Corpcentre's Blog

May 2, 2010

The Key to Customer Relations

Here’s a timely riddle. What is the definition of a terrific sale with no customers? The answer is – Useless.

The dust has not yet settled on the recent recession yet tomes have been written, countless lectures have been delivered, and editorials that can bring a tear to your eye have become the fashion. Yet, when all is said and done, pointing fingers and laying blame will change little. Unless we walk away from the financial warfare having learned how to prepare for the next time, all will have been for naught.

A common misconception was that retail failures were due to customers not shopping. That is not exactly correct. While true that consumer spending was reduced, it did not stop. There is always a need to purchase. However, shoppers became far more particular about what they purchased and where.

A secret to retail success lies in the relationship between the vendor and the customer. Consumers are far more likely to continue supporting a particular establishment when they feel an emotional tie. As such, building a strong bond with your customers is your best strategy. They will be far less likely to abandon you, even when times are bad.

It is a mistake to think that “the sale of the century” will drive traffic your way. Certainly, you may encounter a one-time success. But, after the sale ends, customers are far more likely to return to the friendly merchant who places an emphasis on efficient, courteous service. Customers prefer to frequent establishments where they feel like someone, not something. If you always stand behind your products and services, people realize that you are providing true value. Keeping your customers satisfied – no matter how difficult that may sometimes be – is the key to customer longevity. And, at the end of the day, that puts money in the bank.

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April 27, 2010

If You Fail, Try, Try Again!

Filed under: American business,business culture,Canadian,failure,recession,success,U.S. — corpcentre @ 12:59 am

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” While the coach may have been an inspiration to his players, was he also stating a mantra for everyday life?

As children, we often were told by parents and teachers to learn from our mistakes. Would that life were so easy to enable us to succeed after every failed attempt. Anyone who has ever established a business will attest to the fact that the goal of success is not always realistic. Business is a mélange of so many details; many of which are beyond our control yet have a direct influence on our business. The fact is that winning all the time simply is not possible (with all due respect to Coach Lombardi). The question is what you do with the failure. Perhaps it is better to quote from the Coach who also said, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”

Canadians often compare themselves to their neighbours to the south. Yet, despite the many similarities, Canadians and Americans differ greatly in their respective business cultures. In both Canada and the U.S., for each business success story, there are dozens of failures. In either culture, entrepreneurs prepare and plan, hoping that they will be the next Fortune 500 leader or, at the minimum, establish a profitable business. Some succeed, some don’t. The different reactions, though, are startling. Canadians tend to view a business failure as the end of the road. Americans, on the other hand, accept failure as part of the learning cycle and build upon the knowledge gained. The Canadian accepts his fate and the American drives forward.

Canada may be recovering well from the recession. Yet, it seems there is still much that can be learned from the American business community.

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February 23, 2010

Hope on the Horizon for the US and Canada

The news is out – the recession is over! Or is it?

Whatever you read today seems to have a different opinion. Some say that the worst is behind us and we’re recovering very nicely, thank you. Others say that we’re experiencing a temporary lull before the next storm. Optimists say we can return to our previous standards of living. Pessimists say that we should learn from our mistakes and prepare for the next rainy day.

The truth probably lies somewhere between the two. The fact is that the best of economists will tell you that predicting the future is virtually impossible. Yet, when the figures are checked and re-checked, the recent economic indicators are rather positive. Forget the major “what-if” theories and focus on what’s really happening.

Recently released figures for the final quarter of 2009 indicate a growth in the GDP of both Canada and the U.S. In the U.S., the growth is attributed primarily to inventory rebuilding. While some consider that a temporary measure, likely to taper off, others point out that the need for increased inventory is due to resurgence in consumer spending. True, consumers are still spending their money more cautiously but the figures remain positive.

Not just consumers are spending more. Business investments grew by 2.9% in the final quarter, as compared to a nearly 6% drop in the third quarter. Equipment and software investments rose by a whopping 13.3% for the quarter. Also, net exports added to the U.S. GDP, indicating that the Americans are now using their weak currency and high productivity to their benefit in foreign trade.

Back in Canada, economists have re-examined all the figures and are pleasantly surprised that economic growth in the fourth quarter exceeded 4%, well above the forecasts. The Canadian figures continue to rise well, indicating that recovery is progressing.

It’s hard to tell but, for the time being, after a treacherous journey, both Canadians and Americans are safely on the way back home.

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February 18, 2010

Ontario’s Growth Spurt

Get ready, Canada! Ontario is about to set a new record.

With the country now emerging from the recession, it’s time to take stock and assess the damages. As a province dependant heavily on its manufacturing sector, Ontario’s GDP was one of the worst performing, matching those of Newfoundland and Labrador, contracting in 2009 by 3.5%. However, as many companies have a need to restock depleted inventories, Ontario is now benefiting from a business boom. Economic forecasts predict that Ontario’s GDP will grow by 2.4% in 2010, outpacing the national rate that is projected at 2.3%. This will be the first time in eight years that Ontario has excelled in terms of national growth. This growth is expected to continue into 2011 and reach 2.8%, although national levels are expected to reach 3% next year. Economists fear, though, that restocking inventory will only provide temporary relief. As the warehouses and shelves are filled, orders will taper off and return to earlier levels.

