What it’s like to unplug your business during the pandemic


Figures are still being drawn on how many businesses have been shut down as a result of COVID-19, and given the financial hardships many businesses are experiencing, a real tally won’t be known for quite a while.But evidence of the tens of thousands of businesses that have closed can be found in malls and on main streets across Canada.

Behind the numbers and delineated companies hides the human toll of closures on entrepreneurs who have seen their passions, dreams and financial strengths disappear.

These are the stories of three entrepreneurs from different industries who faced this harsh reality and agreed to share details about the downfall of their business, the emotions they felt and how they try to hold their heads up high. despite the sorrow.

‘I knew we couldn’t weather this storm’

It wasn’t until a few days after the Alberta government forced Scott McDermott to shut down his gym that he realized the ultimate fate of his business.

Before the coronavirus lockdown in March, it had already canceled group workouts and childcare services as fears grew about the coronavirus pandemic. He and his staff were busy preparing online workouts, meal plans and programs for members.

Two days after Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake, a resort town in central Alberta, was ordered to shut down, McDermott had their weekly meeting with his accountant.

Looking at the numbers, it struck him. No matter how successful the online offerings were, there was no financial way to overcome the depth of success COVID-19 was going to have on his gym.

“I just had to stop and say ‘You know what, that’s not gonna work. “”

Photos before and after closing Best Body Fitness. Instead of a place for physical improvement, it is now for spiritual devotion as a church rents the building. (Submitted by Scott McDermott)

Even if the gyms would reopen quickly, there would be restrictions, and he knew some members would not feel comfortable coming back for quite a while, regardless of the health and safety protocols introduced.

“I knew we couldn’t weather this storm,” he said.

“It was crystal clear. There wasn’t a cell in my body that didn’t know it was the right decision. ”

That night in March, he cried at his desk until 2 a.m. After 18 years of activity, it was over.

“We invested a lot in it, and we helped so many lives, and we made such a difference, and it was all gone.

WATCH | How this gym owner realized his business should close:

During a meeting with his accountant, Scott McDermott knew instantly that he needed to shut down his gym for good. 3:43

After notifying the staff, customers who had prepaid subscriptions were asked to take back some of the fitness equipment as a trade-in.

Now, months later, McDermott is trying to stay positive. Instead of working more than 100 hours a week as an entrepreneur, his stress level is significantly reduced.

Part of the reason is that the gym was open 24 hours a day, so it always felt like it was working. In addition, the past five years have been financially difficult with a struggling Alberta economy and rising trade costs.

We stole our RRSP, and we took from our savings account, and we borrowed money from our parents because you still believed it would get better. It will turn the corner. When COVID hits, it’s like no. That’s all.– Scott McDermott

“We stole our RRSP, and we took from our savings account, and we borrowed money from our parents because you kept believing it was going to get better. It will turn the corner. When COVID hit, it’s like, no. That’s all . ”

As painful as it has been to shut down his business, he is trying to take advantage of this transition in life. He is active with public speaking, online fitness coaching, and writing two books. He is also promoting a documentary about his recovery from a terrible cycling accident in 2015 during an ultra-endurance race.

He’s not sure any of these businesses will thrive enough to pay the bills, but he’s happy to know.

“It’s like a blank slate,” he says. “I’m just trying to be creative and find a way. “

Scott McDermott spends some of his time promoting a documentary about his recovery from a bicycle accident in 2015 during an ultra-endurance race in Hawaii. (Living the Warrior Code)

“Telling the team was really, really hard”

Unlike McDermott, Brianna Hallet was able to reopen her hair salon after the lockdown began in March. However, as the summer wore on, it became clear that the SwizzleSticks Salon Spa in Calgary was no longer viable.

Meeting sanitary restrictions meant operating at less than half capacity with up to seven stylists working at a time, even though there are 16 chairs.

The spa side of his business never reopened to offer massages, facials and other services.

