News briefs from Thursday May 13:

Greyhound Canada Closes its Services in Canada 

Greyhound Canada announced it will discontinue all operations on its remaining routes in Ontario and Quebec, and will permanently close all services in Canada effective today. This announcement has no impact on Greyhound Lines’ operations within the United States. Greyhound Lines, Inc. (USA) is a separate entity from Greyhound Canada, it said.Greyhound Lines, Inc. (USA) will continue to operate cross-border express services on the following routes when the border reopens: Toronto to New York; Toronto to Buffalo; Montreal to New York; Montreal to Boston; and Vancouver to Seattle.

Canadian Tire announces strong Q1 financial results

Canadian Tire Corporation releases Q1 results: Comparable sales in retail grew 19.2 per cent, driven by double digit growth in over 60 per cent of product categories; Mark’s delivered exceptional comparable sales growth of 22 per cent with continued strength in national brands and strong performance in industrial categories; SportChek’s strong comparable sales grew by 18.7 per cent, due to increased demand in categories relating to outdoor activities and home fitness equipment; Owned Brands grew $210 million or over 29 per cent across all banners in the quarter with penetration rate reaching 35 per cent, driven by impressive performance from Canvas, Mastercraft, and Helly Hansen workwear. “I am pleased with the sustained momentum of all of our businesses and with our unprecedented results in the first quarter, given significant store network restrictions. Our unique, multi-category assortment across all banners has been integral in meeting the demand for products in backyard living, outdoor activities, home projects and industrial workwear. The continued growth in our digital capabilities was a key enabler of customers shopping us their way,” said Greg Hicks, President and CEO, Canadian Tire Corporation. “Triangle Rewards also saw gains in the quarter with the addition of over 400,000 new members, and active members’ average spend increasing 15 per cent.”

Heat Check: Comparing Canada and  US housing markets  

Housing markets in Canada and the US are on a tear. Home price and sales metrics show that while the US market is hot, Canada’s is hotter, according to a new report by TD Economics. At a high level, there are a number of commonalities driving housing activity in both countries. But there are factors unique to Canada that are fuelling the country’s outperformance such as stronger population growth, less scarring from the ‘08 housing crash, and greater fears of missing out.  Looking ahead, Canadian housing dynamics could follow the US given that America is further ahead in the vaccine rollout and reopening of the economy. Still, Canada may see continued outperformance given that its market may be more fertile ground for FOMO (or “fear of missing out”) and increased speculation. A larger deterioration in affordability before and during the pandemic poses a greater downside risk over the medium term.

Forever 21 begins quietly opening first Canadian “2.0” stores

Los Angeles-based fast fashion retailer Forever 21 is making its return to Canada this spring with physical stores after shuttering all locations as part of a bankruptcy filing in 2019. Canadian stores began quietly opening last week and Retail Insider’s Lee Rivett took several photos of the new Forever 21 store at Guildford Town Centre in Surrey near Vancouver.  Toronto-based YM Inc. is leading the Forever 21 expansion after establishing a partnership last year that included announcing a new Forever 21 e-commerce site for the Canadian market that launched in early 2020. YM Inc. acquired many of Forever 21’s leases after the retailer exited Canada, and subsequently opened stores under various banners in the former Forever 21 locations including Urban Planet, Urban Behaviour and Stitches.  Many of the Forever 21 stores saw few changes to the retail spaces following the shuttering of the original chain. Some of the former Forever 21 locations are being converted back to the original banner as the brand again re-enters Canada.

