distortions, where people either are prepared to take a little bit of a pay cut and not work,” said Greg D’Avignon, president and CEO of Business Council of B.C.

“Also, there’s that real anxiety that employees have about coming back to the workplace, are they going to be safe.”

Under B.C.’s restart plan, the province has outlined key guidelines for various sectors on how to ensure safety in the workplace.

Some of those guidelines include the installation of plexiglass barriers, or the provision of protective equipment such as masks for staff.

However, nearly a third of businesses said they’re having trouble meeting new safety standards.

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For those that can, it’s another cost during an already challenging time: a quarter of businesses polled said they were dealing with increased operating costs.

B.C. begins slow reopening under enhanced protocols

“We made a lot of investments to kind of like, adapt to the new norm,” said Iljin Kyung, owner of Yaletown’s Bake 49 cafe.

“We can’t close forever, we’ve got to try something.”

The survey found nearly 80 per cent of B.C. businesses are still struggling with decreased sales.

READ MORE: ‘Off to a good start’: B.C. premier on rollout of COVID-19 phase 2

Despite the troubling numbers, the survey did find a few encouraging trends.

While nearly half of respondents said they’d laid off employees, businesses reported an average of 12 layoffs in the Survey released Friday.

That’s down from an average of 43 in mid-March, and of 25 in mid-April.

The survey also found that nearly a third of businesses have boosted their e-commerce offerings, while smaller numbers had introduced new products or services (11 per cent), advanced new marketing projects (8 per cent) or advanced new research and development (5 per cent).

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