High Inflation and High Rates: What Businesses should Keep an Eye on

September 13, 2022

By Atul Oka, Senior Director of Strategy and Business Development, DUKE Heights BIA

As interest rates increase in an effort to battle high inflation, Canadian businesses face greater uncertainty. Interest rates can have an impact on a business’s cash flow, ability to borrow, growth strategy, and hiring plans. With the latest increase of seventy-five basis points (0.75%) by the Bank of Canada in September 2022, Canada now has the highest policy interest rate among all G7 countries. The current overnight rate of 3.25% is the highest since 2008, and with an inflation reading of 7.6% in July, the Bank of Canada is expected to keep raising rates until there is a sustained decrease in inflation.

Conversely, these increases while significant, have only been possible because of confidence in the economy’s recovery as evidenced by strong job growth and an unemployment rate at the all-time low of 4.9% (July 2022 reading). In a strategy similar to the one employed by the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of Canada has “front-loaded” the interest rate increases in an effort to reduce overall spending and thus the demand for goods and services.

Because rate changes have a lagging impact, there is now an increased risk of recession should the Bank of Canada continue to raise interest rates at the current pace. The CMHC is currently predicting a recession at the end of 2022. Whether there is a recession or just a slowdown, businesses in Canada will need to understand how the rate environment will impact their business.

The most important impact for many businesses that have taken on a high level of debt during the preceding period of low rates to boost capital investment and growth is their ability to service debt. In addition to higher input costs as a result of inflation and a possible slowdown in demand, businesses now face an increase in the cost of servicing existing debt and a decreased ability to access increased debt. Companies that have low margins and high debt will be hit especially hard by the potential “cash flow crunch”. Managing and forecasting cash flow will thus be critical for many businesses if they are to effectively mitigate this risk.

Wage inflation and the ability to hire new workers in the short term may also impact businesses during the initial interest rate cycle. Over the last two years, many workers left the labour force leaving businesses struggling to fill open positions. This in turn resulted in wage inflation as businesses attempted to retain and grow their headcount. Businesses may therefore continue to face human resource challenges until the labour market cools down which is only expected in late 2022 or 2023 when demand destruction leads to increased layoffs.

Another challenge that not even large international companies like Walmart and Target have been able to successfully manage is forecasting demand and thus inventory. Some businesses may hedge against inflation by accumulating inventory and locking in prices before they increase, or over-order, if supply chains remain unstable, but carrying a large inventory, can tie up precious funds if the inventory cannot be moved at the rate expected. Businesses should be cautious about excess inventory, especially in light of the manufactured slowdown in consumer and corporate demand as a result of higher interest rates.

It is thus important for businesses to incorporate these challenges and risks when creating, evaluating, or adjusting their business plan or strategy.

The DUKE Heights BIA offers free financial planning assistance for members. You can access this service HERE.

Marketing during a Slowdown

June 08, 2022

By Atul Oka, Senior Director of Strategy and Business Development, DUKE Heights BIA

With higher inflation and increasing interest rates, many economists are forecasting a downturn in the economy. Of particular concern for businesses is the potential slowdown in consumer spending which will impact sales and total revenue.
In tough times it is often logical for businesses to rationalise costs to ensure profitability. Indiscriminate cost-cutting however can have unintended or negative consequences for the business. The traditional approach often involves cutting the marketing budget because it is seen as nonessential to the business.
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The Harvard Business Review suggests that this may actually be harmful to the business and suggests an approach which identifies the consumers and products which will continue to be in demand and focus business marketing on this targeted space. This approach has historically been shown to not only support sales during a downturn but also an increase in market share for the business coming out of the slowdown.

To understand how to do this, we first need to understand consumer behaviour during tough economic times. Consumers can be segmented into four large groups.

Slam on the brakes – This group feels more vulnerable and immediately reduces all types of spending by eliminating costs, delaying certain purchases, or substituting items for cheaper alternatives.

Pained but patient – This group remains optimistic about the long term but is less certain about the short term, and therefore also reduces spending though not as thoroughly as the previous group. This is usually the largest consumer group and will quickly change their behaviour based on both positive and negative news.

Comfortably well-off – This group is not as concerned about short term bumps and is confident in their ability to continue spending at their usual level to maintain their standard of living.

Live for today – This segment of consumers usually remains unconcerned about savings and thus does not change their consumer behaviour unless they are directly affected by unemployment.

