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News

April 7, 2020

Digital Sales Skyrocket During Pandemic

The economic crisis resulting from COVID-19, along with quarantines, social distancing, and staying at home, is dramatically impacting Canadian consumer habits, says eCommerce provider Absolunet in its report, ‘COVID-19 and eCommerce in Canada.’ One major change is a significant increase in online shopping. “Canada is on the digital tipping point,” says Charles Desjardins, partner and executive vice-president at Absolunet. “In the future, we’ll remember that there was a way of buying before COVID-19 and after. Every Canadian business’ eCommerce maturity is being tested and pushed to its limits to an extent we’ve never seen before.” While almost all merchants are seeing an increase in revenue on their digital channels, digitally mature companies are seeing the largest surge because they are able to ‘turn on a dime’ and quickly adapt to an increase in online demand, says the report. The ability to process orders and offer excellent customer service depends largely on transportation capacity, inventory management systems, and the ability to anticipate delays in delivery and closely follow cases that are sent to customer service – even with reduced personnel.


Morneau Shepell Launches Free Mental Health App

In response to the crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Morneau Shepell has partnered with a number of organizations to develop a mobile app and website that offers all Canadians access to an extensive range of free resources to support their mental health. Called WellCan, this collection of digital resources will be accessible, free, and available to everyone in Canada online and in app stores. As an online hub of free mental health services, WellCan will continuously be refreshed with the latest information and resources. While the coronavirus virus is feared for its potential to overwhelm the Canadian healthcare system with those suffering from the physical symptoms of COVID-19, the toll on the mental health of Canadians is also expected to be severe, both now and in the coming months and, potentially, years. In the spirit of public service, Morneau says it, along with the partner organizations, have come together to pool their services and dedicate resources to support their fellow citizens. Partners involved in the development of the app include Canada Life, Sun Life, Bell Canada/Bell Let's Talk, WE, jack.org, Strongest Families, EHN Canada, and the Mental Health Commission of Canada.


Boise Cascade Implements Changes

Boise Cascade Company is implementing changes in response to rapidly evolving market conditions and economic uncertainties surrounding the impact of COVID-19. “Our company is an essential link in the construction industry’s supply chain,” says Nate Jorgensen, CEO. “However, we are seeing changes in a number of markets, which is impacting our customers and the markets they serve thus prompting adjustments in our business.” The company will reduce the volume of plywood and engineered wood products in the coming weeks by 25 to 40 per cent, compared to first quarter levels. The company has also negotiated an extension of its $350 million revolving credit agreement and the related $50 million term loan to counter a reduction in sales projected in its building materials distribution division. In addition, it has reduced its planned capital spending for 2020 and is closely scrutinizing all discretionary spending.


Coronavirus Causes Amazon To Postpone Prime Day

Amazon.com will postpone Prime Day until August this year in reaction to business risks from the novel coronavirus, which has caused a surge in demand for household staples and led to demonstrations by warehouse employees who fear contagion, says Reuters. Prime Day, held every July, is a marketing event Amazon launched in 2015 to help sales during the slower summer shopping season. Executives want to avert a potential $100 million hit the retailer might see this year from excess devices that could sell at a discount during the pandemic. The decision to delay the event means Amazon will have millions of devices, like its voice-controlled Echo speakers, that it would have expected to sell sooner. These items are historically big sellers during Prime Day. The decision will also affect third-party sellers that have come to depend on Amazon’s platform for revenue.


April 6, 2020

More Restrictions Placed On Essential Retailers

On April 3 the Ontario government ordered more businesses to close because they are no longer considered essential in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also placed new restrictions on certain retailers that are considered essential, including hardware stores. Non-critical construction and work services, including the residential sector, were ordered to cease operations by April 4. Residential construction and projects, including renovation projects, must have progressed beyond a certain specified point to be permitted to continue. The restrictions on retail stores that are permitted to remain open include that they must, to the fullest extent possible, restrict public access to their place of business by providing alternative methods of sale, such as curbside pick-up or delivery. While these businesses are still considered essential, the public must no longer have access to the stores. Stores in Ontario have responded to the new rules. Lowe’s Canada says effective April 5, and effective for 14 days, its Ontario stores will remain open, but only for curbside pickup following an online order. Canadian Tire says it will limit its 203 Ontario stores to serving customers only through curbside pickup or eCommerce home delivery. Home Hardware Store Ltd. has updated its website for Ontario stores to show only curbside pickup is available.