Pandemic driving shifting customer service experiences

The COVID-19 global pandemic has resulted in many shifts, changes and accelerated trends that have altered our contemporary ways of doing things. It’s resulted in a significant spike in e-commerce activity, propelling the evolution of merchant omnichannel strategies and the digitization of the retail environment. This proliferation is challenging most businesses, requiring them to develop and enhance digital means by which to better communicate with and serve their customers. In fact, according to Marshall Berkin, Vice-President, Industry Solutions at TELUS, they are improvements that will be critical in the success of any organization going forward. “More than ever, consumers are looking for an easy, touchless and seamless service experience to complement their changing shopping habits,” he says. “And for customer service teams dealing with legacy contact solutions, they are challenged by the massive increase in calls, chats and message volumes. Digital comfortability is increasing and online shopping behaviours are here to stay, it’s no longer about digitizing your business, but how to create a digital business. This needs to be an organization’s priority for brand appeal and long-term success.”

News briefs from Wednesday May 12:

Alberta to lead the country in economic growth this year

The Alberta economy is expected to lead the country with 7.2 per cent growth this year, though that follows a year in which the province was estimated to have seen the deepest decline in Canada, according to BMO Economics. Oil prices have rebounded strongly, which is helping drive a rebound in provincial income, and production is on pace to rebound firmly this year. Longer term, the sector will remain challenged by the price environment (not high enough to incentivize new capital investment) and the shift toward renewable energy.

Alberta making it easier for small businesses to access rapid testing

A one-of-a-kind partnership with Alberta Chambers of Commerce will make it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to access rapid testing kits. Alberta is the first province in Western Canada to offer rapid antigen testing kits to all chambers of commerce provincewide to help identify pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic cases and isolate them early. This program allows Alberta businesses to work directly with local chamber staff. Interested businesses and not-for-profit organizations can apply to receive rapid testing kits directly from their local chamber of commerce.

New film production facility for Calgary

A new film production facility in Calgary is the latest example of a nationwide trend of expansion in the film and television industry. William F. White International Inc., a Sunbelt Rentals Company, is continuing the growth of its real estate footprint across the country, with its first facility in Calgary and 10th in Canada. Fortress Studio now offers clients 97,500 square feet of filmable space and a clear height of 36 feet within the 109,100-square-foot facility.

Pandemic is causing new roles to emerge in Canadian organizations

The global pandemic has fundamentally changed the nature of work in Canada, with a shift to remote operations posing new technological challenges to businesses large and small. The Conference Board of Canada surveyed 97 risk and emergency management leaders and practitioners across the Canada to find out what challenges they’re grappling with and how they are responding. “A year into the pandemic, and Canadian organizations are still adapting to a remote workforce and operations,” says Michael Burt, Vice-President at The Conference Board of Canada. “Companies in all sectors of the economy have had to adapt their risk mitigation and emergency management strategies—and the accompanying shifts in technology. It continues to be a challenging environment.” Key findings from The Conference Board survey include the following: Half of the workers (50 per cent) at surveyed companies continue to mostly or fully work remotely; A total of 89 per cent of organizations foresee new strategic roles emerging within their organization to deal with the changing nature of their business, i.e. virtual workforce management or online service delivery, etc.; and A large majority of organizations (81 per cent) feel more resilient because of their pandemic experiences and feel better prepared to respond to future crises.

Luxury clothing sales on the decline in 2020

Canadian luxury apparel retailers during 2020 continued in some cases to open new stores and/or upgrade their existing ones. However as many are aware, last year was a disastrous period for Canadian luxury apparel retailing. Bain and Co. reported that, worldwide, luxury apparel retail sales during 2020 decreased 30 per cent. In Canada during 2020, the picture was almost as bleak. Some numbers to consider: Apparel sales in total decreased 23.6 per cent.; Men’s dress apparel sales fell 33 per cent, while women’s dress apparel sales decreased 35.3 per cent, according to a report by Trendex.

Best March on record for Alberta oil production

After pulling back in January and February, the volume of daily oil production in Alberta increased by 1.5 per cent in March, averaging 3.62 million barrels per day, reported ATB Economics in its daily economic update The Owl. This is the best March on record with year-over-year production up by 1.2 per cent compared to March 2020 and by 4.4 per cent compared to March 2019. Average daily oil production got as low as 2.89 million barrels in May 2020. Even with the pandemic still in play in Alberta and around the world, strong oil prices (WTI futures have been above $US60 per barrel since mid-April) and the economic recovery in the U.S. should continue to push up Alberta’s oil production.