The growth in the GDP is good news for a province that is burdened by a massive deficit, the largest of all the nation’s provinces. Higher energy prices as well as competitive foreign markets are making it difficult to cope with the deficit. On the other hand, the HST, due to take begin on July 1, is expected to help ease the deficit burden. Combined with the HST, new, lower corporate taxes are expected to attract investments and new jobs to the province.

While manufacturing will experience a temporary post-recession growth spurt, Canada’s abundant natural resources will still lead the way economically. Saskatchewan is expected to remain the leader among provinces, based on the strength of its oil, potash, agriculture and uranium sectors. British Columbia and Newfoundland, both of whom suffered during the recession, are also expected to experience significant economic expansion in the coming year.

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January 19, 2010

Positive Cashflow Critical to Small Business

If you’re in business for yourself, you know that maintaining the status quo is not nearly enough. You must continually think of ways to spur growth in your business. While there is no specific recipe for success, there are several helpful tips that can be considered.

Positive cash flow is critical to any business. As such, it is vital to know your financial standing at any given point in time. Looking at the books at the end of month is simply inadequate. Keep your records as current as possible, updating them daily if you can. After all, shouldn’t you be in constant control?

Often, business owners ponder how to improve sales. One suggestion is to truly focus on your clients. Research their needs and problems and provide the solutions. A proven path to success is to give the client exactly what they need, rather than convince them to settle for less. Build a bond based on mutual need.

As important as sales may be, they are worthless if the customers don’t pay. Collections are often a major stumbling block for businesses. Some experts suggest that working with the clients is better than dictating terms. Try to mutually agree on terms of payment. Sometimes, it may advantageous for the top executive to personally collect serious debts. After all, the same money pays all salaries.

Stability in business is also vital. Retaining good employees is often no less important than holding on to key customers. Of course, what’s to stop the competition from luring your top employees? Building a strong bond with your staff can help with retention. Employees keenly involved with the company, who appreciate how they contribute to the company’s success, are far less likely to be recruited elsewhere.

Finally, look for the best people to work for you. Don’t just rely on resumes. Almost anybody can write a creative one. Use interviews to seek out true potential and look for potential personal chemistry.
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January 12, 2010

Survey: National Salary Increases Less Than 3%

Ever the employee’s question, the issue has achieved far more relevance in the current economic climate. No longer is the annual salary increase a matter of form. In fact, many employees were relieved at year’s end to learn that they would still be employed for the coming year, let alone expect a raise from the boss.

The truth is that, owing to a negligible inflation rate, even the slightest salary increase will, in reality, contribute to a gain in living standards. Nonetheless, this is not to say that salaries in Canada will not rise this year. The question on many lips is how much?

According to surveys conducted recently across Canada, encompassing a broad spectrum of more than 700,000 employers, Canadians should not expect large increases this year. Estimates average between 2.3 to 2.8 per cent nationally. Although the national average was 2.2 per cent in 2009, caution in the business community is keeping the numbers down, at least for the foreseeable future.

Employees in Saskatchewan are projected to earn 4.1 per cent more this year, due to the province’s energy boom. Ontario and British Columbia bring down the national average, as estimates are increases of 2.6 and 2.7 per cent respectively, due to low performance in manufacturing and forestry.

In actuality, many companies across the country have projected zero salary growth for 2010. While this is not set in stone, many employers are waiting to see how the economy reacts over the next few months before making new financial commitments.

Another factor to be considered is the number of employees pulling double workloads to compensate for reduced workforces. Easing these conditions could also be considered to be a benefit.

In this recession, every little bit will help.

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January 4, 2010

Paying Down Debt vs. Savings

Filed under: bankruptcy,debt,economic recovery,recession — corpcentre @ 5:28 pm

The great Canadian conundrum – live for today or tomorrow? In an era when money is tight and many families have to make tough financial decisions, the question of priorities arises. How much should one save for the future? How should one juggle his current needs with future needs?

Certainly, young couples face this dilemma. By trying to squirrel away retirement money and manage a young household, many couples begin to choke. Experts advise that the best strategy is to erase debts before saving money. Start by paying down credit card bills. The result is a guaranteed after-tax return of 18%. No RRSP will offer that rate of return! Try, as well, to whittle down the mortgage. Once these debts are out of the way, you can re-direct the money into your RRSP.

In addition to the debt-first strategy, the next step, once you’re ready to invest, is to prepare yourself for the inevitable. Since you can’t predict the future, try to be in control of your options as best as possible.

Plan your investments with some foresight. Rather than look for the best deal today, try and decide what your future needs will be and work backwards. Invest in ways that will best fit your needs. Try to find the best mix of stocks and bonds for you and stick to that mix. Markets shift but your long term consistency should work to your benefit. Also, try and limit your risk. Some is necessary but everything in moderation. Consider a 60-40 mix of stocks and bonds. Once a year, take some money from the more profitable side and bolster the lagging side. This way, you will always buy low and sell high.