COVID-19 Has Impact On March Home Sales

The Greater Toronto, ON, Area (GTA) had 8,012 home sales in March, up by 12.3 per cent compared to 7,132 sales in March 2019, says the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB). However, despite a strong increase in sales for March as a whole, there was a clear break in market activity between the pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 periods. The overall March sales result was clearly driven by the first two weeks of the month. There were 4,643 sales reported in the pre-COVID-19 period, accounting for 58 per cent of total transactions and representing a 49 per cent increase compared to the first 14 days of March 2019. There were 3,369 sales reported during the post-COVID-period – down by 15.9 per cent compared to the same period in March 2019. “Uncertainty surrounding the outbreak’s impact on the broader economy and the onset of the necessary social distancing measures resulted in the decline in sales since March 15,” says Michael Collins, president of TRREB. “Sales figures for April will give us a better sense as to the trajectory of the market while all levels of government take the required action to contain the spread of COVID-19.”


Employers Must Be Mindful Of Employee Privacy

Employers need to be mindful of employee privacy during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in regards to health information, says Bernard Woo, senior research director at Gartner. While sharing information is necessary at a time like this, employers need to balance their need to monitor employee health with their responsibility to collect only necessary information and not overstep boundaries. He says employers should record only information that is factual and only the minimum amount of information necessary. As well, limit access to that information to only those employees with a ‘need-to-know’ and use that information as anonymously as possible. They need to store the information in a secure manner and only for as long as is necessary. In addition, they should only disclose information to external parties where it is required by law and only use the collected information for specific, limited purposes.


Canada Partners With Amazon Canada

The government of Canada has partnered with Amazon Canada to help manage the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies, purchased by the government, to support the COVID-19 response. Amazon is providing these services to Canadians at cost, without profit. Amazon will work collaboratively with the government to process and manage orders through its online Amazon Business store. Amazon will use its Canadian distribution network, including delivery partners Canada Post and Purolator, to deliver these supplies to provincial health authorities, hospitals, and other government agencies across the country. This contract award is part of the government's response to COVID-19, which includes major investments in personal protective equipment for the health sector, as well as research, science, and innovation.


April 3, 2020

U.S. Consumer Confidence Declines Sharply

Consumer confidence in the U.S. has declined sharply, says the U.S. Conference Board. Its ‘Consumer Confidence Index’ stood at 120 in March, from 132.6 in February, which had an increase over January. The ‘Present Situation Index’ – based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labour market conditions – decreased from 169.3 to 167.7. The ‘Expectations Index’ – based on consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business, and labour market conditions – declined from 108.1 in February to 88.2 in March. “The intensification of COVID-19 and extreme volatility in the financial markets have increased uncertainty about the outlook for the economy and jobs,” says Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at the board. “March’s decline in confidence is more in line with a severe contraction – rather than a temporary shock – and further declines are sure to follow.”


Lowe’s Canada Ups Wages For Associates

As Lowe’s Canada continues to respond to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic, it is putting in place a temporary $2 an hour wage increase for all full-time, part-time, and seasonal hourly associates working at Lowe’s, RONA, and Reno-Depot corporate stores, contact centres, and supply chain facilities in Canada for the hours they work throughout the month of April. This measure is in addition to the special payment to hourly associates announced in March to recognize that associates and their families may be experiencing unplanned expenses and hardships during this time, as well as to recognize their efforts as they work to serve customers and communities. The March payment amount was $300 for full-time associates and $150 for part-time and seasonal associates.


Castle Sees Continued Growth In Western Canada

Ramuda Building of Calgary, AB, has joined Castle Building Centres Group Ltd. Remuda Building was founded in 2006 by Steve Schouten. He and his management team wanted to expand the store’s hardware offering and provide a more complete product selection to customers. They looked for a buying group that would help them fulfill their growth potential and believe Castle was the right fit. “Our goal has always been to create a sustainable business that will be around for years to come, and one that our local community can trust. Castle was the buying group that best shared our vision of growth and longevity,” says Schouten.


IRWIN Adds Measuring Tapes

IRWIN has added measuring tapes to its roster of professional grade tools with the launch of the Command Lock Tape Measures. The tapes have an impact-resistant case which features a touch-button finger brake for control. They have a reach of 14’ with a high-contrast white blade with Mylar coating. The tapes have a multi-catch hook and magnetic hook options for working with ferrous metal materials such as metal studs, EMT conduit, and black oxide pipe. They are available in imperial and metric lengths.


