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Brian Burton didn’t realize how serious COVID-19 was until he was sitting in the stands at a New York Yankees spring training baseball game in Florida in mid-March.
“People were talking about stuff and how serious it was, but things were still going on, so it didn’t seem like it was as serious as they were saying,” said Burton. “When things started to shut down, it really hit us.”
Burton, a Sydney Mines native, and his wife Sarah Fraser, originally of Foxbrook, Pictou County, began feeling the effects of the pandemic through their New York City-based dog business, Instinct Dog Behavior and Training.
The 12-year-old business is a facility that welcomes dogs from all over the United States for training and behavioural help.
New York City quickly turned into the hotspot for the coronavirus with more than 190,000 confirmed cases reported to date and Burton and Fraser quickly noticed a drastic drop in revenue.
The business lost $110,000 in cancellations in the first six days of the shutdown in the U.S.’s fourth-largest state. Since then, the business has lost $250,000 in revenue in six weeks.
“It’s devastating in terms of how quick it happened and how quick the market changed,” said Burton. “We saw a little bit of an increase in April, we had 25 per cent of our normal revenue, and this month we’re around 40 per cent, so we’re trending up.
“I don’t think we’re going to ever make it back up, I think it’s just lost money.”
Prior to the pandemic, the business had 25 employees in New York City, 12 people working at its New Jersey-based location, and four client service counsellors and IT personnel at its North Sydney office.
Because of the virus, Burton, whose business was deemed an essential service, was forced to furlough 60 per cent of the staff in an attempt to save money during the difficult time.
Despite the loss in revenue, Burton believes the business will be back to normal post-pandemic but doesn’t know when that will be.
“I think travel has to get back to somewhat normal, we’re tied to the travel industry, not completely, but half of our business is tied to people travelling,” said Burton, who’s lived in New York City since 2006.
“I think my biggest concern is it’s going to be years rather than months until we see some sort of normal.”
The business has received some help from the U.S. federal government, qualifying for a $275,000 PPE loan/grant, which is something Burton believes will help the business weather the storm.
“I think it puts us in a good position,” said Burton. “The program isn’t perfect, but it’s made a huge difference for us.”
The business currently has 20 employees on the job, including the four team members based in Cape Breton.
Burton’s plan is to bring back all his employees, however, he is monitoring the situation on a month-by-month basis.
Since the start of the pandemic, Burton and Fraser have continued to show their support for the New York community, especially the city’s front-line and essential workers.
“We wanted to make sure that we were there for the community and make sure we come out on the other side together,” said Burton. “We’ve offered a 50 per cent discount on our boarding services and it’s nice having people take advantage of it.”
As for living in New York during the pandemic, Burton describes the feeling in the city as “sad.”
“It doesn’t really feel like New York,” said Burton. “The city is asleep. It’s dead. It’s not something anyone has seen before, it’s different.”
Burton commended his Cape Breton staff members, who have been asked to work from home because of the situation.
“They’ve done a super job transitioning to working from home,” said Burton. “From the feedback we’ve received, our team members like working from home and have been doing very well.”
For more information about Instinct Dog Behavior and Training, visit their website www.instinctdogtraining.com.