As a product and marketing strategy, it may be useful for businesses to evaluate their products against these market segments and identify who their main consumers currently are, then take appropriate action to ensure continued sales.

We can elaborate on this concept with two examples. The first being a corner grocery store, and the second is a beauty supplies store.

The corner grocery store, which usually caters mainly for the slam on the brakes and pained but patient consumer segments, will find that consumer behavior has changed away from “treats” or “nice to haves” to “essentials”. In this case, the store could be agile enough to reposition itself to stock more “essential” items at lower margins but secure a greater volume of consumers by better aligning its inventory and marketing to benefit from changing consumer behaviour.

The beauty supplies store however will have a different set of challenges and opportunities. Most of its traditional consumer base would now have stopped or postponed “nonessential” purchases. By focusing on the latest trends and higher-end cosmetics, the store should be able to offset the loss of sales from the slam on the brakes and pained but patient segments by capturing the attention of the live for today, and comfortably well-off segments.

Cutting marketing activities or the marketing budget during a downturn therefore may not be the best decision for your business. It may be worthwhile exploring your market and your product or service suites for potential opportunities before taking the axe to marketing.

Employers and Layoff during COVID-19 Crisis

April 01, 2020

Written by: Shraddha Gotad, Workforce Development Coordinator, DUKE Heights BIA

The global outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) is creating significant challenges for employers at all levels and organizations of all sizes. When faced with a crisis, most employers may be forced to think and behave in ways that feel unfamiliar. Whether it’s a technological, financial, natural, or health crisis at work or in the community, crises demand that leaders take an emergency response plan and adapt it as new evidence and factors present themselves.

Many employers are reluctant to let staff go because it is difficult to find the right talent in the tough labour market. Many employers have already halted their recruitment efforts and are taking a “wait and see” approach before making any decisions at all about downsizing.

Given the current economic challenges that continue to grow, many employers are also considering the unfortunate prospect of temporarily laying off staff, reducing business hours, services or even closing their doors completely.

Can an employer temporarily lay off employees until business improves?

This is difficult for many employers because they find themselves in an unprecedented situation. But although some laws have been amended, the fundamental law hasn’t changed. There’s always an assumption that if things slow down, if you don’t have much work, you can just send people home for a little while. However, unless there’s either an explicit agreement in the contract or it’s implied by the nature of the workplace or industry, then you may not have that right. A temporary layoff without the express or implied consent of the employee is constructive dismissal.

The government has announced aid and support that can assist businesses to avoid layoffs, and help sustain themselves through the COVID-19 crisis. The aid is expected to be delivered through the following programs.

  • Extended work-sharing programs from 36 weeks to 76 weeks
  • Up to 75 percent wage subsidy for qualifying businesses for up to 3 months retroactive to March 15, 2020.
  • Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) to provide $65 billion of additional support through the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Export Development Canada (EDC).
  • The EDC will provide a guarantee (a form of a backstop) for your loan with your financial institution, giving your financial institution the assurance to give you access to credit.
  • BDC will provide working capital loans of up to $2 million with flexible terms and payment postponements for up to six months for qualifying businesses.
  • The new Canada Emergency Business Account will provide interest-free loans of up to $40,000 to small businesses and not-for-profits, to help cover their operating costs
  • Under the Temporary Employer Health Tax(EHT) exemption, the province will be cutting taxes by $355 million for about 57,000 employers through a proposed temporary increase to the Employer Health Tax (EHT) exemption.
  • The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) is allowing employers to defer payments until August 31, 2020
  • Grace period for property taxes and utility bills, the city will be suspending automated withdrawals and provide a 60 day grace period for property taxes and utility bills

However, assuming that as an employer you do have the right or that the employee agrees to a temporary layoff, then employment standards legislation sets out some guidelines,. Generally, a temporary layoff is considered to be a temporary period in which the employer ceases to provide work (and usually pay) to employees. So, for example, in Ontario, you can temporarily lay someone off for up to 13 weeks in any consecutive 20-week period. This can be extended up to 35 weeks in some circumstances within any consecutive 52-week period. Where the layoff extends beyond the prescribed temporary period of time described by the legislation,  termination obligations will apply.

Employees on layoff may be entitled to federal employment insurance benefits in Canada.

