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Unexpected optimism: Survey finds small business owners finding success in the face of challenges

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When Heather and Alex Stephen opened their espresso bar in Lower Sackville, N.S., in 2018 they had no idea the next five years would include a global pandemic, record inflation and extreme weather events.

"People have been feeling the financial pinch of things like these big disasters, and it's been challenging - challenging for everyone,” Alex Stephen said.

Despite all of the hurdles, their small business is doing well and they feel they have a bright future ahead.

"Maybe there will be more shops in the future,” Heather Stephen said. “We have that second one that we opened just before Christmas downtown on South Park Street. That's been an added exciting challenge for us."

It seems the Stephens aren't alone in being optimistic.

A survey done by Zensurance – a company based in Toronto – polled small business owners in nine provinces, and found that 71 per cent were confident they would be successful in the second half of 2023.

"In that backdrop of challenging times, we didn't expect so much optimism from the business owners,” said Danish Yusuf, Zensurance founder and CEO.

"The buying patterns that they're seeing, revenue-generating opportunities, additional products they could be selling. We serve contractors, so these would be electricians, plumbers, etc. They saw optimism around work on homes being done – basement renovations, commercial and industrial work being done."

The survey also zeroed in on the biggest problems – or ‘beefs’ – from the small business owners who were polled.

Eighty nine per cent said inflation was their number one concern, with roughly 80 per cent citing rising interest rates and the need to increase their prices, and 78 per cent listing the high cost of gasoline.

Somehow, none of that dampened the overall outlook.

"Because we see continued growth,” Yusuf said. “Yes, inflation is there, and we've got other challenges, but as Canadians we're resilient."

Back at the Lower Sackville café, the owners are dealing with significant damage to their home from last month's flooding.

However, they've kept things rolling at their shop thanks in part to what they call an entrepreneurial spirit that's seen many businesses through the past few years.

"The fight to say, 'No, we're going to find a way to pull through.’ I think it's great for our communities and great for our economy,” Alex Stephen said.

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