Where we live: Founders say Winnipeg motorcycle shop weathered pandemic with local support

Click to play video: 'Manitoba businesses and trades continue to thrive post-pandemic'
Manitoba businesses and trades continue to thrive post-pandemic
Many businesses experienced challenges during the pandemic, but with community support and quick thinking, many businesses and trades are able to thrive post-pandemic – Nov 28, 2023

Starting a business can be challenging even at the best of times, but one Winnipeg couple managed to launch Moto 49, their motorcycle repair shop and “community garage,” just before the start of the pandemic.

Thanks to some quick thinking and leaning into a supportive community, Moto 49 co-founders Robyn Dyck and Louis Rondeau say their business is stronger than ever.

“It’s a roller coaster owning a business in general,” Dyck told Global News. “Then throw a pandemic into the mix, and it definitely was, you had your ups and downs.”

When COVID-19 brought Canada abruptly to a stop in March 2020, many workplaces had to adapt quickly to a new normal. A lot of workers, especially those in more white-collar professions, could transition to “work from home” with relative ease.

That reality wasn’t a simple feat, or even possible, for numerous small business owners or tradespeople, whose every day is filled with working alongside or in close proximity to others.

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Moto 49, a self-described “community garage and gathering spot” for Winnipeg motorcycle enthusiasts, had opened doors just six months before the onset of the pandemic.

Rondeau was candid about the challenges he and Dyck experienced.

“We did get a really good response from the community, as well as our online tech nights,” Rondeau said. “It wasn’t nearly as many as in person, of course, but everyone that did participate was really engaged.”

Dyck and Rondeau said they did what they could in order to grow their fledgling business and protect their community. Many other businesses with bigger workforces had to come up with a plan to protect their employees.

Darryl Harrison, the director of stakeholder engagement with the Winnipeg Construction Association, explained that with so many unknown variables, keeping employees safe was the number one priority for its members.

“Particularly in the beginning, there was a lot of uncertainty around the work conditions,” Harrison said. “And there was a lot of work done to make sure that a safe workspace was provided.”

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Not everyone was on board with some of the changes, however. At Red River College Polytechnic, Derek Kochenash, dean of the school of skilled trades and technology, says the institution saw a dip in apprenticeship enrollment of 10 to 15 per cent due to how some programs needed to shift delivery methods in order to ensure safety.

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“We did see some apprentices who chose not to attend class during the pandemic,” Kochenash said. “They were a little unsure about learning in a hybrid model. They really wanted that full ‘face to face.'”

All in all, Manitoba’s trades have come out the other side of the pandemic stronger than ever. According to Harrison, demand isn’t showing signs of slowing down.

“Coming out of the pandemic, what we’ve seen is an increase in construction back to the point prior to 2020,” Harrison said. “We’re seeing serious workforce demands and a need for new people to enter into the construction workforce.”

Both the Winnipeg Construction Association and Red River College are coming up with solutions to those problems which include language programs for newcomers to the province and encouraging other underrepresented demographics to consider the trades.

Moto 49 continues to grow, in terms of services provided and the number of employees, but Dyck and Roundeau always keep in mind who has helped make it happen.

“We have this loyal group of folks that came out and bought gift certificates. There’s lots of emails and (support) on social media,” Dyck said.

“Just lots of coming together of like, ‘We can do this, we can still be a community and on the other side of this, we’ll be stronger.’”

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