THUNDER BAY – BUSINESS – The Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) and Thunder Bay and District Entrepreneur Centre (EC) work with regional partners in economic development to facilitate opportunity and growth throughout Northwestern Ontario. The CEDC/EC, in partnership with the Atikokan Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), Greenstone Economic Development Corporation (GEDC), Marathon Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and Superior North Community Futures Development Corporation (SNCFDC), seek to enhance and strengthen our economy and quality of life.
Our economic developers also partner to provide free workshops and training to small business owners. View upcoming Health & Safety training with the Ministry of Labour, as well as the Entrepreneur Centre’s fall workshop series to learn about the free education available to you.
Your local economic development agencies provide free information and advice to new, aspiring, and existing entrepreneurs. They have helped small businesses throughout the Northwest access the tools and resources they need to get them on the right track to success. Here are just some of our small business success stories throughout the region.
When Rhonda Happy opened Little Darlings coffee shop, she dived head first into entrepreneurship, trying her luck with the purchase of a then-closed starter shop. “I went to the owner and said, ’I want to do this’. Three weeks later, we were in business.”
Rhonda had spent years working in the restaurant industry. Her famous homemade tarts were always a favourite among customers, earning the name, ‘little darlings’. To this day, the lemon meringue, coconut, and banana cream little darlings are still her top seller. Rhonda’s cafe also offers muffins, cakes, cinnamon buns, light lunches, and event catering, all homemade from scratch and made fresh daily.
Rhonda was able to access a small start-up loan from the Atikokan Economic Development Corporation. Their business counseling, suggestions, and recommendations helped with her business plan. She also worked with PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise to access information and advice.
Becoming a business owner was a natural move for Lynn, who comes from a very entrepreneurial family. “When I graduated high school, my parents asked if I wanted to go to college or if I wanted a business. I chose the business and it ended up being the best education for me.” Her parents financed the purchase of a boutique that she owned with her sister and later sold.
Since those humble beginnings, Lynn’s gone on to have ownership in various other operations including Get In Gear, an auto parts and workwear retailer, a Sears outlet, and a discount store. Five years ago, Lynn and her partner, Stephane Parent, started a building supply store, Got Wood, in response to a high market demand for construction materials. Stephane, also a life-long entrepreneur, attributes their great customer service and flexible hours to their success. “All of our management staff have worked in construction before, and we’re able to offer our customers helpful advice in their projects. They choose to buy from us because we’re knowledgeable of what we sell.” Stephane is also bilingual, an advantage when selling to the French population in the area.
Most recently, Lynn and Stephane have expanded into manufacturing with their newest acquisition, Korex. Korex caters to the growing mining sector and produces racks for the storage of core samples. They took a loan from the GEDC Business Centre to fund the purchase of Korex and received counseling and assistance with market research prior to the expansion.
Crossover Video and Games
Crossover Video and Games is a thriving business within an industry that’s on the decline. Owner/operator Tyler Davis got into the movie rental business when he managed a franchise. After the video and game rental industry took a dive and the US-owned company filed for bankruptcy, Tyler started his own privately-owned rental store. Tyler recalls, “Our Marathon location did well and there was still a need for movie and game rentals here. I loved my job and wanted to keep doing it.”
Tyler met with the Business Officers at Superior North Community Futures Development Corporation (SNCFDC) to get help with writing his business plan. Superior North CFDC also provided a start-up loan. Crossover Video and Games currently employs five part time workers.
The key to Crossover’s endurance has been a combination of customer service excellence and adaptability. The store has evolved into a one-stop-shop for entertainment, always adding new products to keep customers interested. Crossover Video and Games now carries small electronic devices, such as mp3 players and tablets, cell phone accessories, and now plush toys and figurines. Tyler also offers unique candies from different parts of the world not available anywhere else in Marathon.
Tyler is sure to always have the newest releases in stock and maintains a great rapport with customers so that he can make good suggestions based on their preferences. Crossover also has a loyalty program in place as well as a monthly prize draw. “My staff and I make a point of being very welcoming to new customers, and our store is bright and friendly so that people want to shop here.”
Tyler and team stay on top of the latest trends, actively listening to client demands and always coming up with new ways of creating customer value. “Video rentals are on the downturn, but we’ve been bucking that trend and we’re here to stay.”
Daniel Welch and Christina Burk are behind a surveying company that is flourishing with the recent infrastructure development happening in Marathon, Ontario. With help from the Marathon EDC, they were able to access funds of nearly $100,000 from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC); about half of which was forgivable. They also received assistance with their business planning, as well as their advertising and promotion.
Free training was provided to Daniel and Christina through workshops and seminars provided by PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise. PARO was also able to help Christina with starting her own lending circle that provides mentoring, support, and small start-up loans to other aspiring entrepreneurs.
Being such a small operation, Superior Survey has low overhead and is conveniently located in Marathon, therefore able to offer very competitive rates to contracting companies. Larger surveyor outfits, located outside of the Marathon area, are often more expensive to employ due to travel costs.
More than anything, Christina and Daniel credit their success to persistence. Christina states, “We’ve been successful because we’ve never given up. When something happens, we work through it and carry on.” Superior Survey is looking to expand by hiring more surveyors and an engineer.
The Thunder Bay and District Entrepreneur Centre is partnering with the Ministry of Labour to provide free Health and Safety training throughout the region. Training will take place in the following communities:
Tuesday October 13
Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission – 34 Cumberland Street North, Suite 201, Thunder Bay, ON
9:00am to 12:00pm
Wednesday October 14
Atikokan Economic Development Corporation – 214 Main Street West (corner of Main and Marks), Atikokan ON
11:00am to 3:00pm (lunch provided)
Thursday October 15
Superior North Community Futures Development – 7 Mill Road, Terrace Bay ON
11:00am to 3:00pm (lunch provided)
Friday October 16
Greenstone Economic Development Corporation – 1409 Main Street, Geraldton ON
1:00pm to 4:00pm
In addition, the Entrepreneur Centre’s Smarterpreneurship workshop series will be made available for remote participation online.
Looking to start or expand a business of your own? Be sure to connect with your local economic development agency in Thunder Bay, Marathon, Atikokan, Greenstone, or Terrace Bay to access free information and assistance. All Entrepreneur Centre services are FREE and confidential. Call (807)625-3960 or visit www.EntrepreneurCentre.ca to book an appointment.