Long-term Demand Forecast For Outdoor Products

In 2020, demand for outdoor furniture and grills in the U.S. is expected to decline as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, says a study by the Freedonia Group. While the full extent of these effects are currently unknown, declines in economic activity will hurt sales of outdoor furniture and grills in the short term – especially given the timing of the onset, which corresponds with prime opportunities for sales in this seasonal industry. In the long term, demand for outdoor furniture, grills, and patio heating products is forecast to expand 3.8 per cent per year to nearly $12 billion in 2024. The strong and still-growing popularity of outdoor living will continue to drive market growth, as consumers and commercial entities alike increasingly invest in outdoor spaces. Sales will be supported by continued introduction of new, value-added products with enhanced features, such as smart home integration and grills with multiple cooking functions. However, tariffs on foreign-made parts and products may increase prices for outdoor furniture and grills in the short term, which could be a restraint on these discretionary purchases. Depressed consumer discretionary spending and supply chain disruptions amid the coronavirus pandemic will also temper growth, though to what extent and for what duration remains unclear.


April 2, 2020

Canada Emergency Response Benefit To Launch April 6

The support program for Canadians facing unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, announced March 25, will come into effect April 6. As of that date, Canadians will be able to apply for the government of Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which will provide up to $2,000 per month for up to four months and is available for the time period between March 15 to October 3. Retailers and other employers that have employees affected by the pandemic will want to share this information with them. It will be available for workers that, due to COVID-19, have been laid off, lost their jobs, are sick or quarantined or taking care of someone who is, are working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children due to school closures, and are still technically employed but are not being paid because there is currently not sufficient work.


Shoppers Drug Mart Provides Free Mental Health Program Access

Shoppers Drug Mart, in partnership with SilverCloud Health, has opened a virtual stress management program, which it is offering for free to Canadians on their phones, tablets, or computer. The stress program is a blend of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), positive psychology, and mindfulness consisting of eight modules that focus on resilience and cognitive restructuring to help recognize and change negative thinking patterns and behaviours. “With health and financial concerns, isolation, and anxiety rising, this program is designed to treat stress with modern approaches,” says Jeff Leger, president, Shoppers Drug Mart. “Hopefully, it brings people peace of mind and possibly gives them and the healthcare system some relief at a time when both are burdened.” The program is available by visiting Shoppers Drug Mart, and will be free to Canadians until June 15.


Home Depot Canada Adds Associate Support Strategies

Home Depot Canada has implemented some additional strategies to support its associates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, the retailer expanded its paid time off policy to address the needs of hourly associates to help alleviate some of the challenges they may be facing as a result of COVID-19. All hourly full-time associates received an additional 80 hours of paid time off, and part-time hourly associates received an additional 40 hours of paid time off. Last week, it implemented additional temporary enhancements for associates who are 65 or older. Full-time hourly associates who are 65 or older received an additional 80 hours of paid time off (for a total of 160 hours of additional paid time off) and part-time hourly associates who are 65 or older received an additional 40 hours of paid time off (for a total of 80 hours of paid time off). If associates are diagnosed with COVID-19 or advised by health or government officials to self-quarantine due to direct COVID-19 exposure, they’ll continue to be paid during that time. The retailer has also implemented a temporary bonus program for all hourly associates working in stores and distribution centres. From March 23 through April 19, hourly associates who work more than 35 hours per week will receive an additional $100 per week, while hourly associates who work 20 to 35 hours per week will receive an additional $50 per week. Home Depot Canada will also provide double-time pay to hourly associates for overtime hours worked between March 25 and April 30.


Lande Associates To Represent Liteline

Lande Associates Inc., a manufacturers’ representative agency in south western Ontario for lighting, lighting controls, and roller shades, will represent Liteline Corporation in the south western Ontario region. Liteline is an independent lighting manufacturer based in Ontario.


Underlayment Is Self-levelling

TEC has launched Level Set 500 HF Self-Levelling Underlayment, a flooring system underlayment which self-levels to provide a smooth surface without sanding or skim coating. The smooth surface also allows better flooring adhesive coverage. The Level Set 500 HF is a high-flow self-levelling underlayment that pours like water and is pumpable for interior applications. The product provides installers with both extended working time and longer healing time. The product is ideal for fast-track applications and is walkable within two to three hours for ceramic tile installations. Moisture-sensitive floor coverings can be installed in 15 hours. It is compatible with all types of floor covering including wood, vinyl planks and sheet goods, linoleum, rubber, ceramic, porcelain tile, and VCT (vinyl composition tile). The product also is suitable for any substrate – concrete, pavers, cement backerboard, hardwood, plywood, gypsum substrates, tile, terrazzo, metal, VCT, and OSB.