Crescent Point Energy swings to a profit in Q1

Crescent Point Energy reported a $21.7 million profit for Q1 2021 compared to a loss of $2.3 billion a year ago. “Our first quarter results continued to demonstrate our strong operational execution”, said Craig Bryksa, President and CEO of Crescent Point. “Against the backdrop of a rising oil price environment, we have remained disciplined and focused on enhancing balance sheet strength and the sustainability of our business. The Kaybob Duvernay assets strengthen our expected free cash flow outlook, accelerate our deleveraging profile and improve our environmental performance, positioning our company to create significant value for our shareholders in 2021 and beyond.”

Luxury US electric car brand entering Canadian market

US-based electric car brand Lucid Motors will open its first showroom in Canada this year in Vancouver, according to Retail Insider. Lucid will disrupt the automotive market in Canada at a time when other electric car manufacturers are also expanding retail operations in this country. Lucid Motors is a new luxury electric vehicle company based in Newark California. The design of the Lucid Air, the company’s first vehicle, is said to have been influenced by the state of California. The interior of the Lucid Air including its colours, materials and finishes, is said to be inspired by the diversity of landscapes and geography of the state creating a “post luxury” aesthetic, according to the company.

Trust in politicians and big business falling

Canadians have lost trust in the Prime Minister, the majority of Canadian premiers, and the country’s large businesses and corporations during the COVID-19 crisis, according to new research from Discover by Navigator. Canadian’s trust in their political leaders declined sharply at both the federal and provincial level with Ontario and Alberta residents reporting the biggest losses of trust and only Quebec and Atlantic Canada reporting increases in trust. Fully 44 per cent of respondents said they trust Prime Minister Trudeau less now than compared to the start of COVID-19 while just 19 per cent reported trusting the Prime Minister more giving Trudeau a pandemic trust progression score of -25.

Investment in building construction on the rise

Total investment in building construction in Canada increased 5.9 per cent to $18.6 billion in March, led by the residential sector, reported Statistics Canada. On a constant dollar basis (2012=100), investment in building construction was up 5.2 per cent to $14.3 billion in March. Residential construction investment increased for the 11th consecutive month, up 7.6 per cent to $14.0 billion in March.

News briefs from Tuesday May 11:

Suncor and ATCO collaborate on clean hydrogen project

Two Canadian companies, Suncor Energy and ATCO Ltd., are collaborating on early stage design and engineering for a potential clean hydrogen project near Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. The project would produce more than 300,000 tonnes per year of clean hydrogen, reduce Alberta’s CO₂ emissions by more than two million tonnes per year, significantly advance Alberta’s hydrogen strategy, generate substantial economic activity and jobs across the province, and make a sizable contribution to Canada’s net zero ambition. It is expected that 85 per cent of the produced clean hydrogen would be used to supply existing energy demand. Specifically, 65 per cent of the output would be used in refining processes and cogeneration of steam and electricity at the Suncor Edmonton Refinery, reducing refinery emissions by 60 per cent. In addition, approximately 20% of the output could be used in the Alberta natural gas distribution system, also further reducing emissions.

Breathing new life into Calgary’s downtown core

The Calgary Office Revitalization and Expansion (CORE) Working Group will make recommendations on the best path forward to fill office towers and renew the vibrancy of Calgary’s downtown core.The CORE Working Group – co-chaired by Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer and Calgary-Currie MLA Nicholas Milliken – includes representation from a broad cross-section of affected stakeholders. These representatives will work together to assess the findings and recommendations brought forward by the co-chairs, engage with Calgarians and provide a road map for returning Calgary’s downtown core to a healthy and energetic place to live and work.

