Small-scale online-entrepeneurs face up to risks of a postal stoppage

Posted: Jun 29, 2016

Small online ‘stores’ are preparing for potential Canada Post strike Saturday

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Canada Post’s looming strike deadline worries Jentine Gootjes, who runs her store The Edit online and sends 80 per cent of her packages with the mail carrier. (Claire Dam Photography)

Jentine Gootjes is keeping close watch on the possible strike at Canada Post.

She is one of 140 members of Hamilton’s Etsy.com online marketplace, the global community of crafters, artisans, collectors and resellers that has blossomed in the years since the last Canada Post strike. All of their businesses depend on being able to mail products to their customers.

‘In business you have to adapt, things happen. That’s part of the game.’– Jentine Gootjes, owner, The Edit

If the Canadian Union of Postal Workers strikes on July 2, delivery disruption could be fatal for small-scale online entrepeneurs like her

“I’m just hoping it’s short,” said Gootjes, owner of Hamilton-based shop The Edit.

Specializing in vintage clothing, jewelry and accessories, Gootjes estimates that 80 per cent of her online sales get shipped out through Canada Post to national and international buyers. The other 20 per cent are local orders, which buy online and can be picked up from her directly.

While 20 per cent is better than nothing, it’s still not enough, and with Canada’s last postal strike lasting three weeks, it’s a scary prospect for sellers.

A colossal online community

The Edit had a storefront on Ottawa St. for two years, which Gootjes closed in favour of selling online through Etsy and a small studio space. She found the storefront to be ‘unsustainable’, and has happily operated online since.

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Gootjes sells vintage clothing, accessories and house wares online and out of a small studio in downtown Hamilton, after closing a storefront on Ottawa St. that was “unsustainable”. (The Edit/Etsy)

Gootjes is one of a growing community of online sellers that use the Internet to reach customers world wide without establishing a physical store or expanding their team.

“It’s just frustrating,” she said. “Because small business and retail is so difficult, and it just seems like more things [to worry about].”

Etsy is one of the most popular online marketplaces today, and boasts a ‘Hamilton Team’ of more than 140 ‘stores’ in the city. Most are run by a single owner and ship the majority of their wares to customers.

Other communities in Southern Ontario are even larger, including Niagara with upwards of 300 sellers listed on a team.

Established in 2005, Etsy  hosts 1.6 million sellers, 25 million active buyers, and more than 35 million items worldwide according to its website. During the last Canada Post strike in 2011, this community was significantly smaller.

To them, a mail strike poses a problem not seen on this scale before.

“Do I think in the long run I will be fine? Yes. But will it affect the next few weeks?,” Gootjes said. “Very much so.”

Negotiations between the Crown Corporation and Canadian Union of Postal Workers could lead to the fifth widespread disruption of mail delivery service in Canada since the 1980s.

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Mail delivery could stop as early as July 2nd if Canada Posts forces a lockout or the unions strike. (CBC News)

Eight thousand rural postal workers and 42,000 urban workers have been without a contract since December and January.

The union’s membership has since voted over 90 per cent in favour of strike action, which would shut down nearly all postal service, with the exception of welfare and pension cheques.

Small businesses pay the price

For small online shops like Gootjes’, success relies on sales and shipping. Unlike larger e-commerce sites like Amazon which can afford to switch mail services, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room.

The looming strike deadline is “is just frustrating,” she said. “It really hits small business owners.”

The Edit features items at affordable prices, something Gootjes prides herself on. If she had to use a courier or a different postal service, the price change would be too much to absorb and she would have to pass the cost onto customers.

“If you’re selling a $28 skirt and the shipping goes from nine to 15 dollars, that’s a big jump for a consumer to wrap their head around,” she said.

As a result online shops in Hamilton are preparing themselves and customers for the possible strike.

In a post on The Edit’s Instagram, Gootjes warned customers of potential delays in shipping.

Another Etsy shop The Wild. stopped shipping orders a week ago, meanwhile Gootjes put The Edit’s Etsy page on Holiday for a week to see how the strike plays out. Most are taking a break to see where this weekend leaves them.

“I’m trying to be fair because I don’t know a lot about the issues that they’re fighting about,” said Gootjes. “It might just be a frustrating time for a while.”

Earlier this month Mike Palecek, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, told CBC that negotiations are breaking down over “major cuts to benefits and job security.”

The Liberal government has publicly confirmed that they have no intention of tabling back-to-work legislation, something former prime ministers have exercised in previous postal strikes.

‘Let’s turn this into lemonade, I guess.’Jentine Gootjes, owner, The Edit

“If it came to it, in business you have to adapt, things happen,” said Gootjes. “That’s part of the game.”

Shop owners like her are trying to make the best of the potential time off, by preparing more listings and focusing on local sales and community.

“Let’s turn this into lemonade, I guess, as Beyoncé would say. If it’s a couple weeks, we’ll make it work,” said Gootjes. “If it goes on for a couple of months, I don’t know.”

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