Economic fallout from the pandemic is being felt across the country, even as regions begin to reopen. For small businesses, this may be an opportunity to pivot and reorganize. Rebecca and Mandy Wolfe, the sisters behind Mandy’s Gourmet Salads, a Quebec restaurant chain, show us how their ingenuity has helped them in the past months, and Chris Gandhu, High Net Worth Planner with TD Wealth, speaks with Kim Parlee about what businesses can do now to help weather the storm.
- Hello, and welcome to the show. I'm Kim Parlee. Thank you so much for joining us. Well, economic fallout is being felt right across the country even though regions are starting to reopen. And that's especially true for many small businesses. But for Mandy and Rebecca Wolfe, they are the sisters behind Montreal's Mandy's Gourmet Salads. They had some big expansion plans, and those were derailed.
Instead, Mandy's has pivoted, which has helped them not only survive, but also thrive. Here's their story.
- Hi, I'm Mandy Wolfe.
- I am Rebecca Wolfe, and we are the sisters behind Mandy's Salads.
Mandy's is a chain for me salad restaurants here in Montreal. We started 16 years ago in back of a clothing store in Westmount. And today, we have eight locations across Montreal.
- We went on a family holiday in early March break and came back to a very new world, where everything was slowly shutting down due to COVID-19. There was a definite level of disbelief. And we were also panicked, and scared, and everything was closing.
- We were having many discussions all day every day and not only with Mandy and myself, but with our entire teams. Information from the government was ever changing. The morale of our staff was changing. We didn't really know how to navigate it. And it was all very new and uncharted waters for us.
- When we realized that we were down to just take out and delivery, and Beck and I were discussing how we were going to navigate these waters with green spaces with designated safe zones.
- Over here, everyone's practicing social distancing very well. And we have these taped-off zones.
- We were able to come up with the best, safest way that we could serve. Our people had to keep our staff safe and make sure that everybody felt comfortable and secure making the food, and how we can get the food, and deliver the food, et cetera. We realized quickly that going to grocery stores and getting basic items that, you know, for us as mothers, and we have lots of kids at home, and our husbands going out to get our grocery was becoming less and less possible, less and less pleasant with more and more restrictions.
And we decided to put together these boxes of fresh produce. And we also put together meal kits to take some of the stress out of planning your meals for the week. People really appreciated that, and we were happy to offer that service to people who were stuck at home.
- Welcome Collective is an organization that Mandy and I were a part of founding in 2017. The organization helps refugee claimants, once they cross the border into Quebec, to get settled here. So we provide them with furniture, the basic essentials that we need. When COVID hit Montreal, we turned our initiative into food relief instead of furniture pick-up.
We have access to food supply obviously, and we were very happy to curate boxes of food for these families from Mandy's. And Mandy and I were going personally to deliver these food kits as well to refugee claimant families across Montreal.
- It's a little windy, but we're at the Jewish. We have lunch for the workers of K10. We were able to donate food to the health care workers working in hospitals and in CHSLDs, which in Quebec, are our long-term care facilities for the elderly. So it was a kind of pay-it-forward momentum, where people started contacting us, saying, hey, we would love to help out.
You know, we don't feel safe going. But can we pay for the meal, and you guys deliver it? And that's what then happened. Business right now is in a recovery mode, as you could say. I think that whenever an individual or an organization faces a crisis, and how you overcome it, and how you face it, and how you deal with it and hopefully recover from it defines you. You know, all for one. One for all.
We do feel more confident as a business that we can survive COVID. I don't know. I think that we're set up for just about anything that comes our way.
- So as you can see, that was a great story from Mandy's. But the big question for a lot of small businesses, is how can they pivot and survive? Chris Gandhu is a high net worth planner with TD Wealth. Chris, good to see you. We saw, from Mandy's story, that, you know, they did, in fact, pivot. But what were the steps you would say, that Mandy took, that are the type of things that other businesses need to do?
- Right. So Mandy's saw a need, and then they used their existing resources to fill that gap. But equally importantly, they then use their social media to inform their customers of how they were changing their businesses to serve that community, and how they were going to keep their customers and their employees safe.
- And I know, you know, it's some real dexterity and flexibility that we saw from Mandy's in terms of their story. But the reality for a lot of businesses is with their businesses being reduced. With the demand falling down, there's a cash flow problem right now. So I think that's you know, first, in prime focus for a lot of businesses. What should businesses do to get through the potential cash crunch?
- Right. You're right that is a consistent theme. I mean, what you have to do is to keep budgets tight. Look at your operating expenses and then relook at them again, because this is the time to be lean. And as you said, cash is king in this environment whether that's because that's how she's going to help you survive this downturn.
Or maybe more opportunistically, if there is a competitor that you can pick up, well, this is the time to do it. Or perhaps you can acquire some assets or equipment at a fraction of the cost, because another business is liquidating. So those are the strategies to consider.
- What about the idea that preparing for what could still be coming? I mean, we may be seeing waves of and renewed periods of lockdown over the next little while. So what can businesses do to prepare for that?
- Right. So now that we are in this phase where we are outside the lockdown, I mean, it's time to consider what a business did right and what requires improvement. I think it's safe to say that most businesses likely weren't prepared and didn't have a game plan to decide on, well, who was going to work remotely? Who's a critical employee? How are we going to do all of this?
Well, we've been through that now. Now perhaps documented. Set up some formal processes and procedures. I'd also say that this is also the time to develop a financial plan and then stress test that financial plan to ensure that you can keep the lights on should we have, as you said, a second wave or a further slowdown.
- You talk about developing a financial plan. And part of this might be that you might need help with that. And not to be self-serving, but this is really the time you should be bringing in expertise to help you think through some of these things and to reach out to professionals.
- You're right. And businesses are complex. They're multifaceted, so it's not even one professional that they can rely on. This stuff requires a multidisciplinary approach. Whether it's your money manager, your banker, your lawyer, your accountant, everybody needs to work in concert. And they need to have communication both ways. They need to know what's going on with your business that, if you ever get off track, they can help you get back on.
- Any final thoughts? Anything you think businesses should really keep in mind?
- You know, in this uncertain environment, I think it's always important to sort of have some creditor protection in place. So if I'm the entrepreneur, I want to make sure my business risk stays in the business and doesn't affect my personal assets. And typically that is done by making sure there is separation between you and the business. So if you haven't, perhaps incorporate. If you are incorporated, you want to make sure those between earnings are extracted or moved off to a holding company and don't remain in the operating business.
- Chris, always a pleasure. Thanks so much for joining us.
- Thank you, Kim.
- Chris Gandhu, high net worth planner, joining us from Calgary, Alberta. When we come back, why active management of your portfolio may be far more important now because of all the ongoing uncertainty. We're talking to Michael Craig, head of asset allocation at TD Asset Management.