The audience soaks up the behind-the-scenes information from Cowichan business owners at the BIG DAY event last week. (Warren Goulding/Citizen)

The audience soaks up the behind-the-scenes information from Cowichan business owners at the BIG DAY event last week. (Warren Goulding/Citizen)

Business notes: It was a BIG DAY for small business in Cowichan

Six panelists provided insight and candid comments about their businesses

Six panelists provided insight and candid comments about their businesses during two panel discussions that were highlights of the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business BIG DAY held last week.

Two sessions, one focussing on start-up and early growth of a business, the second dealing with maturity and exit strategy were well-attended. Audience members appreciated the information shared by the panelists who included Alana Elliott of Libre Naturals, Chris Manley of Resthouse Sleep Solutions, Aly Tomlin from Riot Brewing Co. in Chemainus, Caroll Taiji of Taiji Brand Group, Peter Richmond of 49th Parallel Grocery and Grant McKinnon of Pacific Homes.

Kenneth Chiu and Mike Smith of Scotiabank also participated on the panels, providing expert information from a financial institution’s perspective.

Elliott says her business relied on “the bank of mom and dad” in its early days and wasn’t prepared to seek outside investment when the need arose.

“It never crossed my mind and we never set our company up properly,” Elliott says of her realization that the share structure wasn’t adequate to accommodate outside investors.

For Manley, obtaining good advice early on was essential to his company’s success.

“The best thing we ever did was have a business coach,” Manley said. “Finding the right lawyer, the right accountant, was huge for us.”

Tomlin, who acknowledged Riot Brewing is just now emerging from a near-death experience, outlined the challenges she and her partner had in attracting capital to finance the start-up brewery.

“It took us seven years and it requires a lot of capital,” she said. “It’s hard to get people to believe in you.”

Originally planning to locate in Vancouver, Tomlin and her partner decided Chemainus would be a better option, although there were issues with a smaller labour pool and a housing shortage.

“Chemainus is a really rad community and we moved there because we wanted to be a part of the community. But hands down, finding money was the biggest issue.”

When a cash crunch hit about a year ago, Tomlin says the thought of closing was terrifying.

“When we were going to close, besides losing everyone’s money, the thought of leaving the community was hard,” she says, reflecting on the “seven months of insolvency” Riot endured.

Managing growth was a challenge for all three businesses, the panelists agreed.

As well as the need for capital, Elliott says start-ups also face challenges with staffing, forcing the owners to work long hours.

“I read articles glorifying the entrepreneurs that got four hours sleep,” she said. “That’s not something I want to aspire to.”

For Riot Brewing, the rapid growth tapped into their capital very quickly.

“We had uncontrolled growth and huge success,” Tomlin says. “We had no problem selling the beer, but we were not prepared for growth.”

Panelists Taiji, Richmond and McKinnon have seen their businesses through the maturation process and shared their views on how to sustain success and ultimately sell the business and retire.

For McKinnon, the process of selling Cobble Hill-based Pacific Homes to All-Fab Group of Winnipeg was fresh having taken place recently.

“It’s gut wrenching. You wake up wondering if you’re doing the right thing,” McKinnon acknowledged.

The process took more than a year and McKinnon says when a business gets to a certain size, it’s very difficult to do a smooth succession. In his case, as a second generation owner of Pacific Homes, he had siblings who were also involved in the business, including one who died a few years ago, prompting a cash call to settle the estate.

And McKinnon had conditions that had to be met before he would agree to sell.

“I wasn’t going to sell to an American buyer, although I could have sold for more money to a U.S. buyer,” he said.

He says he just wouldn’t want to see the long-established company founded by his father, Ken McKinnon in 1959, moved out of Cobble Hill and the loss of 100 well-paying jobs.

“It was important that the buyer match our culture,” he added.

Taiji says after spending “30 years honing our craft” she can’t imagine never having a connection to the business.

Richmond has assumed the role of president of a business started by his father after joining the company in 1997. 49th Parallel Grocery has been in business for more than four decades and employs 275 people at its five and soon to be six locations.

“I’m not thinking about exiting but we have people knocking on our doors from time to time,” Richmond said.

“But I keep an eye on changes, particularly in technology because everything affects the value of our business.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Holly the stuffed Rottweiler has been missing from the front of Lucky Dog U-Bath since Feb. 24. (Submitted photo)
Holly the stuffed Rottweiler is missing from Duncan shop

Toy dog missing from front of Lucky Dog U-Bath since Feb.24

Martha Jane McHardy displays her knitwear in one of the windows at Imagine That! in Duncan this month. (Submitted)
Arts and Entertainment column: Lots to see in Duncan in March

Funding success, painters show, folk art, tell your COVID story

The Kinsol Trestle in Shawnigan Lake is a sight to behold. Funding for the expansion of the Shawnigan Museum celebrates its 100th anniversary. (Citizen file)
Shawnigan Museum expansion gets $480,000

Funds from Government of Canada Legacy Fund - Building Communities through Arts and Heritage program

A Cowichan Valley mom is wondering why masks haven’t been mandated for elementary schools. (Metro Creative photo)
Cowichan Valley mom frustrated by lack of mask mandate for elementary students

“Do we want to wait until we end up like Fraser Health?”

Clockwise from top left: Malahat First Nation Chief George Harry and councillors Steve Henry and Cindy Harry address community members in a video posted to YouTube on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Screenshot)
Malahat Nation confirms first two cases of COVID-19

Community has been under stay-at-home order since Jan. 7

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

The intersection of Melrose Street and Third Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Suspect in custody after two pedestrians struck in Port Alberni hit and run

RCMP asking for video footage, credit witnesses for quick arrest

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

Comox Valley RCMP had access to 20 Street blocked off between Cousins and Choquette avenues as they conducted a raid of a house on the block. Photo by Terry Farrell
Comox Valley RCMP raid Courtenay problem house, several arrests made

Comox Valley RCMP conducted a raid of a problem house on 20th… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

(Pxhere)
B.C. research reveals how pandemic has changed attitudes towards sex, health services

CDC survey shows that 35 per cent of people were worried about being judged

Most Read