Who’s Growing Now
Alberta may be in recession, but not everybody’s cutting back. Some companies are opening new locations, enlarging their current one, hiring new staff and expanding product offerings. We asked them the burning question: Why?
by Jim Veenbaas
Cranky’s Bike Shop
Location: St. Albert
Green shoots: Doubled floor space from 1,300 to 2,600 sq. ft.
“My wife and I both work at the store and all of our income comes from working here. We didn’t want to do something crazy and have the whole thing fall apart, but we reached a point last summer where we thought if we don’t do something now, we are just holding ourselves back,” says proprietor Andrew Phelps, the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2002, who made the necessary renovations over the slow winter season. “So far, the results have just been phenomenal. We set a sales record in April and it wouldn’t have been possible without the expansion.”
Robert Half International Inc.
Location: Calgary and Edmonton
Green shoots: Opened second Calgary office in December
Alberta’s jobless rate has been creeping up in recent months, but many businesses are still facing a shortage of workers, especially when it comes to accounting, finance and administration. To meet demand in the Calgary area, professional staffing agency Robert Half International opened a second office in the city in December.
“We have been busy from the day we got here and we are seeing robust demand for finance and accounting professionals,” says Rod Miller, regional vice-president. “We talk to businesses every day. There are lots of companies in Calgary that are expanding and growing their business, but what we hear is all the negativity in the oilpatch.”
FCm Travel Solutions
Location: Calgary and Edmonton
Green shoots: Opened Edmonton office last August, planning more
Carving out a niche and dominating a small piece of the market is a winning formula for any business, even those in the battered and beaten travel industry. Sales have been so strong since opening last summer, FCm Travel Solutions plans to open a second office in Edmonton this year, to match the two offices it already has in Calgary.
The key to success for FCm – it’s only five years old and already has 30 locations across the globe – is its narrow focus on business travellers. “We do anything from setting up travel policies to consolidating a company’s travel needs. That’s one of the reasons we have grown,” says business development manager Mitch Jarvi. “People are now starting to realize that travel is a budget expense, but they still need to go to trade shows, they still need to visit their clients across the globe, and in Edmonton you still need people to get up to Fort Mac.”
Green shoots: Opened new fabric and furniture showroom in March
Study after study shows sales and marketing is especially important in a downturn. Eden Textile opened a 10,000-square-foot showroom to promote its extensive supply of bed coverings, window treatments, bathroom terry and bedding supplies. “We started working on this project about a year ago, unaware of what was going to happen to the economy. When things started going south, it actually made us more aggressive because we thought our competitors would be cutting back, trying to reduce costs,” says CEO Mike Wilson. “You can either hunker down and ride out the storm, or get aggressive and go out and take some more market share, build some loyalty and when things turn around be in a better position to enjoy that as well.”
Green shoots: Record six book releases in 2008, two first editions planned for 2009
You can forgive Andrew Hempstead for not cringing at the prospect of an economic downturn. The Banff-based book publisher has survived low-cost competition from Asia, the impact of Canada’s high dollar and consolidation of the retail sector. The veteran travel writer and photographer bought Summerthought Publishing in 2006 and has produced two or three titles each year, including the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, which remains Alberta’s bestselling trail guidebook with more than 240,000 copies sold since 1971. “We are trying to produce books that tourists will buy, that are written in Canada. Although our sales are the same or higher than last year, a lot of the small publishers have been eaten up by bigger ones over the last few years,” says Hempstead.
BioVision Seed Labs
Location: Edmonton and Grande Prairie
Green shoots: Hiring and expanding product line
Pursuing innovative business strategies and investing in technology to streamline its operations has fuelled the growth of BioVision Seed Labs. With 18 staff members, the testing lab is taking advantage of the slowdown to hire key staff members and to expand its offerings to clients in the seed and grain industry. “The fundamentals of our business will work regardless of the economy,” explains BioVision president Trevor Nysetvold. “We have stayed ahead of the competition by offering a superior product within a stable, growing company.”