If every cloud – no matter how dark – has its silver lining, then 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic surely has brought with it some unexpected dividends along with its lengthy inventory of social, cultural, health and economic devastation.
BIV has gathered below an initial list of those pandemic silver linings. There will likely be more as the crisis continues if business and the rest of society tap the innovative enterprise to exploit opportunities amidst the pandemic’s dark disruption.
Labour shortages persist even as mass layoffs left many in B.C.’s retail and restaurant sectors without work. Made-in-B.C. robots, capable of cleaning rooms with UV lights, are being developed by A&K Robotics Inc. and Advanced Intelligent Systems Inc. B.C. farmers are also turning to automated growing chambers for help, tapping Langley-based agri-tech firm CubicFarm Systems Corp. (TSX-V:CUB) in a deal worth $2.1 million. And tech firm Conexiom (Ecmarket Inc.), which specializes in automation software for sales orders that were previously done manually, raked in US$40 million in investment capital over the summer.
Bicycle retailers/mobile bike repair
Bicycle sales are booming during the pandemic, with store owners reporting an early rush to buy bikes and steady demand throughout the summer.
Reckless Bike Stores owner Paul Dragan told BIV that sales are up about 40% compared with last year, and that they would be much higher were it not for constrained supply.
Meanwhile, the mobile bike repair business also shifted into another gear.
When restrictions on work, travel and shopping went into effect in mid-March, the folks at Velofix had no idea how emergency restrictions would affect their mobile bicycle repair, maintenance and delivery service business. It turned out to be more than positive. The company’s business has increased 79% so far this year compared with 2019.
Bicycle maintenance was deemed an essential service, and Velofix already offered a service that didn’t require taking a bike into a shop. It can come to a person’s home and repair or deliver and assemble a bike ordered online with no contact with the customer.
Davide Xausa, Velofix president and founder, said the demand for cycling in general increased during the pandemic because fitness centres were closed and because so many people were avoiding public transit.
“We’ve been growing steadily over the last four or five years, but we’ve really been waiting for a tipping point. We didn’t think a pandemic would be that tipping point.”
Remember when gasoline was selling for $1.72 per litre in Vancouver? That was less than a year and a half ago, in April 2019. After a state of emergency was declared in 2020, many businesses were closed, people stopped going into work, and traffic on Vancouver streets became eerily quiet. Prices at the pumps, which have hit $1.60 or more per litre in the spring and summer for the past couple of years, briefly fell below the $1 per litre mark.
Despite a phased in reopening of the economy that has returned more traffic to the streets, gasoline prices in Vancouver are about $0.20 to $0.30 per litre lower than they were last year at this time.
Digitizing medial offices
Vancouver’s Well Health Technologies Corp. (TSX:WELL) has been one of the big winners during the pandemic. It owns 20 medical clinics and provides software and services to more than 2,000 medical clinics across Canada. Its share price keeps hitting all-time highs and was recently nearly 60% above its pre-COVID-19 high. Investors include Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka Shing.
“We achieved record quarterly revenue despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 global pandemic,” CEO Hamed Shahbazi said August 11.
Gold and silver shine
If there is a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic and the downturn it has caused, it is, quite literally, silver. Silver and gold. B.C. gold and silver mining and streaming companies are benefiting from a precious metals bull market, which has largely been spurred by the economic uncertainty caused by a global pandemic. Low and zero interest rates, quantitative easing and massive government debt devalues currencies like the American greenback and sends investors into safe havens, Rick Rule, president and CEO of Sprott U.S. Holdings, said in a virtual investors conference in August. The pandemic has created a precious metals bull market that Rule believes is still in “early innings.”
Since the beginning of this year, gold went from US$1,552 per ounce to US$2,000 on August 3 and silver went from US$18 per ounce to US$28.30 on August 5. As a result, B.C. gold and silver companies suddenly have a lot of wind in their sails.
B2Gold Corp. (TSX:BTO) share price has roughly doubled to $9.77 per share on August 5 from $5.13 since the beginning of 2020. Pan American Silver Corp.’s (TSX:PAAS) share price jumped to $51.98 on August 5 from $30.27 at the start of January.
Wheaton Precious Metals Corp. (TSX:WPM), a gold and silver streaming company, has seen its stock rise nearly $30 per share: to above $67 from $38.81 at the start of the year.
Retailers that sell electronics and high-tech devices, such as tablets, smartphones and a wide range of computers are among the winners in the COVID-19 era.
U.S. giant Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE:BBY) beat analyst estimates for revenue and profit in its August 25 earnings report, showing strength across the continent.
Its Canadian subsidiary, Burnaby-based Best Buy Canada, closed stores in March, and the company conducted sales online. When stores reopened in May, shoppers returned in droves, the company’s vice-president of merchandising Allan Kambeitz, told BIV.
Home entertainment has become a must for consumers avoiding pubs and restaurants. Victoria’s SendtoNews Video Inc., best known for its video distribution platform for sports highlights showcased online, now touts more than 47 million unique viewers responsible for more than one billion video views in May, according to Comscore rankings. Twitter Canada head of sports Conor Clarance says the summer return of major sports in North America has boosted social media activity 114% for leagues such as the NHL. Meanwhile, Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq:NFLX) began accepting proposals from Canadian creators over the summer ahead of virtual pitch sessions slated for September.
Plastic shield manufacturers
With retail and service businesses opening cautiously with precautions to keep staff and customers safe, most have invested in Plexiglas shields to act as barriers between staff and customers. Some have also bought plastic face shields for servers or other staff to wear, creating a boom for the companies that make those items.
Burnaby’s Peregrine is one of the companies that shifted business to making the Plexiglas shields. Others, such as Langley’s Packright, switched from manufacturing plastic clamshells for vegetables to making plastic face shields for customers such as Providence Health Care.
While many streets were deserted during the lockdown at the outset of the pandemic, ride hailing is making inroads again as many avoid public transportation upon returning to work. While trips to Vancouver International Airport are down, Lyft Inc. (Nasdaq: LYFT) says bookings to ferry terminals and major transportation hubs now exceed (its brief) pre-pandemic period of operations in Metro Vancouver. Meanwhile, local competitors, such as Victoria-based Lucky to Go (LTG Technologies Ltd.), have begun operating in regions where Lyft and Uber Technologies Inc. (NYSE:UBER) have so far stayed away.
Software to help businesses sell online
Small-business owners who were forced to close stores during the pandemic and did not already have e-commerce websites rushed to sign up with Shopify Inc. (TSX:SHOP) and learn how that company’s software could help them generate online sales. The surge in interest ignited Shopify’s share price to the point that the company’s market capitalization is now more than any other venture on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Interest in better point-of-sale software for small retailers has also helped Canada’s Lightspeed POS Inc. (TSX:LSPD).