Meanwhile, she said her landlord was unwilling to come in and the business was struggling to pay rent that was still owed for the spring months when the store was closed.

Hallet was also not eligible for the federal government’s Canada Emergency Business Account, which offers small businesses interest-free loans of up to $ 40,000.

“It just seemed like there was too much blockade, and we really didn’t know what the rest of the year was going to contain as well. So even if we passed next month, what would next month bring? Should we be closed again? ”

When the decision was made to shut down permanently, Hallet had his accountant in the room to help explain the situation to staff and help with the transition.

“Oh my God, telling the team was really, really hard. I had the PricewaterhouseCoopers team with me. So it was really nice to have a little bit of support there, but it was an emotional day. Lots of tears. ”

WATCH | It wasn’t just a financial hurdle to overcome:

Brianna Hallet was able to reopen SwizzleSticks after the lockdown measures, but it proved difficult. 2:25

The end of SwizzleSticks is still a painful reality for Hallet who worked there for 14 years and owned it for the past six years.

“It was difficult. This has been a really difficult identity thing. I didn’t realize how much of my identity I placed in SwizzleSticks. Even last night I kept a journal of a few thoughts, and it’s still – it’s identity, ”she said, with grief and mourning.

Hallet is grateful that she maintained her skills behind the chair after becoming the salon owner, as she was able to find work in another salon.

While her first experience as a business owner didn’t end the way she would have liked, it didn’t diminish her entrepreneurial spirit.

“Absolutely, it’s just a part of me. There are too many opportunities not to start over. “

Brianna Hallet is grateful that she maintained her skills behind the chair as she was able to find work at the Josef Saliba salon in Calgary. (Kyle Bakx / CBC)

“It sounds like a huge loss of yourself”

At the start of the year, business was pretty good at Enzo Energy Services. Oil has struggled a lot since the sharp drop in prices began in 2014, but by early 2020, Casey Johnson’s shop in Red Deer, Alta. Was quite busy and crews were busy.

The trucking company transported chemicals and other fluids for the oil and gas industry.

Yet he clearly remembers March 9. Saudi Arabia and Russia had started flooding the oil market as part of a price war and – coupled with growing fears of coronavirus starting to hurt fuel demand – pushed crude prices up to their lowest level for several years. .

Enzo qualified for several government aid programs, but it had no impact.

“For the size of the company we were, it was like shooting a paintball gun at a tank. It just wasn’t enough, ”he said. “The central problem was such a drop in demand for our services. “

Casey Johnson with her two sons in 2010 when he started his business left and photographed again this year before the last truck left the yard. Johnson says they wanted to recreate the photo because his boys have always been in the business, and it “gave me a pause to think about what we’ve been able to do over the past decade.” (Submitted by Casey Johnson)

In August, the business closed and two auction companies were called in to sell everything from large trucks to desks and office chairs. Johnson always believed his business would eventually be sold or merged with a larger company.

“It was excruciating,” he said. “It was probably the most difficult decision I have ever made in my life. ”

At its peak, the company had 25 employees.

“Telling them and their families that their paycheque is no longer coming from the company was really difficult.

WATCH | The difficult transition after closing your business:

After shutting down her business, Casey Johnson was lucky enough to get a new job and, in a way, to create a new identity for herself. 1:12

Johnson himself was able to find work at an environmental company, which he described as a relief to keep him busy while this part of his life ends. There is still work to be done with the creditors and finding a new tenant for the building will not be easy.

Still, he’s optimistic about the future. When thinking about the business, he tries to focus on the many highlights of this 10-year journey.

“When a business goes out of business it’s like a huge loss of yourself,” he said. ” [But] we are more than the work we do or the business we own. And there is more value in life than in business, although when you’re in the middle it can be hard to make that distinction. ”

Enzo Energy Services operated for 10 years in the petroleum services sector. (Kyle Bakx / CBC)


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