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Description: A paint store where the owner gets in trouble for taking a day off. A fitness equipment company with sales booming rather than tanking. A gym owner switching to online training. These – and four more – are stories of Canadian business owners dealing with Covid challenges since March. The seven were profiled by CBC in a recent post, and their accounts are providing a variety of lessons in commerce.

Date:  October 31, 2020



Discussion points:

1) Which of these stories was your favourite? Why?

2) What is one of the big lessons you can learn from how these business owners dealt with unexpected challenges?

3) The story talks about the Vittorio Oliverio and his mortgage brokerage business, Centum Professional Mortgage Group. What competitive advantage does Centum appear to have over some of the large Canadian banks – like Scotiabank and RBC – featured in Wiley’s Financial Accounting: Tools for Business Decision-Making?

9 Responses to “Seven Lessons from Entrepreneurs”

  1. Hayley Smith, Lauren Simmons

    1) Our favourite of these stories were “I went with my gut” because it showed how this 50 year old women adapted to the unfortunate situation of the pandemic and in the end made her quality of life better.
    2) one of the biggest lessons we can learn from these business owners is to adapt to new situations even if it may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable at first because there will always be unexpected challenges.
    3) competitive advantages that Centum has over other large Canadian banks is that they are an independent company so they would have less clients which would help make interactions more personal. In the article it talked about how they called their clients to give them the information they know. Whereas the larger banks would have had too many clients making it hard to for them to accommodate everyone’s needs.

  2. Diana Akilian, Esperance Balewula, Gabrielle Baker, Alexander Bennett

    1) Our favourite story was “A Sudden Shift” which was about a Benjamin Moore paint store in Calgary that was adapting to new COVID times by starting to reduce staff and cut hours to keep the business up, like many business owners in these difficult times. Unexpectedly, a massive shift in the home improvement market made paint a very in demand item with everyone stuck inside and finally finding the time to do the projects at home that have been on the back burner. By also beginning to integrate an online storefront and allowing people to get their products without COVID concerns definitely helped their sales. A number all of us found surprising was the 40% increase in paint sales this year over previous due to everyone being stuck inside. Their ability to adapt and thrive in new scenarios stood out to us and is something we all respected.
    2) There are many lessons to be taken out of these times, but the most important one would be to be prepared for everchanging scenarios and having plans in place to keep your business successful through these. Regardless on COVID, there are always going to be unexpected challenges faced, but these times have made it much ore obvious that plans need to be in place to keep your business running through whatever the world throws at us. Things such as having an online store set up, like the paint store, and getting COVID regulations in place in your businesses as smoothly and quickly as possible would definitely allow for certain businesses to have an advantage over others in these times. These current situations are great for finding out what works and what doesn’t in everchanging scenarios to hopefully have businesses more prepared for the next major event that comes their way.
    3) Oliverio and Centum Professional Mortgage Group adapted to these changing times very well. They changed their focus from bringing customers into their business to just offering a service, their financial advice, to anyone through these times and due to that the business increased naturally because of it. By pandering to the new times and realizing that many people’s financials are not ideal at that time, they just offered advice to those already a customer or not. By keeping their phone lines open, and word of mouth spreading the good work they were doing, the phone line stayed very busy through COVID times and eventually ended up with a 30% increase in mortgage sales and many new customers. Their advantage over bigger banks such as Scotiabank and RBC was that they weren’t focused on who was a previous customer or not, they focused on helping people in need which ended up with customers in the long run. Bigger banks priorities were on people already in their firm and keeping them and their money secure, plus with the much bigger size of these companies it is very difficult to have that individual and personal experience you would get with Centum Mortgage Group which is what made them so successful in those tough times.

  3. Sarah Merriam, Jenna Miller, and Kathryn McIntosh

    1) We liked the story where PJ Wren converted her fitness studio and training to be an online service. She made the best out of a bad situation and is thriving because her income revenue has not been majorly affected in comparison to her pre-pandemic revenue. In addition to this, her expenses are down, and she also mentions that she is less stressed and has more free time. This story also demonstrated how even though times were very uncertain, she had to do something to help in the surge of her business and followed her gut to the online shift. This is a good example of a success story, even throughout the time of a pandemic, which was something our group enjoyed reading.

