“Small businesses are the engines of job creation in Calgary,” says Manjit Minhas, the respected Calgary business leader, Canadian entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO of Minhas Breweries, a Dragons’ Den judge and one of the judges of Calgary’s 2017 Small Business Week (SBW) Awards.
“Their value and the role they play in our economy is sometimes underestimated because they are in fact small. But the truth is there’s nothing small about the impact they have on our economy in providing stability and diversity of industries.”
For all businesses, having a strategic business plan is a basic. For Calgary’s Small Business Week, the positive and unique strategic plan is to showcase, inspire and recognize the role and importance of small businesses in Calgary.
“Small Business Week, and particularly the awards program, is about celebrating the many contributions small businesses make to our local economy,” explains Adam Legge, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber. “They are our neighbourhood florists, our favourite restaurants and local gyms. The Small Business Week Calgary Awards really help to shine a spotlight on these businesses.”
“We may call them small businesses, but clearly these entrepreneurs are mighty,” says Teresa Clouston, executive vice president, business and agriculture, at ATB Financial. “These nominees show what it means to be relentlessly inventive and agile while remaining steadfastly genuine to who they are. It’s small businesses – taking big chances – that make Calgary and all of Alberta such a great place to live and work.”
The exciting positivity of Calgary’s weeklong small business salute is laced with some Calgary business realities.
“The research we did this spring showed that although small businesses have felt the pinch of the downturn, small business leaders are more optimistic about the future of our economy,” Legge adds. “Small businesses are most challenged by regulations and increased taxation from all levels of government matched with consumers spending less, creating a perfect storm of higher expenses but lower revenues.
“Many businesses have seen three or more increased costs including increasing property taxes, minimum wages, corporate taxes and expensive new regulations.”
Calgary’s SBW nominations were reviewed and judged in August, and reflected a tremendously diverse small business landscape in Calgary. The judges’ files had nominees ranging from boxing studios, coworking spaces and mobile photo booths to employee-engagement software companies and pop-up event businesses.
“What is unique this year is we are seeing a lot of newer businesses in non-traditional areas for our city: tech, creative industries and culinary entrepreneurs,” Legge notes.
The Chamber collaborates with the SBW sponsors to organize a vital (and action-packed) October 16-20 week of small business activities and events. “This year’s Small Business Week Conference will be the largest yet. We wanted to make it accessible for all entrepreneurs, especially the 7,000 who started a business in the past year. There are three parts: a big public expo and trade show; a full-day academy of learning sessions; and an Oscar-style awards show.”
“SBW is invaluable to small businesses because it provides a community to network with,” Minhas points out. “It helps find new partnerships, collaborate with like-minded individuals and companies, gain knowledge and expertise in a variety of areas currently affecting entrepreneurs and is a go-to place to get inspired and positive energy.”
Like the Oscars, it will be a top-secret, “the envelope, please,” award show on Thursday night, October 19, in the BMO Centre but a terrific list of finalists was announced last month, vying for every category from Community Impact, Innovation and Environmental Stewardship to People’s Choice and Small Business of the Year.
Small business is a key aspect of Calgary’s business uniqueness.
Spragg’s Meat Shop was a finalist in the Environmental Stewardship category of the awards. The Calgary small business, family-owned and operated by the hard-working and dedicated Greg and Bonnie Spragg, raises hogs, processes and markets their free-range, pasture-raised and naturally-fed pork direct to Alberta consumers.
“The key to our success has been being committed to our goal of bringing free-range pork direct from the farm to the customer,” says Bonnie Spragg. “We never had a plan B, so failure wasn’t an option.
“As a company, Spragg’s Meat Shop comes with an attitude of customer service first and striving to fill the demand for our product in the Calgary area. To be successful as a small business, we have to bring something more to the customer in service, in quality and in value to offset the fact that we are small and our cost of production is greater.”
Nicola Kozmyk Jones is not only a dynamic and successful example of Calgary small business, but a motivational people-person. She is the founder and owner of Pure Motion, the Calgary-based dance company that provides exceptional dance instruction through proper technical training in a fun, creative and positive environment while promoting the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle.
Pure Motion was also a finalist in the SBW Customer Service Excellence Award category.
“Miss Nicola” now teaches 10 different types of dance to more than 700 students a year, from the age of two to adult.
“The number one key to small business success in Calgary is innovation. It sets you apart from others in the crowd and continuously reignites your passion for your business. It keeps your customers on their toes and excited about what’s coming up next,” Jones says.
Dynamic is an understatement about the small business approach and success of
Breakout Business Award finalist, Eight Ounce Coffee.
Co-founders and owners Jennifer and Wesley Farnell focus on curating and sourcing the best possible coffee (and tea) equipment and accessories for coffee professionals and people who just want to make and enjoy great coffee. Eight Ounce Coffee products are also in cafés and lifestyle stores around North America and the Calgary-based small business also distributes to some of the biggest and best names in specialty coffee around the world.
“We’re a fun group of people from diverse backgrounds,” Jenn Farnell explains with enthusiasm. “Most of us have worked in cafés and all of us love coffee. We have experience that spans coffee, the corporate world, banking, computer programming, food broadcasting and media, yoga studios, and sports and lifestyle. We laugh a lot, and drink a lot of coffee.”
“When we initially started, the key to our success could be distilled into a few simple areas: having a clear vision of what we wanted the business to be and the core principles that would guide our decisions,” Wes points out. “Of course, some experience was useful, but hard work, reduced sleep and no social life played a significant role.”
Staff is a key to the Eight Ounce Coffee success. “Empowering our employees is vital – to bring ideas to us, to run with projects, to work with us as partners and to drive towards a shared goal of business and job sustainability for us as well as our customers,” Jenn emphasizes.
Being Calgary based is not only a positive but an important aspect of small business success. “Calgary was the ideal place to start our business. It’s not only a thriving and supportive coffee community and a positive business environment, but it is a culture that celebrates the success of others,” Wes says.
“Another significant asset that Calgary and Alberta have is access to ATB. They have been exceptionally supportive of our business, particularly through our early growth. That and the support of amazing organizations like the Chamber and the overall community feel of the city. It was the best choice we could have made.”
“Calgary has an in-built entrepreneurial spirit. All of our neighbours own their own businesses, so the support system is unparalleled. The proximity to the mountains and the clear blue skies didn’t hurt either,” Jenn smiles.