Dollarama Sees Increased Basket Size

Dollarama Inc. had sales of $1,065.2 million for the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2020 year, up 0.5 per cent compared to sales of $1,059.7 million in the fourth quarter of its 2019 year. Comparable store sales increased by two per cent year-over-year, driven by an increase in transaction size and number of units per basket. Gross margin was 44.7 per cent of sales in the quarter compared to 45.3 per cent of sales in the year-ago period. Net earnings increased to $178.7 million from $171 million last year.


April 1, 2020

Associations Call For Industry To Work Together

The European DIY-Retail Association (EDRA), the Global Home Improvement Network (GHIN), and the Home Improvement Manufacturers Association (HIMA) are calling on all stakeholders in the home improvement industry and its supply chain to work together with the least disruption possible during the worldwide COVID-10 epidemic. The group says the crisis having an impact on supply chain and, in particular, on the production of goods in China and its ability to supply global markets. “Only by working together can we ensure the best results in bringing essential goods to consumers around the world,” the group says in a press release. “When goods are not available from China, manufacturers and suppliers must do all they can to find procurement alternatives to try and fulfill their contractual obligations with their contract partners and must inform them of any delivery bottlenecks or supply chain disruptions. We are calling upon stakeholders in the supply chain network to find sensible solutions in the event of possible delivery bottlenecks and supply chains disruptions during this most difficult period, and not resort immediately to legal means. The ability, openness, and flexibility to offer alternative products at short notice, and to avoid panic-buying, can help ensure a comprehensive supply of products to consumers.”


Small Business Must Do Their Part To Preserve Economy

With the announcement of a 75 per cent emergency wage subsidy available to small businesses, it is now up to them to preserve the economy, says Greg Hurst of Greg Hurst & Associates Ltd. The federal government announced the 75 per cent Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy on March 27 for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Hurst acknowledges that until technical details of the subsidy are published, we won’t know how businesses will fund that subsidy, unless they plan to access the emergency lending programs also being offered by the government. “The original 10 per cent wage subsidy announced March 18 was to be initially funded by offsets to payroll tax remittance. However, this will not be administratively practical or sufficient for the new 75 per cent Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. Indeed, the department of finance now advises that payroll deductions (i.e. income tax, CPP contributions, and EI premiums) are not to be deferred. It now falls to businesses to do their part to help preserve our economy during this crisis period. What it comes down to, is that any employer who does not bring laid-off employees back onto payroll with at least 75 per cent of their wages is not doing their part, as this wage cost is being met by the federal government and will not, in the end, drain struggling businesses of cash.”


Statistics Canada Launches Economy Monitoring Tool

Statistics Canada has launched a dashboard that presents selected indicators to help monitor the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economic activity in Canada. The dashboard includes 16 indicators from a range of monthly data programs – real gross domestic product, consumer prices, the employment rate, merchandise exports and imports, retail sales, hours worked, manufacturing sales, air and railway transportation, and travel. Each indicator is presented from January 2019 to the current reference month, and expressed in terms of month-over-month and year-over-year changes. In addition, an index has been created for each indicator to more easily track and compare the relative impacts of COVID-19. With December 2019 as the base reference period, each index will provide a baseline to measure the effects of the outbreak as new data are released. The dashboard will be updated as new data and analysis become available. These will include short explanatory texts that summarize and highlight effects specific to provinces and industries. More indicators may be added to the dashboard to provide additional timely measures and a more comprehensive picture of the rapidly-evolving situation. The dashboard is available here


Astronaut Urine Could Make Moon Bases

Urine could be a key ingredient in creating building materials for moon bases, says the SINC agency, the scientific news agency of the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology. With NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and its Chinese counterpart planning to build moon bases in the coming decades, one major challenge is logistics of supplies – how to get the materials there? Transporting materials to the moon from earth costs about $10,000 per 0.45 kg, which means using construction materials made on earth would be very expensive. That’s why space agencies are thinking about using raw materials from the moon’s surface and those that astronauts can provide, such as their urine. Scientists have conducted several experiments to verify the potential of urine urea as a plasticizer, an additive that can be incorporated into concrete to soften the initial mixture and make it more pliable before it hardens. They have tested the theory and found the final product, which is created using a 3-D printer, supported heavy weights and remained almost stable in shape.


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