TELUS investing another $14.5 billion in Alberta infrastructure

To complement the $51 billion TELUS has invested in Alberta since 2000, TELUS announced today it is investing an additional $14.5 billion in infrastructure and operations across Alberta through 2024 to further support the province throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic recovery. These investments will create important and tangible social outcomes for us all by enabling Albertans to work, learn, access healthcare, and socialize from home during these unprecedented times,said the company.

Mainstreet expands its residential apartment portfolio

Even under immensely challenging operating conditions in Q2 2021, Mainstreet managed to achieve growth across all of its key metrics. Funds from operations increased 11 per cent compared with last year, while revenues rose five per cent and net operating income increased four per cent. Year-to-date it expanded its portfolio as part of a broad diversification effort, acquiring 662 residential apartment units for a total consideration of $80 million, including 393 units in British Columbia ($50 million). It also raised an additional $54.8 million through the refinancing of long-term, CMHC-insured debt at an average interest rate of 1.81 per cent. Bob Dhillon, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Mainstreet, said, “Our ability to achieve results in Q2 demonstrates the fundamental durability of the multifamily apartment market, and underscores Mainstreet’s proven growth model. The environment in which Mainstreet operates has changed dramatically over the last 12 months. However, our countercyclical growth strategy has not, and will provide our management team with unique opportunities to create shareholder growth in the coming year.”

International arrivals to Canada increase in April

April saw the number of international arrivals to Canada by land and air increase from the previous year but remain historically low, says Statistics Canada in a new report. United States residents made 55,200 trips to Canada through land ports with electronic sensors in April. Although this was almost twice the number of arrivals compared with April 2020, it was down 93.9 per cent from April 2019. Likewise, 184,700 Canadians returned from the United States through these same ports, which was over one-and-a-half times higher year over year, but still down 91.4 per cent from the same month in 2019. It was a similar story in the air. There were more than twice as many non-residents arriving from abroad in Canadian airports equipped with electronic kiosks during April compared with April 2020, yet they were still down 96.5 per cent from April 2019. Meanwhile, the number of Canadian residents returning from abroad through these same airports was almost twice the number in April 2020, but 96.5 per cent below the same month in 2019.

Food banks deliver almost $150 million in help and support 

A new report released today entitled Food Banks Canada COVID-19 Response Fund Impact Report shows how Canadians came together in record numbers to help food banks across Canada continue to be there for Canadians during the first year of the pandemic. Food Banks Canada’s $150M COVID-19 Response Fund was established early in the pandemic to provide centralized messaging and support for operational resources, food and funding to support community-based organizations who help Canadians living with food insecurity. The new report shows that during the first year of the pandemic, Food Banks Canada delivered almost $150 million in help, including a record 34 million pounds of nutritious food and $97,988,170 in financial support to community organizations in 4,715 communities located in all of Canada’s provinces and territories.

M&M Food market launches own delivery service

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the changing needs of consumers, M&M Food Market is now offering same-day grocery delivery to residents of southern Ontario with plans to roll out the concept to the rest of the country in the near future. Andy O’Brien, the company’s CEO, said the delivery concept will start in select locations in Toronto, Milton, Cambridge, and Guelph.

Retail Insider podcast with Calgary journalist Mario Toneguzzi

An off-schedule podcast discussion with Retail Insider journalist Mario Toneguzzi who was just named one of the world’s top 10 business journalists. Craig and Mario discuss how he became a journalist and what he’s seeing in Canadian retail during the pandemic through his interviews with top business leaders.

Retail Insider profile of CF Chinook Centre in Calgary

Retail Insider continues its Photo Tour series of Canadian malls to provide a glimpse into shopping centres which may be less frequented lately due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This edition takes us to CF Chinook Centre in Calgary, Alberta, which is owned and managed by Cadillac Fairview. Retail Insider also published a video tour of Chinook Centre during Black Friday in November 2020 and this retail profile builds upon it.

