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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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JVS panelists take close look at retail sector

Tags: Business
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Malcolm Fairweather, second from right, was this year’s JVS Inspirational Award winner. He’s joined by, from left, Mike Smythe, Fairweather’s employer at 2Hippos.com; JVS Toronto employee Pamela Eusebio; and Sarah Fairweather, Malcolm’s guest.

The retail sector in Canada is a $456 billion business that employs more than two million people, so to get a feel for what’s moving and shaking in the space, JVS Toronto called on senior execs from some of the sector’s most successful enterprises.

For retailer Steve Matyas, president of Staples Canada, the two biggest challenges facing the office supplies vendor were satisfying consumers’ move to online shopping and dealing with the “unbelievable concentration of tech in the hands of one vendor, Apple… It has such a great hold on the marketplace.”

Matyas said Staples has been concentrating on e-commerce for close to 15 years and the company’s website is the leader in the field. If you’d examine the company’s sales chart, it resembles the shape of a hockey stick, he said, with the online platform selling more merchandise than Amazon.

Matyas was one of five business leaders addressing JVS Toronto’s 11th annual Strictly Business luncheon at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel.

He was joined by Andreas Souvaliotis, founder of Green Awards and Air Miles for Social Change; Dani Reiss, president and CEO of Canada Goose; David Russell, president and CEO of Sporting Life; and Diane Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada.

The afternoon program included presentation of several awards and a video take-off on the TV show, Jeopardy, which introduced the award-winners.

“Everything’s changed in the last five years,” Russell said. For Sporting Life, getting its message to consumers has required the company to look at new means of communication. In past years, the company relied on a few newspapers, radio and television stations to carry their ads. “Our customers are now consumers of information” who get their information from different sources, especially social media, he said.

What’s more, “our competition now is global.” People shop from around the world and international retailers have “decided Canada is a place for growth.” Canada weathered the recession rather well, so they’re looking to get in on the action, he said.

Brisebois noted that retail is the largest employer in two-thirds of Canadian provinces. “It’s an action-packed sector” in which there have been more changes in the last five years than in the previous 30. Consumers now do everything online and this changes how consumers relate to retail, she suggested.

Customers care how the goods are manufactured. “People want things real and authentic,” Reiss said. Canada Goose, which manufactures winter garments, is now sold in 50 countries.

Souvaliotis said consumer behaviour has changed in recent years. People are looking for healthier choices in their purchases. They are focusing on sustainability and are influenced in their purchases by climate change. “What consumers look for is leadership and guidance from retailers, for a responsible way to shop,” he said.

Matyas said one-third of the products sold at Staples come from “sustainable sources,” such as recycled items, sugar cane or the byproducts of manufacturing.

“You’re seeing a huge tsunami wave by customers about [respect] to the planet and being better stewards of the environment,” he said.

Souvaliotis said young people increasingly are choosing their place of employment on factors other than income. “They are focusing on the right job and working in the right career” where “they can make a difference,” he said.

Russell pointed out that the retail industry is still a great place for young people to enter the work force, develop important skills, and turn it into a lengthy career.

The luncheon afforded JVS Toronto the opportunity to honour individuals and employers for contributing to the business community.

The Newcomer Award went to Ashraf Tadrous, an immigrant from Egypt who joined JVS’s integrated work experience strategy program after being in Canada only 16 days. The program provided Ashraf with six weeks of workshops and information on workplace communication and culture, networking, job search strategies and mock interviews. Ashraf subsequently found employment as a staff member at George Brown College in the technology field.

Veronica Seeto received the Mentor Award. Seeto teamed with JVS in 2011 and she has supported seven clients.

The Inspirational Award went to Malcolm Fairweather and 2Hippos.com. Fairweather  was part of JVS’s Asperger’s Job Readiness Program. He got a job with 2Hippos.com as an “on-foot delivery specialist.” Since June 2012, 2Hippos.com has provided employment to five JVS clients.

A Scarborough Home Depot store was named Employer of the Year. The store, 7001, collaborates with JVS and has hired several of its clients.

Jamon Mulenga received the Youth Award. Mulenga entered the JVS Youth Services program in September 2011. He developed one-on-one counseling, learned how to search for a job and was mentored by a staff member.

A talented basketball player, Mulenga will attend Maryland University on a partial scholarship to play basketball and study business administration.

Staples Store 012 received the Building New Relationships Employer Award. The Rexdale outlet partnered with JVS in 2012 when it accepted placement of a single JVS client. Since then, the employer has put in place a training plan, which includes supervision and feedback.

JVS was founded by the Jewish community at the end of the Second World War to assist Holocaust survivors, immigrants and returning war veterans. Today the organization helps people of all backgrounds to develop their employment skills.

In 2011-12 alone, JVS Toronto assisted some 23,000 individuals in the Greater Toronto Area. Since 1947, it has helped more than 550,000 people through counseling and support programs.

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