    2) One of the big lessons that you can learn from these business owners dealing with unexpected challenges is adaptability. This pandemic is not something that anyone anticipated happening, especially on a major global scale. All seven of the business-owners in the stories are making the most out of an unexpected situation and adapting their businesses to allow for them to stay successful. The gym story demonstrates adaptability because they had to completely move their essentially ‘in-person’ organization to an online business and try to find a way that worked for everyone involved.

    3) Centum, being smaller, allows for more community involvement. Vittorio Oliverio reached out to customers to share what he knew about differed payments and other payment plans for his clients. Customers began calling Centrum over the larger companies because they were able to provide more personal banking information, and they ended up gaining new clients because of this. In conclusion, Centum is more easily involved with their clients than larger companies are, giving them a competitive advantage.

  4. Alex Smith, Ryan Richard, Kevinique Stubbs

    1. Our group liked the second story about the Calgary based company Bells of Steel the most. This is mostly due to the positive impact that it gives about their companies decisions during the pandemic. Not only did they have a record day in sales while under lockdown, but they are now able to (hopefully) expand their business to Europe. This story shows that there are not only negative impacts of the coronavirus for businesses.

    2. From the second story about Bells of Steel (as described above), we think that one of the best lessons to learn from the pandemic is to avoid making business decisions prematurely. Since these are such unpredictable times, you might not know how the restrictions put in place will affect your business. By making the decision to bulk up on inventory (although best for this scenario), they did not have the knowledge that it would help them and might have put their business in more danger. By waiting to see how the economy changes, and specifically how your market changes, you can adapt to put yourself in a better situation.

    3. Their competitive advantage was that they get to communicate directly to their clients since they are a smaller company. On the other hand, this would not be so easy for larger institutions such as Scotia Bank or RBC.

  5. Weiting Li, Xiaoming Li, Wenting Zhang, Naikang Chen

    1) Which of these stories was your favourite? Why?
    – We like the story of Kyle Hansen and his pain shop the most. There are many bad news as the COVID striking through different industries, but seeing stories like the one Hansen told is heartwarming. Opportunities would rise even under such troublesome moments–it is a fact that can greatly encourage small businesses to stay still and wait for the chance to grow.
    2) What is one of the big lessons you can learn from how these business owners dealt with unexpected challenges?
    – A lesson we learn is that all businesses need to be ready for change and learn to adapt to the environment. Think of strategies to cope with change is crucial before the change comes. Businesses that are ready may capture opportunities and keep exceptionally well even during the most difficult time.
    3) The story talks about the Vittorio Oliverio and his mortgage brokerage business, Centum Professional Mortgage Group. What competitive advantage does Centum appear to have over some of the large Canadian banks – like Scotiabank and RBC – featured in Wiley’s Financial Accounting: Tools for Business Decision-Making?
    – Centum Professional Mortgage Group is, most likely, a proprietorship business. Unlike large Canadian banks, such organizations have simpler operation system and much less client, which made them more flexible when it comes to reaching-out or answering questions from customers. It’s not hard to see why advantages of such smaller business becomes significant during time of COVID.

  6. Keara Mahaney, Xinyi Li, Liv Lopez

    1. One of our favourite stories was ‘A sudden shift’. It was interesting to see how a proactive decision of cutting staff due to COVID-19 was a lesson in employee burnout and quick decision-making for the Benjamin Moore paint store. It’s also fascinating to see that home improvement businesses were among the sectors that saw growth during the first peak of the pandemic.

    2. From dealing with debt to pursuing new business ventures, each business has its unique challenges and even more so in the event of the unexpected. One of the biggest lessons that can be learned from these business owners is that adaptability is very much key in the face of unprecedented change. Being conscious of adaptability can prevent complacency with one’s assets and liabilities, help anticipate coming changes, provide solutions to difficult situations, and so on.

    3. A competitive advantage that Centum Professional Mortgage Group has is due to the smaller size of their business in comparison to larger banks like RBC, they are able to communicate 1 on 1 with customers. During the uncertain times in the pandemic, the mortgage group was able to reach out to people and share information with which in the end put them ahead. People want to hear from a real human and not just a robot, which is why the company saw a significant increase in clients.

  7. Nicolas Gauvin, David Elsinga, Ashley French

    1. ‘When they call, you answer your phone’ was our favourite story because it shows that communication in times of uncertainty is very important for customers and it shows putting in the extra effort for your clients/customers does pay off.

