Like so many other places in the world, B.C. was hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis. However, in speaking with numerous businesses within the province, we encountered a tremendous positive attitude and stories of silver linings, rather than a sense of defeat and gloom. The common theme of humility, kindness, gratefulness and a forward looking mindset among them was as much a surprise as it was heartening to see. The stewardship provided by Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC’s provincial health officer, was another common thread, and was seen as pivotal in setting the right stage for early phased re-opening of BC’s economy. “We are truly fortunate in B.C. to have had this kind of attentive and timely response”, said one business owner.
From restaurants and vineyards to shops and car dealerships, there is a shift in how business is being conducted – some even say it’s a permanent evolution with no going back. The change is reflected equally among consumers as well. Over at the Rolls-Royce dealership in Vancouver, they’ve noted that people who are buying Rolls-Royce cars seem to value owning them and driving them more than they did before. It’s no longer just a status symbol – people are actually taking the time to enjoy these beautiful cars with a renewed appreciation for life. Similarly, they’ve seen growth in the economy car market. And while people are gladly back shopping for things they want, there’s been a new found efficiency in the car-buying process. People don’t want to linger around at the dealership. A transaction that often took a full day until earlier this year has become much more swift – you’re in and you’re out.
Eric Griffith, who is owner of Alta Bistro in Whistler and Chair of the Restaurant Association of Whistler has seen similar efficiency gains in their business. Eric realized that restaurants in Whistler are facing some very unique problems that maybe some of the other places would not face to such an extent. The restaurant business in Whistler is significantly dependent upon students and migrant workers from Europe, New Zealand & Australia. The overall Whistler economy itself is heavily dependent on tourism from around the world.
The Restaurant Association of Whistler was instrumental in bringing together the food industry to collectively tackle the challenges posed by Covid-19, as opposed to each restaurant figuring things out for themselves. “They all know that we’re stronger together than apart,” says Eric. While they face a slump in international travel, they’re also seeing a spike in local tourism and tremendous support from the community. “We’ve seen just a really great public display of support, essentially. We’ve never had the number of mentions and likes that we have had recently,” says Eric. “Because, these are local people coming up – it’s really cool to see that people are willing to share their experience.” Their business has been “better than expected”, and even though it’s not at the usual high levels of the previous years, these restaurant and resort operators see this as a huge silver lining.
In speaking with Ezra “Ez” Cipes, CEO of family owned Summerhill Pyramid Winery in the Okanagan, we found out they’ve completely changed the way they do wine tasting. They now have a new host station and a waiting area for customers. “Everyone who comes for a tasting signs in and gets their first taste of Cipes Brut right away, and then they can enjoy the view while they wait for one of the socially-distanced tasting stations to be sanitized and ready for them,” Ez explains. Most wineries are taking bookings for wine tastings, but they found that people are spending more time at their tastings. The overall quality they experience is a lot higher. “The level of service we’ve been able to provide with the host and the dedicated tasting stations has been high,” says Ez. The nature of the business has completely changed while the quality focus has gone up very substantially. But according to Ez, the Summerhill team has been on their toes from the beginning of the pandemic. When the shutdown was still looming over BC, their team sprung into action, they had to think creatively. “Our wine sales team became online marketers overnight,” says Ez. “It was amazing! Before the shutdown even happened we put a ‘Hunker Down Wine-Care Pack’ of six feel-good bottles up on our website, offering complimentary shipping on that package across Canada. It was hugely popular.”
Things are different on their restaurant side as well, because of distancing and the limit on numbers, they now have smaller groups. They see it as an opportunity for the restaurant to spend more time with the customer and to cater to them in a more substantial way such that the quality of their experience has also gone up. “Even though we only have half as many tables in our dining room as we did before, our restaurant revenue is only down slightly. The tables are all full. It’s been actually really nice to run a restaurant where people are there to dine, not just to eat, if you know what I mean.” Ez elaborates.
There is another common thread in the stories these businesses have to tell. All highlighted the fact that some of these changes will be permanent because they’ve seen an uplift in the overall quality of experience for the consumer. This has been a great silver lining presented by the pandemic.
One more thing worth noting is the fact that the residents of B.C. are surrounded by spectacular natural beauty. The impact of this beauty on their senses and their overall outlook is such that it shines bright in their attitudes. The sentiments of kindness, understanding, and supportiveness in abundance have been another boon to BC’s businesses.