Remember the sage advice – be in control of your money; don’t let your money control you!

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January 3, 2010

Three Cheers for Canadian Finances

Filed under: Bank of Canada,banks,canada economy,recession,world economy — corpcentre @ 4:37 pm

Let’s face it – Canada’s reputation is not one of the glitzy stars of the world. It is rather conservative, moderate, and perhaps even a bit dull at times. But, those exact qualities allowed the nation to remain strong and secure during the recent recession. At the same time that the U.S. economy has been floundering with no end yet in sight, Canada weathered the storm that lasted just eight months.

Canada’s well managed banking sector was a key factor in saving the day. The country’s strict regulatory system, combined with a conservative banking culture and superior credit conditions, paved the way for stability. The recession saw the loss of more than 122 banks in the U.S. Not a single Canadian bank closed and none needed bailouts.

Certainly there has been Canadian unemployment. But, our workforce shrinkage of 2.5% was half of our American neighbours.

Let’s look at the GDP. Canada’s fell 5.4% but that’s far less than other nations like Germany’s 14.4% fall or Japan that plummeted by a whopping 15.2%.

Sub-prime mortgages dealt a death blow to U.S. banks, comprising almost 20% of the mortgage market. Canadian banks were a lot more cautious and only 7% of the market was comprised of sub-prime mortgages. Furthermore, banks in Canada rarely sold their mortgages and kept a tight reign, thus reducing the risks of default.

Conservative Canadians are more reserved? Quite possibly so, if one considers personal finances. Canadian household debt measures approximately 102% of income while the U.S. ratio is 114%. When Americans had to start repaying their debts, Canadians were able to take advantage of low borrowing rates and boost consumer spending.

Do Canadians have the last laugh? Not really. The recession has hurt everyone and is far from over around the world. But, whereas the great credit bubble burst in other countries, and many are still reeling from the effects of the recession, Canada has shone brightly as a model of fiscal prudence and responsible financial management.
 
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December 18, 2009

Canadian PM: Stimulus Package Temporary

Filed under: canada economy,global economic growth,recession — corpcentre @ 4:14 pm
On a recent official visit to China, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper took the opportunity to use a press conference as a venue for giving a Canadian economic update and to send messages home about the Canadian government’s stimulus package.
 
The timing of the report may have seemed slightly peculiar but a portion of the diplomatic visit was dedicated to promoting Canadian business, investments and trade with China. Harper hopes that this trip will improve and expand business opportunities with China. Canada’s relationship with China is the country’s second largest, aside from the U.S. Bilateral merchandise trade with China tops $53 billion a year, although China exports four times as much as it imports from Canada. China has lifted a ban on pork import from Canada, a $50 million potential market, but this is still far from an equal balance.
 
Mr. Harper sent a message home that the government’s stimulus program has given a jump-start to the economy but Canadians should be aware that it is a temporary program. The government has warned that stimulus funds must be spent by March 2011 or will be lost. Government officials are quick to point out that termination of the stimulus funds will allow the current projected deficit of $57 billion to be cut in half. Opponents of the government, though, point out that trimming the deficit is not the only issue at hand.
 
The stimulus package was designed to help a recession struck nation by providing employment for Canadians. Critics note that the Harper government has not released figures on how many jobs were created through the stimulus programs. Furthermore, Statistics Canada announced that the economy had grown by only 0.4 per cent in the third quarter, a rate slower than most of the Group of Seven countries.
 
Mr. Harper paints a picture of cautious optimism yet it remains unclear whether Ottawa has indeed managed to invigorate an ailing economy.

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November 26, 2009

Stimulus Funds in Canada to Become Permanent?

Much has been written these last few months about the effects if the recession, or whatever term one may wish to call the global economic situation since last year. Some countries have weathered the storm better than others. Certainly, Canada, while by no means having fully recovered, is on much stronger financial footing as compared to our neighbours to the south. Experts have attributed many factors to Canada’s relative strength. But, putting aside the past, the questions that still remain unanswered pertain to the future.
 
One factor that is contributing to Canadian recovery is the strength of public confidence. As the belief in the stability of the economy grows stronger, the recession and its effects recede that much more. However, what will be if the global economy takes a nosedive once again. Are we prepared for that?
 
The Canadian government has been a major player in managing the recession and orchestrating the country’s recovery. A large factor has been the availability of federal funds available through a variety of programs tailored to the various needs of the business community. While these programs were designed as a temporary stopgap to help weather the storm and keep the business sector liquid, government officials are now asking themselves whether it might be wise to make a basis of liquidity permanently available.
 
On one hand, officials see the inherent benefit of providing funds to facilitate the continuous functioning of core markets. On the other hand, researchers for the Bank of Canada are concerned that these “permanently available” funds might induce investors to take on excess risk, secure in the knowledge that there will always be a bail out plan ready.
 
While the debate continues, the government and the central bank have learned that they must maintain sufficient flexibility and readiness to respond to any future liquidity problems.

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