Esel Panlaqui on Getting to Know Local Businesses in Thorncliffe: Why it Matters -Guest Blog

At Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, we are participating in the Resilient Neighbourhood Economies (RNE) initiative focusing on creating better conditions for local businesses that will lead to local economic growth in Thorncliffe Park, Toronto.

As we have begun developing a strategy to fit the needs of the local business community in Thorncliffe Park, we realised that we needed to deepen our understanding of it. We asked ourselves many questions:

  • How many and what type of businesses exist in Thorncliffe?
  • How long have they been around?
  • How big and small are they?
  • Are they doing worse or better?
  • Are their clients in the local community?
  • What needs to be done to best serve the business community in Thorncliffe Park?

Local Business Listing

Thorncliffe Park Business Listing

One of the project activities carried out at the initial stage of the Local Inclusive Economy RNE project in

Thorncliffe Park was to make a list of all businesses in the neighbourhood. As we walked through the community, we listed each of the businesses found including the name, address and contact information.  We found approximately 212 businesses representing a variety of business categories:

Types of Business

Number of Businesses

Services 81
Retail 55
Food and restaurants 39
Non-profit organizations 12
Suppliers and distributors 10
Space and hall rentals 7
Manufacturing and packaging 6
Semi-private 2

The services offered by service businesses in the neighbourhood include healthcare and medical, hair and beauty, dental, cleaning, janitorial and maintenance, legal, printing & signs, banks, and travel services. Most of the retail stores in the neighbourhood mainly sell fashion, clothing and jewelry, mobile and cell phones, pharmacy, optical, and contact lenses.

An in-depth look of conditions of local businesses: Designing the Survey Questionnaire

The project team worked with some of Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office’s staff members and volunteers to design a survey instrument for local businesses.

TNO volunteer Ayesha Bashar and staff members from Belyea Bros. Limited

TNO volunteer Ayesha Bashar and staff members from Belyea Bros. Limited

The draft questionnaire contained open-ended questions which were pilot tested with a few local business owners. The respondents didn’t feel comfortable answering some of the questions. Through the Metcalf Foundation, the team was connected with Tom Zizys, a Metcalf Fellow, who gave relevant input and comments on how to revise the questions. Some of the helpful tips provided were the following:

  • Opt for closed-ended questions rather than open-ended questions
  • Make the instrument short and focused
  • Make sure that respondents don’t feel that questions are very intrusive
  • Get as many surveys as possible; use it as a marketing tool to reach out to formal businesses
  • Maximum number of minutes to answer survey questions is 15–20 minutes

We revised our questions so they asked for basic descriptions of each business. We now ask about:

  • business type,
  • business size,
  • challenges faced,
  • types of support they need to grow,
  • length of time the business has been operating,
  • hiring process,
  • business dynamics, and
  • whether would they be interested in participating in focus groups.

Conducting and Administering the Survey: Learning and Tips

The survey was carried out by the project team and volunteers. We made repeat visits to each business and made contact with someone who can provide additional details.

Shahil Thomas, TNO volunteer Ayesha Bashar and an employee from Belyea Bros. Limited

Shahil Thomas, TNO volunteer Ayesha Bashar and an employee from Belyea Bros. Limited

The first few repeat visits were kind of intimidating. Over time, the volunteers have become more confident and convincing and the surveys are starting to come in now. To date, we have over 51 questionnaires completed out of 212. The volunteers have found their experience gratifying. The survey has given them the chance to interact and to get to know members in the community better and the community context in general.

One of the volunteers, Xiomara Jovel, said:

When I started handing out the surveys by myself, I was having such a hard time with getting them back from the businesses, but after having other TNO staff members come with me to do visits, I was able to gain more confidence and knowledge about the project, and also improve my communication skills.

We have encountered difficulty obtaining details about businesses from some companies. Some of the small business owners are unwilling to participate due to the fear that information given out about their business might be used against them. We have talked with the business owners about the fact that all information collected in the survey is strictly confidential and results will be reported in aggregate.

One of the local business owners initially refused to participate but on our second visit she was convinced to fill out the survey form because one of the customers who were at the store at the time of the visit is a regular client of Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office and could vouch for us.

We find that it is easier to get surveys filled out by small businesses than large ones. Big stores are usually being operated by hired staff, and it has been challenging to get in contact with the managers. Sometimes, our volunteers have had to simply drop the surveys off with the employees, hoping that they will pass them to the manager or business owner.

We have had better results when dealing with small business. We have been able to deal with the owners in person, which has led to better results because they fill out the surveys on the spot, and we are able to have a discussion about the project.

One challenge our volunteers have had with the smaller businesses has been finding the right time to approach the owners. These businesses are always busy, so it has been challenging to get their full attention. In order to deal with this, we have worked to find the right time to visit these businesses, and to assign days to pick up the surveys.

What’s next?

TNO volunteer Ayesha Bashar and TNO placement student from Seneca College Xiomara Jovel tallying the initial results of the survey

TNO volunteer Ayesha Bashar and TNO placement student from Seneca College Xiomara Jovel tallying the initial results of the survey

We are aiming to get back 100 completed surveys out of 212 before the end of the year. As mentioned earlier, the feedback generated from the survey will help us have an overview of the conditions of the local businesses and come up with an integrated strategy that best fits their needs and which will lead to local economic growth in Thorncliffe Park.

For more information on this survey, please contact Esel Panlaqui at 416-421-1495 ext. 224, <a href=”mailto:epanlaqui@thorncliffe.org” data-mce-href=”mailto:epanlaqui@thorncliffe.org”>epanlaqui@thorncliffe.org</a>

Research team

Hafiz Khan, Sabina Ali, Esel Panlaqui, Xiomara Jovel, Aysha Bashar, Shahil Thomas, Mohammad Nouman, Bilal Saleem, Bernard Aguto

About the author, Esel Panlaqui

Esel Panlaqui works as Community Engagement Coordinator at Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office and coordinates the Local Inclusive Economy project in Thorncliffe Park. She holds a Community Service Diploma Program. She also completed the course work in Women and Development Post Graduate Studies at the University of the Philippines. She has over 20 years of experience in community and program development. She sits on the loan review committee for the Access Community Capital Fund in Thorncliffe Park. She has a strong passion for social justice and issues that affect women, refugees, immigrants and migrant workers

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