If the temporary layoff is not an option for the employers they can also consider the below options

  • Offering unpaid leaves of absence
  • Asking for voluntary layoffs
  • Asking for a voluntary reduction in wages or hours of work

Many of these need careful implementation (and the assistance of legal counsel) and/or may not be possible in workplaces with a collective agreement.

As an employer it is very important not to make assumptions about how the law works, as any wrong decision, can result in high chances of inadvertently exposing yourself to a wrongful dismissal claim. However, if as an employer you are still considering the possibility of temporarily laying off your employees due to the significant slowdown in business as a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis, then you should ensure that you do so in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction(s) in which your business operates. To ensure this, it would be wise to seek the support of legal counsel.

For more information refer to the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan.

Understanding the Impact of Privacy Laws on Your Business

Written By: Ryan Hanna, DUKE Law Intern

February 01, 2020

While collection and use of personal information is essential to many modern business activities such as marketing and sales, the use and protection of personal information can create risks for the business if not handled appropriately.

In Canada, federal and provincial legislation provides rules for the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information in a way which respects the privacy of individuals while recognizing the needs of organizations to utilize that information. Foundationally, the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act together provide useful information on the privacy rights of individuals.

When it comes to private businesses and their use of personal information, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) provides some additional ground rules. ‘Personal Information’ is defined as information, about an individual, such as their age, name, ID numbers, income, ethnic origin, opinions etc.

Given the breadth of this definition, it is important for businesses to take caution when engaging with anything that could reasonably be used to identify an individual person. PIPEDA provides 10 principles which businesses must follow to ensure the protection of personal information and to avoid violating PIPEDA. These principles define responsibilities and offer guidance to businesses on the collection, use and disclosure of personal information. Some of these principles include, Identifying purposes, Consent, and Safeguards.

Identifying purposes, refers to the activities before the collection of personal information, and states that the purposes for which the personal information is being collected must be identified by the organization before or at the time of collection. This will both protect the potential client by minimising the amount of personal information collected, but also guide the business by helping narrow down the reason for collecting information.

Another principle closely related to collecting personal information is consent. Consent means that not only must organizations obtain meaningful consent for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information, organizations are also responsible for ensuring that people understand what they are consenting to. This means that consent is usually given for very specific reasons and use of personal information outside of given consent may have legal implications which should be avoided.

Safeguards, refer to the protection of personal information in a way that is appropriate to how sensitive it is, and to ensure that the information is protected against, loss, theft, or any unauthorised access, disclosure, or copying of the information.

Make sure that you are familiar with the various acts, as knowing about the businesses responsibilities regarding the collection, use and protection of personal information will help your business avoid some of the pitfalls and risks of dealing with personal information, and any legal implications thereof.

Occupational Competency and Career Progression

DUKE Heights Occupational Competency and Career Progression Chart- Food and Furniture Manufacturing

May 30, 2019

Interactions with manufacturing-based businesses in the DUKE Heights Businesses Improvement Area has highlighted the employment related challenges they face with respect to recruitment, retention, workforce productivity and innovation. To address some of these challenges, the DHBIA is in process to develop a sector-based workforce strategy. As an extension to the sector-based workforce strategy model, DHBIA has created a first of its kind interactive ‘Occupational Competency and Career Progression Chart’ to better understand the knowledge, skills and competencies associated with key occupations related to the manufacturing sector. This framework has been established based on our interactions with business and existing labour market information.

Benefits of the Competency & Career Progression Chart

Businesses:

  • Identify industry recognized skills and competencies
  • Tailor job descriptions through better understanding of tasks and responsibilities associated with a specific position
  • Define career progression paths within organization to attract and retain resources

Job Seekers:

  • Better ability to perform self-assessment and make informed career choices/decisions
  • Develop better understanding of skill requirements for a specific role and seek necessary training programs
  • Gain improved transparency into career advancement opportunities

Employment Service Providers:

  • Develop understanding of competencies and skills required to meet employer needs
  • Design targeted training programs, curriculum and support services
  • Provide better counsel services to job seekers on skill requirements associated with a specific job position

Link to Occupational Competency and Career Progression Chart- Furniture Manufacturing

Link to Occupational Competency and Career Progression Chart- Food Manufacturing

Please Note: Data updated on May 30, 2019.

