The second annual Explore Economics East conference held by the Eastern PEI Chamber of Commerce brought together entrepreneurs, business leaders and thinkers from eastern PEI.
The keynote speaker this year was Nicole Verkindt, founder and CEO of OMX, an online marketplace that helps foreign companies manage their contractual obligation to invest in local businesses.
Nicole, who was named Startup Canada’s 2017 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, is a ‘Dragon’ on Next Gen Dragon’s Den.
Nicole described how she made it into business, the changing trends in the market place, and the increasing pace of technological advancement, and says that jobs will be created to help advance technology.
She talked about the next big trend, a change in how we earn income and how we expect to work: the gig economy. “The gig economy, which uses the Internet as a sales and promotion tool, will allow niche products to be much more marketable. This market is creating employment for people.”
Nicole believes the way forward for entrepreneurs is optimism, having the attitude to succeed, being open to new ideas, and being willing to collaborate with their peers.
The following businesses participated in panels:
Eastern Kings Rustic Timber
The company is owned by Frances and Tommy Sands, who started their custom furniture business in 2014.
“We wanted to start our own business to draw on our natural talents.” says Frances Sands. “Tommy has 20-plus years of experience in home construction and finish carpentry. My past experience is in property management and customer relations.”
The business started when they built a rustic coffee table, and accepted an offer to buy it. They decided to build two more, which also sold quickly. Advertising and word of mouth brought more attention. “It didn’t take long for someone to ask us to make a harvest table,” says Frances. “That is how it began.”
Starting out, the pair both worked full time, and worked on their business in the evenings and on weekends. On the first anniversary of their business, they came to a decision.
“We could not properly keep up with the orders, so Tommy decided to leave his day job and build furniture full time. I still work full time and work for our business nights and weekends. We have been in business for three years now.”
“Every piece of furniture that we make is a custom order – we don’t keep any furniture in stock. We build exactly what our customer wants.”
Their market extends from East Point to Tignish, and they also sell their furniture in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In the future, they hope to expand the business with a larger work area, a store front, and staff.
“We are very pleased with our business. It has its ups and downs, but there is satisfaction at the end of the day knowing we have created a product and our customer is happy.”
Frances’ advice to new entrepreneurs is to start small, and to take it step by step.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/ekrustictimber/.
Fleece and Harmony Woolen Mill
The company is operated by sisters Kim Doherty-Smith and Jennifer Taran and their husbands.
“I became an entrepreneur to fill my need to have the fleece from my sheep processed.” says Kim. PEI’s fertile land was a good choice to start a farm and raise sheep.
Kim and her sister describe their business as a passion project. They raise their livestock on pasture, and believe in untreated wool. They use dyes that conform to the Organic Trade Association’s standards for organic fiber processing.
“Our yarn comes from our own farm, and from farmers whom we collaborate with. We are the only mill making 100 percent Island-sourced knitting yarn. We have started exporting to retail shops in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Alberta and we are speaking with shops in Ontario and New York.”
Right now, Kim, her husband and her sister work full time at the mill. In the future, they hope to expand their operation and hire more staff. “We had quite a busy summer tourist season. To manage sales, we might hire someone in the future.”
Kim says the outlook for fleece and wool sales looks good. “There is a lot of interest. People are going back to knitting, and hand crafted items are in high demand right now.
“New knitters are concerned with the quality of their fibre and where it comes from, which increases the demand for products like ours.
“To get your product out there and to get feedback from people who love it and are repeat customers is very rewarding.”
Kim recommends that new entrepreneurs “take a chance on themselves” and ask other business people for advice.
For more information, visit www.fleeceandharmony.com.
Shiny Paint Art Co.
The company is owned by husband and wife team Ryan and Starla Wilson. In 2013, they sold everything and moved to PEI from Kitchener, Ontario in search of a new career direction.
In the years since, they have found excellent business opportunities on PEI. They hope to someday expand Shiny Paint to better serve the artistic needs of PEI.
Both Ryan and Starla paint window murals and traditional signs. Most demand is for advertising signs, but they also paint home murals and decorative signs.
They have also tried their hand at painting designs on boats and other vehicles.
In just a few years, their art has become popular across the Island. Their murals grace the Clark’s Building and the Garden of the Gulf Museum in Montague, and many more across PEI.
Shiny Paint uses traditional methods to create their signs. “We love painted signs, and we think they still have a place in our digitally saturated world. We don’t need any special machinery – just our own hands, basic tools, some squirrel-hair brushes (yes, really!) and some awesome paint.”
Ryan and Starla believe in customer collaboration.
“We’re the type of business who talk to you and figure out what you want, and then paint it for you. So you get that handmade artistic touch.”
For more information, visit www.shinypaint.ca.
M4G (My Four Girls) Alternative Housing
M4G is owned by Sherri Spatuk and Mark Mahar, and is operated out of their home in Marshfield, PEI. They started in 2017 and have already gained renown across the Island.
“Our alternative houses allow all sorts of people in different income brackets to experience the joy of actually being a home owner,” says Sherri.
They wanted their house design to be portable without incurring major additional costs for their clients, so they collaborated with Coles Associates, an engineering firm.
“We sat down with Coles Associates and came up with something that combined their expertise and our vision.”
Going through the process of building a prototype taught Sherri and Mark a great deal, which has allowed them to educate their customers on the same issue.
For new entrepreneurs, Sherri stresses the importance of networking. “Be aware that starting out, every relationship could be beneficial down the road. It is important to manage those relationships.”
For more information, search M4G Alternative Housing on Facebook.
Main Street Pharmasave
This pharmacy in Souris PEI opened in 1991 and has been owned and operated by Karen Creighan since 1998.
In 2002, renovations expanded the store to 10,000 square feet, which allowed the business to expand their products and services into what they call “the one stop shop in Souris.”
Karen considers the pharmacy as both a prescription business and a store front business. “We are in the process of reinventing ourselves and looking at the product lines we carry.”
Karen stresses the importance of having staff who are familiar and have a good rapport with those living in the community. “People are very loyal to their pharmacist.”
At Main Street Pharmasave, about 20 staff work year round, and two or three more are hired for the summer. Karen tries to keep the same staff on, because of their familiarity with the community. “It can be hard to fill the position of a pharmacist.”
When looking for a new hire, Karen looks for someone who has excellent customer service skills, a positive attitude, and the ability to work flexible hours.
At Mainstreet Pharmsave they like to say, “This is the place where you’re known by name, and always greeted with a smile.”
For more information, visit www.mainstreetpharmasave.com.
The Chuckwagon Farm Market
The company owned and operated by Rose Viaene, has been in operation since 2005.
“Business success is about having room for improvement, and a willingness to learn new things or teach someone else new things.
“You need to keep on top of what is new. There are always new products coming to market, and you need the staff and the ability to recognize that.”
Rose also stressed how important it is to listen to and trust the staff, which creates a better experience for everyone involved, from acquisition to selling a product.
For Rose, a product represents the seller. The seller needs to stay relevant by recognizing new products and providing them to the customers.
For more information, visit www.thechuckwagonfarmmarket.com/market.
AM Auto Parts
This family-owned automotive business in Souris is run by Brodie Rice. In 2008, Brodie and his parents bought the carwash from his grandfather, and in 2009 Brodie purchased AM Auto Parts.
AM specializes in hydraulic hoses, custom accessories, and parts for cars, lawn mowers, and farming implements.
Brodie has four year-round staff, and in the spring he hires on some seasonal positions. “Over the counter sales takes some training and experience. As long as you are computer savvy and somewhat competent with motor vehicles, you will probably catch on fairly quickly.
“When hiring, over the years I’ve learned to go with my gut instinct. I don’t go by word of mouth. During the interview, I ask a few automotive questions to see if they have a broad idea of what we do.” Brodie also looks for punctuality, proper attire, and a fondness for the job.
When asked about the outlook for the auto parts business on the Island, Brodie says that technology is key. “Under car (chassis and brakes) sales have been consistent over the years, and people will always need to wash their car and mow their lawn. As the only store of this kind east of Montague or Morell, I try to keep a good variety of stock so people in the community can find what they need here.”
The most rewarding part of the job for Brodie is when a customer comes in looking for a part, or is having an issue with their vehicle, and he is able to help them solve the problem. “There are a lot of requests throughout the run of a day, and you’ve got to think outside the box.”
For more information, search AM Auto Parts Souris on Facebook.
Beck’s Home Furniture
This family-owned business is located on the Montague waterfront. Currently, it is managed by Jeff Beck.
Jeff is a third-generation retailer. His grandfather was Cecil Beck of Stewart and Beck. In 2002, the furniture division of Stewart and Beck was separated to give room for expansion and created a new company called Beck’s Furniture. Jeff has worked the furniture side of the business since he was 16.
“It’s an ever-changing business,” says Jeff. “For many years, we tried to be everything to everyone, but quickly found out that we couldn’t do that.
“In the mid 2000s, we realized that because we are a bit off the beaten path, we had to become a destination for potential customers. We made a decision to focus on a select number of well-known suppliers like La-Z-Boy, Sealy, Broyhill and Whirlpool, which was the best thing that we ever did. Our business has grown ever since.”
In the last few years, with changes in the marketplace, they have focused on expanding the appliance side of the business. “We saw a hole in the market and hired people so that we are able to fill customer needs.”
Beck’s has nine full time sales, delivery & warehouse, and accounting staff, and two part-time sales staff. Jeff hires a few more employees for the summer, which is the busiest time of the year.
When hiring, sales experience with furniture is an asset. “At Beck’s Home Furniture, every position is moderately difficult to fill. We rarely receive applications from someone with experience in the furniture business.
“Whether it’s for sales or the warehouse, we look for someone with a wide range of skillsets who can adapt quickly to any situation. The furniture sales business requires a diverse range of product knowledge and is always changing. When we hire an employee, they become one of the many faces of our business.”
In hopes of staying relevant in a shifting market, Jeff says they are continually adapting to recent changes in the furniture industry.
“We expect our business to continue to grow, and we are making the necessary changes to meet the needs of our customers.
“Because we are always looking for the right person to come through the door, we prefer people to come in person to drop off a resumé to management, so we get a chance to speak to the applicant and assess their fit for our company.”
For more information, search www.beckshomefurniture.com.