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Home-based businesses nearly double in past five years

City says improved internet access, easy permitting process have accelerated the growth of home-based businesses. Less affordable commercial space may also be a factor
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More St. Albert entrepreneurs are choosing to launch their businesses from home base, according to data provided by the city.

In 2023, St. Albert had 1,025 licensed home-based businesses. That figure represents a roughly 80 per cent increase in the last five years, as the city had 570 home businesses in 2018.

The growth is explained by recent changes to Canada’s business landscape, but also by some St. Albert-specific developments, according to Shawn McCauley, the city’s manager of business expansion and retention.

“Improved technology and access to high speed internet have made it easier for individuals to work from home and also reduced the need for physical office space,” McCauley said.

COVID-19 normalized work-from-home arrangements, which in turn accelerated the rise of the home business, according to McCauley.

He also pointed to St. Albert’s attractive schools and parks —  as well as the ease with which the city grants business permits —as likely contributing factors.

“St. Albert is known to attract residents with entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “Based on the 2023 Business Retention and Expansion survey, almost 20 per cent of home-based businesses have a desire to expand to a commercial space.”

But the cost of that commercial space has been keeping at least some businesses homebound.

A 2023 survey found that affordability and a dearth of space were top concerns for St. Albert businesses.

Cost was a factor in Tanis Racine’s choice to run both of her businesses from home.

“I would love to move [my businesses] out of my house into a commercial space,” she said. “If they could get a handle on how much people charge for the operating costs of things and the square footage of things, then it would be more feasible for home-based businesses to move into a commercial space.”

Racine runs Fairytale Laser and Sugar Bar Ltd., a laser hair removal and sugar waxing studio and — along with her husband — Lenses and Lace Photography, from her St. Albert home. Although Racine rents studio space to do photoshoots, she does office work for Lenses and Lace at home.

Fairytale launched in September 2023, although Racine had been doing hair removal on friends and family for years prior to opening. Lenses and Lace was incorporated in December.

Racine thinks a commercial space could help her attract clients who view home-based businesses as unprofessional. She also has dogs, which she knows may deter some customers.

“Some people have had really bad experiences at home-based businesses, so they'll completely avoid them at all costs,” she said. “I wish some of them would give home-based businesses a second shot because there are some bad apples like in any industry, but not all of us are.”

She also feels that if she owned a photography studio, she wouldn’t have to compete for limited space with other photographers.

But she sees some major upsides to doing business at home.

“It gives me a lot more freedom with my children and my dogs, and my schedule — and I get to build relationships,” she said.

McCauley said it’s challenging for the city to influence business-to-business rental/tenant agreements and costs, but more supply could help with the problem. Lakeview Business District, an upcoming industrial and commercial area, remains a top priority for city council.

McCauley thinks home-based businesses can help diversify the range of products and services available in the city.

“It shows one that there's an entrepreneurial spirit in St. Albert,” he said. “it’s a great way for new businesses to test their product and get their feet wet a little bit.”

“Hopefully with the support of the city and other organizations throughout the city, [home-based businesses] can expand and grow, and potentially that becomes a storefront or commercial space … I think it’s a positive thing.”

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