News briefs from Monday May 10:

Retail leasing milestone at massive Taza development near Calgary

The retail component of the massive Taza mixed-use development is beginning to take shape on the Tsuut’ina Nation, just outside of the Calgary city limits. One of the centrepieces of the development is the unique The Shops at Buffalo Run in the Taza Exchange section of the overall project. Recently, officials announced the first round of businesses that will make up the unique tenant mix at The Shops at Buffalo Run with the following tenants confirmed: Tim Hortons; BMO; Dollarama; Lavish Nails; Buffalo Run Dental; HAPPY CUP; Complete Health Chiropractic & Massage; TiNi Vietnamese; and BarBurrito.

Calgary’s resale housing market continues its hot pace in May

According to the Calgary Real Estate Board website, as of today, there have been 791 MLS sales in the month of May in the city which is an increase of 248.46 per cent compared with the same period a year ago. New listings of 1,313 are up by 87.84 per cent and active listings of 6,367 have risen by 8.41 per cent. The median MLS sale price of $463,500 has increased by 18.85 per cent year over year and the average sale price of $510,645 is up by 18.21 per cent.

Calgary’s new downtown plan to benefit residents, and attract new ones

You can always go downtown. At least that’s what the song says. Much has been written about the current woes of Calgary’s Downtown Commercial Core. Office vacancies are approaching 30 per cent and many businesses and commuters are conspicuous in their absence from the area. However, there are a significant number of Calgarians who have no intention of going anywhere, even after the workaday crowd goes home. In fact, with around 8,500 Calgarians who call the Downtown Commercial Core home, the area has an established population and a host of amenities. And now it has a plan.

Arlene Dickinson launches extensive business growth ecosystem

Arlene Dickinson, well-known Canadian investor and entrepreneur, announced the launch of Canada’s most extensive business growth ecosystem focused on consumer-packaged goods (CPG): Venturepark. Venturepark will house Dickinson’s network of companies with a focus on supporting brands in the food and health CPG space. Famous for her marketing and investing expertise, Dickinson’s new ecosystem offers capital, marketing, programming, innovation, commercialization and media amplification to the companies it serves. The new network includes Venture Play, Venturepark Labs, Venturepark Voice, District Ventures Capital and District Ventures Plus. Venturepark will serve clients across North America from its headquarters in Calgary, Alberta and offices in Toronto, Ontario. The launch of Venturepark comes following more than a year of strategic shifts, high-profile hires, corporate acquisitions, as well as numerous investments through Dickinson’s venture capital fund – District Ventures Capital.

Empire announces three more locations for FreshCo stores in Alberta

Empire Company Limited announced the next three locations for the expansion of its FreshCo discount banner, in Alberta. With this announcement, the company has now confirmed 40 of approximately 65 planned locations in Western Canada, including 12 locations in Alberta. Empire has opened 15 stores in fiscal 2021, consistent with its Project Horizon strategy to open 10 to 15 FreshCo stores per year.”Customers in Alberta are welcoming FreshCo with open arms, thrilled to see a new and fresh discount option in their local markets,” said Mike Venton, General Manager, Discount. “Our team of frontline leaders and store teammates in the West is committed to continue opening stores that deliver on our freshness, price and in-stock guaranteed promises. The customer response to our entry into the market gives us great confidence in our brand and marketing strategies.”  Since April 2019, the Company has opened 16 FreshCo stores in B.C., six in Manitoba, four in Saskatchewan and two in Alberta. By the end of fiscal 2022, the Company plans to have all of the 40 FreshCo stores confirmed to date open in Western Canada. The three Alberta FreshCo stores announced today are: Jasper Gates in Edmonton; Lewis Estates in Edmonton; and Downtown Fort McMurray. The respective Safeway and Sobeys stores are expected to close in the second quarter of fiscal 2022, and open as FreshCo stores by the end of the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022.

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