    2. In the ‘there are no customers’ the biggest lesson we learned here is how it’s important to keep in mind that even if he does own the asset in the industrial park he will most likely not be able to sell or rent it due to the other buildings around him being empty as well. Showing that for long-term investments it’s important to be aware of worst-case scenarios like this one and to save cash limit debt to be able to pay expenses to stay afloat.

    3. Centum Professional Mortgage Group has the advantage of being a smaller organization and having a smaller client base than RBC and Scotiabank allowing them to call and answer calls from their customers promptly. This allowed them during the pandemic to help the customers looking for information about mortgage deferrals and financial assistance which was shown to be greatly appreciated by their clients. This resulted in an increase of 30% for mortgages and an increase of new customers which indicates his communication had a positive effect on their sales numbers and clients. This ability to have more personal relationships with their clients is their competitive advantage.

  8. Pushkaraj Jadhav, Su Young Kwon, Justin Leblanc

    1) Our favourite story was “I went with my gut” because it showed how PJ Wren adapted to new the economic situation the world was facing due to the pandemic and made a swift decision of shifting her business online, adjusting to the new normal. In turn, she cut down her costs considerably and has more free time for herself.

    2) All the businesses in the story faced different situations due to the pandemic but the biggest lesson we learned from how these business owners dealt with unexpected challenges is adaptability. These businesses faced the unexpected challenges presented by the pandemic and adapted accordingly to preserve the business. One must always have different strategies in mind to cope up with unpredictable situations.

    3) Centum Professional Mortgage Group is a small independent company compared to larger banks like Scotiabank and RBC, and hence has a smaller clientele, which allows the opportunity for more personal service to its customers. Centum used this competitive advantage in its favour during the pandemic as it personally reached out to its customers. answering their questions and helping them deal with their financial situations, which improved customer loyalty and trust and attracted new customers due to their service.

  9. Katherine Hanscom, Anna Hardie, Shaobo Gong

    1) Our favourite story was of Kaevon Khoozani, the Calgary powerlift/cross fit machine company. We were surprised to read about how selling fitness weights was a rising industry sell during the pandemic. We knew that treadmills and other fitness equipment were selling well in stores, but did not know that weights were flying off the shelves as well. It was interesting to hear from Khoozani about how the overstock in inventory from plans to expand in the US prior to COVID turned out to be in their favour. After reading about the successes of a weight-lifting business, we recalled noticing weights sitting in the background of their post of our friend’s instagram stories.
    2) There are multiple lessons that businesses owners have learned during this pandemic. Brian Chiles, the owner of a autobody shop for heavy duty and oilfield equipment stated how he learned about the importance of building up savings and not creating/carrying around debt. This could be done by reducing expenses. During the pandemic those who have right rent costs or own lots of retail space were/are losing profits as no business is willing to buy up the unused space. The pandemic has also taught entrepreneurs how to quickly make decisions given limited information. Every business mentioned having to adjust to the conditions of COVID. We concluded that taking risks can help save a company however it can also be filled with a sense of uncertainty.
    3) The competitive advantage Centum holds over some of the large Canadian banks is their intensely personal approach to communication. Instead of announcing the release of programs such as mortgage deferral and other financial assistance programs, Centum reaches out to clients directly. Centum focuses on providing the answers to their customers rather than having their customers get confused by all the regulations. They reach out to clients directly and provide clear and easily accessible links to the programs and resources necessary. We also looked into Centum’s competitors, Scotiabank and RBC. From looking at Scotiabank’s Mortgage Payment Deferrals webpage and RBC’s mortgage website, we noticed that there is an overwhelming amount of information provided. In the case of Scotiabank, most of the information is purely just words or in Q&A format. We discussed how it is understandable for business owners who are not familiar with financial terms to feel overwhelmed by all of the information and advice provided on the Scotiabank website. It’s also hard to know which information is applicable to a particular business and what questions to ask when you call up the bank for help. We think that having infographics, pictures, or a clear contact line would be helpful for businesses. Moreover, we had trouble finding information on the skip-a-payment services by RBC. Additionally, we’ve talked about how wait times are often long with RBC phone service. In short, the outreach and website design by the banks may not be so customer friendly compared to Centum. Centum is successful because they are good with outreach and are helping businesses cope with complicated processes during the pandemic.


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