Chaguans

Shoppers in Chaguans last December.

The year 2019 was not a very good one for businesses in Chaguanas and Couva but some business people are choosing to remain optimistic for 2020.

Chaguanas businessman, Allan Julien, vice-president of the Chaguanas Chamber of Commerce, said the first seven months of 2019 were really bad for him.

“We will not know the details of the sales yet. Most businesses are still tallying up December sales. But we have a general idea.”

Julien, who has a group of companies, Alpha Air Conditioning, Coleman Airconditioning and Pan West Indian Insurance Brokers, said, “The first seven months of the year were very rough months.

“Low sales, tough. Business friends also said the same thing.”

He said they saw an increase in sales in August which continued until December. “So much so that we were out of stock twice and had to wait for containers to come.”

As for the changeover from the old $100 bill to the new polymer note with a December 31 deadline, he said he got both positive and negative feedback on it.

“Some said it resulted in increased cash sales for December. Some said business was real slow because the time people would have spent shopping was spent in long lines in the bank to change their old bills.”

Julien said despite the economic challenges he is choosing to be optimistic about the new year.

“As with every other year, we are excited and hopeful and determined to be successful in 2020.

“I’m not depending on handouts. I am planning to use innovation, adaptability and other competitive sales techniques to boost my business.

“For instance, all our new air conditioning units will be coming with Wi-Fi. We will look to see if we can possibly do some solar energy systems.

“There are companies that thrive in down times and we’re hoping we would be one of those.”

Jai Leladharsingh, co-ordinator of the Confederation of Regional Business Chambers (CRBC), said small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Couva and other parts of T&T, experienced a bit of a challenge in 2018.

The Couva/Point Lisas Chamber of Industry and Commerce is a founding member of the CRBC.

“They have not been realising the kind of sales they got in previous years. Trinidadians have become more conservative in their spending.

“These traditional retail sectors, family-based businesses, have seen a decline in business.”

Saying chambers are still working out the figures for last year, he said the food and beverage sectors have been doing well, however.

“Groceries did well because people will always need food to survive.

“Hardware firms and convenience stores that give credit, home construction and used car businesses have also done reasonably well too.

Leladharsingh said while the changeover to the new $100 polymer note was a good one the timing was not.

“People depend on the Christmas season to realise more sales than for the rest of the year.”

He said the CRBC had publicly asked for an acceptance of the old cotton notes from businesses that depend on Boxing Day, old year’s day and New Year’s Day sales.

“Central Bank was gracious enough to give us a two-day extension (until January 2 and 3).

Leladharsingh said he spoke to the heads of the 12 chambers in the confederation and they all said the same thing: people were spending more time lining up in the banks than shopping.

He said unless the ease of doing business in T&T is improved, he is not very optimistic about 2020.

“We are somewhere around 105 out of 130 countries in the World Bank’s ranking of the ease of doing business.

“This is not good. And unless you have policies in place to help make doing business easier, like obtaining building permits, registering property, for instance, I will not be optimistic.”

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