THUNDER BAY, ONT. — When Laura Morine shuttered her 18-year-old business, ABC Embroidery and Promotions in 2019, she began a journey that would take her on a whirlwind ride from small business to larger scale business.
As a single parent with two daughters heading in different college directions, Morine had to make the difficult decision to close her business, and that was just before the COVID-19 pandemic exploded.
“I don’t know if I would have survived COVID honestly,” said Morine. The small businesses are the ones that really suffered so I probably wouldn’t have made it through. At least I got to sell off my equipment.”
Morine spent the next two years navigating through a non-rewarding job that left her missing her clients and the embroidery and promotional work that she loved to do.
When Sportop Marketing Inc. discovered her talent, it was a perfect match.
“These guys are the big guys in town and have been around for 40 years. We always know who our competitors are in town and when I originally came to them and offered to sell my equipment, at that point they didn’t need it,” she said in her new role as their account manager.
“But they knew who I was and they ended up offering me the job and it has been a super good fit for the two of us.”
That fit, according to Morine, is a balance of strong business knowledge combined with a comparable mindset to put community minded things first.
“That’s the way I’ve always worked, by building friendships and relationships with customers, not just looking at them as a dollar sign,” she said.
“When you respect people and treat them like clients and family instead of just a number, then they refer to you for business. In the end, you’re helping build businesses and it’s like a coalition where you’re working together for the success of everybody.”
Derek Geddes, Sportop Marketing general manager, says they knew Morine as a friendly competitor who shared some of her customers.
“We knew that we were like-minded people that had the same vision,” Geddes said. “We knew that she’d be able to come in here and fit into our team system very easily.”
Many of Morine’s previous clients followed her to Sportop. As a Metis, Morine also had a growing Indigenous clientele that is now working with Sportop through Morine.
“A lot of her clients are happy to be able to reunite with her here and they have the confidence that their orders are going to get done on time,” Geddes said. “She’s increased visibility in the Indigenous sector and with her being a Metis, it obviously helps with some of the organizations that she’s brought in and there are some organizations that, to be honest with you, I didn’t know existed a few months ago that she’s connected with which is really important.”
Geddes says it’s all new business that they haven’t seen, which Morine handles with ease.
Meanwhile, Sportop Marketing is celebrating 40 years of business in the community. After relocating twice from their former location where Sleeping Giant Brewery now operates, they have settled into their new place at 777 Central Ave., next to Wayne Toyota. The first T-Shirt printed 40 years ago is on display in the company’s front entrance.
“I’ve seen a lot of change in our industry,” said Geddes, who has worked for the company for more than 30 years. “We went from a full production facility to just basically being a sales office.”
He says changes in the whole industry show the suppliers who produced the goods originally are now having the printing work done at larger companies who do the embroidery right there on site. From an inventory and logistics standpoint, it makes more sense to have them ship the embroidered items directly to the client. This alleviates extra storage space that is needed and additional shipping costs.
Like many other businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain shortages have had an impact on Sportop.
Obviously, we saw a decline in the business through COVID, but what really saved us was we began selling personal protection equipment (PPE) like blank and logoed masks and hand sanitizer,” he said.
After 15 years of producing school uniforms for the local Catholic school board, Geddes said they felt it was time for them to move away from that.
“We are busy with Indigenous corporate orders, a lot of which Laura is very involved in,” he said. “We do sporting teams, schools and institutions whether it be the college, university, high schools or elementary schools, which is nice because it diversifies us.”
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal