For the past year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented conditions for small business owners across Canada.

October was Small Business Month and to celebrate BNN Bloomberg highlighted various Canadian entrepreneurs who are navigating their company around headwinds like supply shortages to virus outbreaks.

From dog daycares to sailing companies, here are the stories of resilient small business owners who are pivoting and growing their business despite a global pandemic.

Provinces across the country have implemented vaccine passport systems for some non-essential businesses like gyms and indoor dining. 

Catherine Logullo, owner and general manager of PhoHouz, said while she isn’t having any issues finding workers, she’s had to start spending more money on additional staff to check vaccine certificates.

“Our problem with labour is that now with the vaccine rollout we have had to have more staff on hand to do the checks,” Logullo said.

“It’s just been a bit nervous for them because we’ve never seen this before and this has been put on us to police for dine-in customers. So far we’ve had some mixed reactions but it’s been overall pretty respectful from the majority of the customers coming in.”

Calgary-based pho restaurant on navigating COVID restrictions

Catherine Logullo, owner and general manager of PhoHouz, talks about the different challenges she has faced amid COVID like labour shortages and supply chain issues.

Some businesses are continuing to lose staff as workers look for new careers that aren’t as impacted by COVID-related lockdowns.

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Source: fitsquad_training, Instagram

Jennifer Lau, co-owner of Fitsquad, said many of her employees reevaluated their career plans which caused a lot of staffing changes at her gym.

“As things were changing no one knew what the future of their professional careers were going to be so some of them had taken endeavors that were outside of fitness or gone on their own,” Lau said.

“So maintaining our staff has been a bit of a challenge but we’re happy to have the team that we do now.”

Toronto gym 'super excited' to welcome back members at full capacity: Owner

Jennifer Lau, co-owner of Fitsquad, chats with BNN Bloomberg about the news that Ontario plans to lift all capacity restrictions for gyms starting Monday.

Tracy Edwards, owner of Tobermory Wave Adventures, said her tourism business in Northern Ontario benefited from the boom of Canadian tourists looking to travel close to home.

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Source: Tobermory Wave Adventures, Facebook

But she said the surge in visitors meant she had a hard time getting accommodations for her staff who travel to Tobermory, Ont. for seasonal work.

“At the same time that we got busy so did the short-term accommodation rental businesses because everyone was wanting to get out of the city…so they just gobbled up the available accommodation and as such we weren’t able to house our staff,” Edwards explained.

Small tourism operators keeping up with surge in local demand

Pandemic-related travel restrictions can spell opportunity for some local tourism operators. Tracy Edwards, owner of Tobermory Wave Adventures tells BNN Bloomberg that while they keep up with heightened interest from local customers, lack of staff and accommodations remain challenging.

Tobermory isn’t the only city that’s experiencing a surge of local travelers.

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SOURCE: St-Viateur Bagel, Facebook

Vince Morena, president of St-Viateur Bagel, said Montreal is continuing to have an upswing of tourists even though the traditional summer boom is technically over.

“It’s great news, we started to see it early on in the summer with domestic tourism and then once the borders opened with the U.S. we started to see a lot of U.S. tourists coming back into town…it’s good news for us and people that are related to the tourist industry in Montreal,” Morena said.

St-Viateur Bagel president on navigating COVID restrictions

Vince Morena, president of St-Viateur Bagel, talks about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted his Montreal-based bagel business.

Jeff Farwell, owner of J Farwell Sailing Tours, said despite facing many challenges last year, he thinks it helped them learn to adapt quicker and resulted in them raking in revenue above pre-2019 levels.

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Source: J Farwell Sailing Tours, Facebook

“When 2021 came around this year we actually had a compelling year, our revenue actually doubled from other years and we were off to the races,” Farwell said.

“A lot of it was learning from 2020 and just being ready for the changes for 2021, how we reacted and how were able to capitalize on the local market.”

Halifax sailing company navigates restrictions to grow business during the pandemic

Many small businesses have been feeling the pinch from COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns but this small sailing company has grown despite it all. Jeff Farwell, owner of J Farwell Sailing Tours, joins BNN Bloomberg to discuss how the business actually capitalized on hosting smaller groups for sailing tours in Halifax.

Some Canadian businesses owners benefitted from the different unexpected trends that popped up during the pandemic.

Michele Pitre, owner of Norwood Florist Design Studios, said she’s continuing to see flower orders roll in with many people sending gifts to loved ones during lockdown.

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Source: Norwood Florist Design Studios, Facebook

“It was not something that the industry was necessarily expecting at first, it was exactly the opposite. We thought the whole industry would kind of grind to a halt being a non-essential kind of service but it was anything but,” Pitre said.

“They had a whole new appreciation of their home environment, what was important to them, the small things in life as well-being prevented from gathering. They tried to convey their emotions to their loved ones with flowers.”

Winnipeg-based florist sees unexpected boost in sales during pandemic lockdown

Michele Pitre, owner of Winnipeg-based Norwood Florist Design Studios joins BNN Bloomberg to share how she's pivoted her business to online, email and phone orders to meet the high demand over the last 18 months. She says pandemic restrictions have created a unique demand for floral gifts and that supply is now the major challenge facing the industry.

Another area that’s seeing a surge in demand is pet care.

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Source: FurBaby Pet Care, Facebook

Jocelyn Davey-Hawreluik, founder and owner of FurBaby Pet Care Inc., said she almost had to close-up shop but now she’s seeing a boom of customers looking to train the pet they adopted during lockdown.

“As people are coming out, they have this pet that they’ve had at home now for months and now they need training,” Davey-Hawreluik said.

“Now they have a dog or a cat that’s been used to being at home with mom and dad and they don’t want them to leave so now we’re having some separation anxiety.”

We were in a start-up position when the pandemic started but managed to survive: FurBaby Pet Care owner

Jocelyn Davey-Hawreluik, founder and owner of FurBaby Pet Care Inc., talks about how COVID-19 has impacted her pet care company that offers services like daycare, training and animal reiki. She says while it was tough having the pandemic hit just a few months after they opened, they’re starting to experience a boom in business after many people bought dogs during COVID.

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Source: Dalla Rose, Facebook

In order to avoid major supply chain issues, Nicholas Rosati, co-owner of Crèmerie Dalla Rose, said his ice cream business sources local ingredients.

“We use all local ingredients so we are pretty insulated from supply chain disruptions but one problem that we have had is packaging…just getting things like cardboard boxes has been pretty difficult and even getting them at the right price has been even more difficult.”

How a Montreal ice cream shop is weathering the labour shortage and supply delays

Crèmerie Dalla Rose, an artisanal ice cream shop in Montreal has fared well over the pandemic, complementing the business with online pint sales. Nicholas Rosati, co-owner of Crèmerie Dalla Rose tells BNN Bloomberg that delays in getting package materials and hiring workers remain challenging.

All entrepreneurs have had to pivot their business in some way during the pandemic and that includes hair salons.

Kat Marcus, partner and stylist at Palm Sunday, said she started offering an internet salon in order to reach customers that couldn’t come in for appointments.

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Courtesy: Palm Sunday

“The internet salon works a lot in the way that we communicate like this (Skype) over our devices. Instead of having somebody come in and sit in the chair we do virtual consultations, DMs, Instagram, email and we basically create a colour or a shade and then ship it to that guest,” Marcus said.

“We’ve been able to see people all across Canada, our product went nationwide and we were servicing not only our guests from the salon but then our internet guests.”

Toronto salon converts to an 'internet salon' during pandemic lockdown

Toronto hair salons were in complete lockdown mode for months during the pandemic. Kat Marcus, partner and stylist at Palm Sunday joins BNN Bloomberg to share how she's been able to reach out to more clients and build a new revenue stream through her 'internet salon'.

Some business leaders think there has been some positive change during the pandemic with the way entrepreneurs are supported.

Leigh Joseph, founder of Sḵwálwen Botanicals, said the Government of Canada’s Indigenous businesses initiative and Shopify’s partnerships with Indigenous-lead organizations could help encourage more entrepreneurs in the years to come.

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Source: Sḵwálwen Botanicals, Facebook

“There’s a great amplification and support that’s happening, starting kind of grass roots within communities and then sharing with a larger audience,” Joseph said.

“I think the more awareness that’s put there and the more role models honestly across all sectors of business for Indigenous youth and other people in Indigenous communities to look up to, to see you know there is this path forward to entrepreneurship, I think it will grow very fast.”

Awareness is the key driver of success for small businesses: Indigenous entrepreneur

Leigh Joseph, founder of Sḵwálwen Botanicals, talks about how she harvested plants on the land of the Squamish Nation to provide all-natural products, and how she have pivoted her skincare company amid the COVID-19 pandemic.