YARMOUTH, N.S. – The first time Miguel D’Eon and his business partners stepped back and took a look at their work, they knew they had nailed it.
Their Yarmouth-based online retailer Saltwreck has seen local, provincial and national success with its maps of villages and towns in provinces throughout Canada, that sees these maps juxtaposed into and onto iconic images. It’s the depth of the work that has people taking a second look, and a third, and a forth.
“A lot of people describe it that way, that you really have to look twice or three times, and I think that’s what’s cool,” D’Eon says. “It draws you in.”
Saltwreck hopes that with the ongoing labour dispute involving Canada Post workers across the country, that people will continue to give small online businesses a second look and not shy away over uncertainty about deliveries.
Unfortunately, the situation involving Canada Post has the potential for “catastrophic” effects on small business in Canada, D’Eon says.
And businesses may start to feel it this week more than ever, given that we have entered a shopping time known as Cyber Week. D’Eon says last year it was reported that over 50 per cent of total purchases made on Black Friday weekend were from retailers that are solely online. In Canada, many of these business rely on Canada Post, as Saltwreck does.
The main reason is price, he explains. For small businesses Canada Post is the most cost-effective option.
“We ship our smaller prints through the letter mail slot. There’s a slot that if you’re below 11 inches and you can fire something in, it ships for $3.50 to Victoria. That is really good,” he says.
In turn, the company is able to offer free shipping to its customers because it knows what its margins are and it can absorb the shipping cost. It also helps to keeps product prices down for customers.
“If I were to ship that in a parcel, or go through FedEx or UPS, I couldn’t sell them at the price they are right now. I’d have to increase my price,” D’Eon says, saying imagine if it costs $12 to $15 to ship a $25 product. “That’s why a lot of people are using Canada Post.”
Starting back in September and October D’Eon was closely watching the rumblings of what was on the horizon for Canada Post given the unresolved contract negotiations. What it has translated into has been rotating strikes that have halted mail delivery at specific locations at different times. There is also a massive backlog of parcels waiting to be delivered. Those parcels are sitting in hundreds of trucks at sorting stations across the country.
The union representing postal workers says wage parity and job safety – particularly injury concerns – remain outstanding issues. Workers have been without a contract for more than 11 months.
On Monday, Nov. 19, Canada Post proposed the two sides agree to mediation to settle their strike, in an effort to avoid a crippling of the holiday shopping and delivery season. The union rejected a proposed “cooling off” period that would have halted strike activity until January, saying in the interim its employees would still be working under the same conditions, with the same concerns, at the busiest and most demanding time of the year. The union wants its issues solved through collective bargaining.
D’Eon says he feels for the Canada Post workers and the issues they are fighting for.
“I’m not disrespecting them. But it’s really going to damage businesses in Canada,” he says, saying in a sense Canadian businesses are being held hostage. It's been reported that more than 200,000 Canadian businesses rely on Canada Post to ship goods to customers. Aside from economic reasons for sticking with Canada Post that D’Eon outlines, he says the quality of the service is another reason they don't leave.
“I didn’t have one return last year. That means that these parcels have gotten to their destinations all across Canada without being bent, and these are prints. Our packaging is great, but no one has complained that it was watermarked or anything,” he says. “Canada post has been superb.”
Still, D’Eon says at this time of the year – which can make or break small businesses – it feels like riding a rollercoaster, but only in a downward direction. It’s discouraging considering that in October, Saltwreck’s sales were 400 per cent above where they were a year ago. Obviously the company wants to build on that momentum.
“People say just switch, but I can’t. And for a lot of online shops, these six weeks are 50 per cent of our business. So if the confidence goes down the tubes, we have a tragic event here,” he says, adding if people stop buying because they’re unsure they’ll get their purchases in time, that’s bad news for many businesses. “A lot of people are going to say, I’m not going to chance it.”
D’Eon – who describes himself as an optimistic, visionary person – encourages people to maintain their confidence in these small businesses. He says people should look at buying super local. Sources like the ‘Local Wishlist’ put on by the Halifax Bloggers and sponsored by Nova Scotia Select is a good place for people to get ideas of Nova Scotia products. Saltwreck is one of the featured businesses. And D’Eon notes their packages are still being delivered in a timely fashion throughout Nova Scotia.
“If I send something to Halifax it’s got a way better chance of getting there on time than if I try to get it to Victoria,” he says.
If things become drastic enough, he says they could explore ways to do in-person pickups in the Yarmouth area. And he also says they will be offering refunds to customers too if things come to that. But above all he hopes even with the uncertainty, customers will still support these small businesses.
“A shift in consumer sentiment could be drastic and many small businesses won’t survive,” he says.