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UPDATE: Burnaby-based Canpages closing

Burnaby-based Canpages is closing, putting hundreds of people out of work.

The company, which publishes phone and online directories, employed 700 people at offices in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, of which more than 450 were sales consultants.

On Tuesday, it reportedly closed its Victoria office, laying off about 50 people. On Wednesday, calls to its Production Way headquarters in Burnaby were referred to a media spokesperson at parent company Yellow Media Inc. in Montreal, who has not yet replied to phone messages.

"Thankful for my time at #canpages. Learned, grew, succeeded, and built amazing relationships. RIP, company!" employee Dave Corbett tweeted Tuesday from Ontario.

On Wednesday, he tweeted, "I'm okay, one of the very few lucky to get offers at the parent company. Feeling bad for everyone else."

Another Canpages employee, who asked that his name not be used, said from Ontario that staff were notified Monday of meetings to be held Tuesday afternoon at two locations. At the location he attended, out of about 40 staff present, only three were given jobs elsewhere in the company with the Yellow Pages Group. "The rest were let go," he said, adding no one saw it coming. "Not at all."

The new media department he was working with had major projects on the go, he said. Now, "about all of Ontario was wiped out." The majority of Canpages staff are in Burnaby.

Staff were not given any explanation for the layoffs and the bearers of the bad news didn't even know what is to become of the bonuses some employees were owed from last year, he said.

By the time they returned to their offices, the locks were already changed and they were told to hand over their laptops immediately.

The employee is in his twenties and is confident of his future but expressed concern for older colleagues with families who had been with the company since the days of selling ads in telephone books.

"They've been selling phone book ads so long they don't know what they're going to do."

Yellow Media, which also owns the Yellow Pages Group, Canada411.ca and RedFlagDeals.com, purchased its main rival Canpages for $225 million in 2010. At the time, Canpages published 84 directories for a total circulation of about eight million copies, and its website, Canpages.ca, was attracting 3.5 million unique visitors a month.

But on Wednesday, those numbers had fallen—the corporate website said Canpages.ca, a local business and residential search engine, had more than two million unique visitors monthly and the division had 70 print publications.

More than 80 per cent of the parent company's revenue comes from the directory segment of its business, according to Yellow Media's website. Last year, it eliminated dividends on its common shares. "Cash retained from elimination of these dividends will

be used to reduce indebtedness and reinvest in the business," it said in a September press release.

The same press release reported third-quarter revenues decreased 9.1 per cent from $355.9 million to $323.4 million "resulting from lower print revenues as well as lower revenues associated with Canpages and our U.S. operations."

A Jan. 27 company press release reminding Edmonton residents they can opt-out of receiving a Yellow Pages print directory, made no mention of Canpages among Yellow Media's holdings.

A year ago, Feb. 2, 2011, Yellow Media's stock (YLO) hit its current 52-week high of $6.14 per share on the Toronto Stock Exchange. On Wednesday, it was trading in the 18-cent range.

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

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