Non-formal dispute resolution

February 01, 2019
Written by: Kristen Steele, DUKE Law Intern

Non-Formal dispute resolution mechanisms can be a good alternative to formal dispute resolution methods such as arbitration or litigation, which can be time consuming and expensive. One benefit of this method is to ensure that all parties involved in a dispute will maintain confidentiality because it encourages all parties to keep all material information to themselves. A second is that the parties have a higher degree of control over these kinds of proceedings. The two most common forms of non-formal dispute resolution include the following:

Negotiation

Negotiation involves two or more parties who enter into a discussion or deliberation with the goal of reaching an agreement or resolving a dispute by means of compromise, making negotiation the least formal dispute resolution mechanism available. However, given that there is no facilitator over these negotiations, if the parties cannot come to an agreement of their own volition, the negotiations will fail.

Mediation

Mediation is like negotiation, but it includes facilitation by a neutral third-party commonly known as a mediator. A drawback is that the mediator, and not the parties themselves, will determine how formal the proceedings will be.
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Sometimes it’s hard to translate business problems into legal questions, which is why DUKE Heights BIA made the process as seamless as possible through DUKE Law. From our partnership with Osgoode Hall Law School, we are offering businesses in the BIA this legal information service free of charge. Go ahead, ask your business question with the reassurance that it will be answered by a dedicated team of trained specialists at any time. Ask your question today at dukeheights.ca/law

What kind of contract does my business need?

Dec 20, 2018

Written by: Christopher Dias, DUKE Law Intern

Contracts are an integral part of any business, dealing with crucial issues such as money and relationships between people. There are several contractual agreements to consider when starting or growing a business:

signing-contractLease

This is a vital contract for businesses that require a physical space. When negotiating a lease agreement, consider whether the space fits the needs of the business and if the lease term is of a sufficient length (with a right to extend the term, if necessary).1,2

Loan Agreement

Borrowing money is a likely reality when starting or growing a business. Many businesses take out loans from banks or other financial institutions in the form of a contractual agreement, so things like payment schedules and the right to prepay the loan without penalty may be important when considering where to obtain a loan, among other considerations.3

Employment Contract

If a business requires the assistance of other people, then employment contracts must be signed by everyone that is hired. These agreements often take the form of offer letters that detail the responsibilities of the role, its salary/benefits, and a host of other stipulations.4 Depending on the nature of the business, a confidentiality agreement may also be necessary.5

There are a variety of other contracts to consider when looking to start or grow a business. For more information on what a contract is and how they operate.6

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

1 https://www.forbes.com/sites/allbusiness/2016/02/03/10-essential-contracts-for-small-and-growing-businesses/#4ff6c6ef1aa3
2 For further information on lease considerations visit: Ibid.
3 Ibid;
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 https://www.canadaone.com/ezine/june2010/business_contracts.html

Do I need a lawyer to start a business?

small-business-help

small-business-help

Written by: Shally Malik, DUKE Law Intern
November 20, 2018

Lawyers can help businesses navigate the legal waters associated with being a business owner. Determining whether a business requires a lawyer is often dependent on the complexity of the case. For example, entrepreneurs developing businesses on their own can decide between operating as a sole proprietorship or as a corporation; whereas, businesses with more than one founder may operate as a partnership or similarly as a corporation. The complexities of registering as a corporation opposed to a sole proprietorship can be intimidating enough to warrant the assistance of a lawyer right from the start. However, regardless of the business structure an entrepreneur ultimately chooses, hiring a lawyer can make the process of drawing up legal contracts, leases, buying existing businesses, seeking equity financing and more, much easier.
Free legal information like DUKE Law can help startups, small-to-medium-sized enterprises and social enterprises get over many of the legal hurdles they might face when starting a new business. Still, when more than just general legal information is needed, a lawyer would be able to give customized legal advice that fits the legal situation.
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Sometimes it’s hard to translate business problems into legal questions, which is why DUKE Heights BIA made the process as seamless as possible through DUKE Law. From our partnership with Osgoode Hall Law School, we are offering businesses in the BIA this legal information service free of charge. Go ahead, ask your business question with the reassurance that it will be answered by a dedicated team of trained specialists at any time.
Ask your question today at dukeheights.ca/law

Labor Trends That Will Impact Your Company’s Diversity

Glassdoor.com recently released their list of the best jobs in America for 2019. The report reveals the 50 best jobs based on a job score that was determined by analyzing job earning potential, median annual base salary, job satisfaction scores and the number of job openings. Software engineer was the most in-demand job on the list and the highest-paid job on the list was software engineering manager.