Strong business startups can stray from conventional approaches
Thunder Bay, Ont. — The dynamics of the south and intercity business areas of Thunder Bay are continuously changing as startup businesses emerge, many of them with women at the helm.
Up Shot Coffee House owners Crystal Co and Aundrea Rajamaki opened their coffee shop seven years ago with the help of Paro Centre for Women’s Enterprise, which helped them with resources for preparing their business plan.
When looking for financial assistance, Rajamaki described a little turbulence with the process, which resulted in them bypassing the entire financial system.
“When we went to the bank to ask for assistance, I felt like we weren’t taken entirely seriously,” Rajamaki said. “It just seemed like a little bit of a brush-off. We didn’t get any financial assistance and took it all on ourselves.”
The pair chalks up their success to their customer service.
“We try to really get to know people. We know their kids’ names. We know their dog’s names and where they went on vacation,” Rajamaki said. “We are building relationships more than just customers.”
For Ellen Bright, who opened Milk and Water Baking Co. in 2017, navigating through the business plan proved to be challenging. Her talent is best exemplified in the kitchen, turning out her family’s secret cupcake recipe.
“I thought I had to have a business plan to get funding and that’s actually something I didn’t even end up doing just because I didn’t understand . . . it just seemed like it was over my head,” she said. “I just ended up getting a line of credit from the bank which is what I used to purchase our equipment to start up with."
In the past year, Bright has expanded from a 400-square-foot space to a 1,000-square-foot space in the Thunder Centre, which is centrally located with ample parking. She attributes her unique cupcake recipe to bringing back her customers.
For those looking to start a business, Bright says “following your heart is a big part of it because there’s that authenticity level there. If it’s something you really love, definitely just go for it. You have to be a little bit brave to go ahead and take a leap of faith.”
Over at Intercity Shopping Centre, Jeanette Posine, owner of The Bannock Lady, has settled into a routine as she embarks on her second year in business. One of the biggest challenges Posine faces is time.
“What can I say? It’s time-consuming,” she said. “It takes a lot of time and there are challenges. While staffing is a big problem since we opened here at the store, my biggest thing is I’m the one that makes the bannock. Nobody else makes it so I have to be there and I have to be cooking all the time.”
Posine employs six people and prepares the bannock off-site in her commercial kitchen. She transports the fresh bannock to the store stopping to make deliveries of her product to other clients.
“It’s me doing the deliveries,” she said. “Even though it’s a lot of work, bringing the food there, people see me (and are happy to meet me). I brought a staff member with me (and told my client) he’s here to help today because he might be the next person dropping off the food and he needs to know. It’s a learning experience. My staff are learning . . . and we have that little personal touch.”
Posine is looking at expanding the catering aspect of her bannock business and credits partnerships with organizations along with her hard work as the reason for her success.
She advises new entrepreneurs that “building a working relationship with your suppliers as well as partnerships with other restaurants will help you learn from them as they learn from you.”
Rajamaki agrees and says it’s important for a business operator to talk to other small business owners.
“We had a lot of assistance that way, especially with other women who have businesses, she said. “We try to support each other. We can get things from out of town but we try to (source) all local baking. . . and we try to support local women’s businesses.”
Rajamaki advises anyone with a business idea or plan to, “don’t be scared, go for it. Also, don’t be scared to ask for help.”
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal