A word for “small” traders

The life of an entrepreneur is not easy. Even less so that of small independent traders, these bakers, booksellers and restaurateurs for whom margins are often as thin as a sheet of paper.




I was inundated with messages after my “love letter” to them, published last week1. A chronicle which highlighted the disappearance of local stores in several villages, transformed into commercial deserts.

Today I am giving the floor to two merchants, who told me about their experiences in the field. It takes heart, tons of work and a solid dose of pugnacity not to give up in the current context.

Isabelle Héroux, an English teacher, left Montreal 14 years ago to open a bakery in Saint-Élie-de-Caxton with her partner. Yes: the village made famous by the storyteller Fred Pellerin, in Mauricie.

Their business, Good bread, crust only, quickly attracted a loyal clientele from the surrounding villages. Business is good and the couple consider themselves “really lucky”. But still: “times are tough”.

The winds don’t just come from the front: they blow from all sides.

“The explosion in raw material costs, interest on commercial mortgage loans (we are at 10.25%), electricity which will have jumped 11% in two years, the increase in salaries, reimbursement of the COVID loan, all this data means that in 14 years, this is the very first time that I have wanted to change my life for a simpler one,” Isabelle Héroux explains to me.

“An office job from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday, vacations, but above all less juggling of numbers, less thinking about how,” she continues. Like a large majority of small business and local business owners (I meet a lot of them), I returned to work part-time, to make our lives easier. »

You read correctly.

PHOTO PATRICK SANFAÇON, THE PRESS

Good bread, crust by crust, attracts a loyal clientele, but “times are tough,” admits Isabelle Héroux.

When she is not serving customers at her bakery, the 50-year-old woman substitutes in schools, in addition to giving French courses to immigrant workers in her region. This extra salary allows the family to pay for “extras”, such as a trip to Portugal, which would be out of reach with the profits from their small business alone.

The weeks are long. Isabelle Héroux is not complaining. But we also have to repay these $130,000 invested in equipment in 2021, “without obviously knowing that the economy would be so bad and that interest rates would be so high”.

What discourages her, above all, is “the lack of interest from government authorities” towards small businesses like hers.

PHOTO PATRICK SANFAÇON, THE PRESS

“Sustainable and regional development also involves local shops,” recalls Isabelle Héroux.

“The latter only care about the gigantism of “green” development, which we, taxpayers, will have to finance over tens, even hundreds of years, and yet… Sustainable and regional development also involves local businesses , which allow people to get supplies in their local area and thus avoid entire populations having to travel miles. »

Éric Martel has owned his business for 32 years in L’Assomption, in Lanaudière. A real “general store”, whose birth in 1887 would make it one of the oldest in Canada.

PHOTO ROBERT SKINNER, THE PRESS

The Desmarais “general store”, in L’Assomption, must compete with several large chains located nearby and, above all, online commerce.

There are more than 14,000 products at Desmarais: Lego blocks, stationery, cameras, safes. Everything, “except laundry and food.” Competition is fierce around the store. There is a Giant Tiger, a Dollarama, a Pharmaprix…

It’s not easy for an independent store to stand out – and match the prices – from all these chains.

“Times are difficult,” the 55-year-old sums up for me.

If I didn’t own the building and my business wasn’t paid for, we wouldn’t be here anymore!

Eric Martel

The “real” difficulties for the Desmarais store began around 2017. They accelerated – and crystallized – during the pandemic.

PHOTO ROBERT SKINNER, THE PRESS

Éric Martel, owner of the Desmarais store for 32 years, in L’Assomption

“People got into the habit of ordering online, they didn’t have much choice during the pandemic, and these habits remained,” Éric Martel told me. The younger generation is even more difficult, it’s ingrained in them. It’s a social phenomenon: it’s easier. »

Margins are “skinny” and “all costs” such as taxes and insurance have jumped over the past three years. The owner has cut his workforce in half, to six employees, paid close to minimum wage.

What happens next is not clear. “I have a very dedicated employee, I would like to pass the torch to her, but I would not be doing her a favor at the moment. My business isn’t worth much today, apart from what’s in it. »

But all hope is not lost.

“I still have confidence. I believe in a return to basics. Everyone who enters the store is happy to see that this type of business still exists. »

1. Read the column “Love letter to local merchants”


reference: www.lapresse.ca

Leave a Comment