A quick read of economic forecasts for 2023 isn’t hard to find pessimistic predictions.
High interest rates and inflation, unemployment and the possibility of a recession all suggest that this will be a challenging year for the economy.
Despite the dire financial news, many London-area entrepreneurs, many of whom have roots outside of Canada, have decided to start their own businesses.
With this in mind, CBC London decided to speak with three business owners to share their perspectives on the future.
Here’s what they had to say.
A hair store that adds beauty to St. Thomas
Originally from Zimbabwe, Sheila Bradshaw and her partner Amos Ganda lived in Brantford before moving to St. Thomas in 2020.
Upon arrival, Bradshaw quickly realized the need for a beauty supply store that catered to the black community.
“I have to drive to London to get what I need for my hair, so I thought, ‘Let’s open something in St. Thomas,'” said Bradshaw.
The couple opened Shae Beauty Supply in storefronts at the Churchill Crescent shopping plaza this week.
Beneath shelves with sleek LED lighting, you’ll find luxury wigs, hair extensions, braids and other hair care products you won’t find at top-tier drugstores.
“We wanted a great store atmosphere and customer experience,” says Bradshaw.
“There are many products that our hair needs, but we also have products for everyone, so they are not just specific to the BIPOC community.”
And in the face of big economic challenges in 2023, Bradshaw says her passion for business has been a big motivator.
“My first job was at Estée Lauder. I love the beauty industry,” she said. “I hope we can grow and establish ourselves at St. Thomas.”
Brazilian baker brings a taste of home
Emerson Silva moved to London from Brazil in 2018 with his family.
They have arrived with a passion for artisanal cuisine from a country with rich culinary traditions. Silva and his family enjoy making everything from bread to beer to sausages.
“Cooking is in the blood of our family. That’s why we started making bread here in Canada,” he said.
The dream of turning that passion into a family business came true on November 8, when the Silva family opened Tulis Bread, an artisanal bakery on the corner of Adelaide Street North and Victoria Street in north London.
“We got what we wanted and we have our own business,” said Silva.
There are many challenges. As for the price, Silva admits it can’t compete with the big box grocery stores. Instead, he makes all his baked goods from scratch on site to compete for quality. He uses the 6-year-old starter to bake things like long-fermented sourdough bread.
Maintaining high quality means using the finest raw materials, but supply chain issues make many of these raw materials more expensive.
To give just one example, the price of butter has nearly doubled in the last three years, he said.
“Sometimes we can’t pass these costs on to our customers and we struggle with margins,” he said.
Once Churis takes hold, Silva plans to expand into delivery, making birthday cakes, and selling bread at local farmers markets.
African grocer Argyle faces challenges
Born in Nigeria, Baustock Umaroho came to London from the Greater Toronto area in 2019, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was about to hit.
He will open the Boweu African Tropical Food Market in November 2021. His store specializes in African and Caribbean groceries and has a storefront on Dundas Street East in London’s Argyll district.
His shelves are stocked with grains from home, such as red beans, spices for soup, and gari.
Word spreads and customers come from home for food, but Umarojo admits his business is struggling. He often works as his Uber driver at night to cover the bills.
“Our prospects are very limited during this difficult time,” he said. “I don’t think we can sustain our business for long. Things are getting worse.”
Like everyone else, he is suffering from inflation. Gas prices squeeze his margins in a business that requires him to travel to Toronto every week to receive wholesale merchandise.
Crime in the Argyll area is also a problem. Almost every week he lets people into his store with the intention of stealing instead of buying.
“I won’t call the police anymore because it will take some time for them to come,” he said.
Umaroho also says he is still waiting for the city to approve his application for illuminated storefront signs.
“There should be more tax cuts for small businesses,” he said. “There should be more to encourage new business.”