Happy Valley-Goose Bay business owners map road to success in small, remote town

Even though there are less than 10,000 people in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, business is booming. 

It is, at least, for entrepreneurs who identified distinct gaps in the town’s services, and jumped at the opportunity to fill them. 

Business owners in the community will tell you that responding to specific needs and providing good quality work and service is enough to keep you going.   

Terry Whey is one of them. 

He took his shoe repair business to Happy Valley-Goose Bay in 1992 after learning the town was in need of one. 

Because he was moving from St. John’s to a rural area, he was able to get a hand setting up shop from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA). 

We don’t go looking for work. It just keeps coming in the door.– Terry Whey

The shoe repair shop was busy, but after a little while he learned customers were often looking for specific canvas products that weren’t locally available. 

That’s when Whey’s focus shifted into manufacturing canvas tents and knapsacks, and Terry’s Tents was born. 

“We don’t go looking for work. It just keeps coming in the door,” Whey said. 

“I think people have seen our products and they’re happy with them, and then they just tell their friends … and sometimes good products just sell themselves.”

Whey works six days a week and hasn’t spent a dime on marketing in the last 20 years.  

The work isn’t slowing down, but he is. After 32 years, Whey is preparing for retirement. 

He’s trying to find a buyer for Terry’s Tents, but if he doesn’t find one his booming business will have to close its doors, and people in Happy Valley-Goose Bay will have to look elsewhere. 

MÓR Meats is a specialty butcher shop in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Owner Niamh Roche said business is good, but could be better, so she’s decided to expand. (Mór Meats/Facebook)

Niamh Roche, meanwhile, only opened her butcher shop in 2022. But after 18 months in business, she’s ready to expand. 

“We feel that we’ve kind of maxed out what we can do in our current location,” Roche said. 

“I feel in order for the business to survive, it really does need to take this step. It’s a huge investment for us and it’s a huge risk, but we feel that we’ve built up a strong customer base.”

Roche believes a larger and more centralized storefront

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Here’s how going viral impacts small businesses

NEW YORK –

The Lexington Candy Shop in New York City has served burgers, fries and shakes to hungry patrons for decades. Last remodelled in 1948, the diner is the definition of old-fashioned.

But that hasn’t stopped it from getting a wave of new fans.

In August 2022, this old school business met the new world when Nicolas Heller, a TikToker and Instagrammer with 1.2 million followers known as New York Nico, popped in for a traditional Coke float — Coke syrup, soda water and ice cream. Naturally, he took a video. It went viral, garnering 4.8 million likes.

“The next day (after the video was posted), the lines started forming at 8 in the morning,” John Philis, the diner’s third-generation co-owner, recalls with amazement. “And it was like, huh!”

When a smaller restaurant unexpectedly goes viral on TikTok or other social media, the sudden demand can be overwhelming. Owners have to adapt on the fly, revamping operations to quickly serve a crush of people. But savvy business owners who are able to adapt can parlay newfound fame into a lasting boost for their business.

Ali Elreda opened Fatima’s Grill in Downey, California, in 2016, drawing in customers with an eclectic range of tacos, wraps and burgers.

He sprinkled Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in some of them, inspired by his daughter’s love of hot chips. By 2020, Elreda had worked hard to develop his restaurant’s social media presence, shooting videos with music. But after a TikToker dubbed @misohungry posted a video of Elreda’s Flaming Hot Cheeto Fusion burger that August, things suddenly “just went crazy.”

Dominique Ansel, second from right, greets people who have been waiting in line for the opening of his namesake bakery in New York, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. In 2013, before most people knew the term “going viral,” the French pastry chef created the Cronut, a cross between a croissant and a doughnut, at his newly opened New York bakery. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Lines to get into the restaurant ballooned to two to three hours — for months. At first, the store wasn’t ready for the influx.

“We just couldn’t adjust,” he said. “We would stay late hours to prep for the next day and then the lines would continue and continue and continue and continue.”

Opening two nearby restaurants helped relieve the pressure. Elreda now has 10 locations, including newly opened restaurants in Detroit and Brooklyn

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Aging, high living costs prompt small business owners to sell

An aging Canadian population and demand for higher wages are among the factors pressuring small Canadian business owners to sell their companies, according to a seasoned expert in mergers and acquisitions.

Michael Morrow, managing director of merger and acquisitions and capital markets at BDO Canada, is forecasting a rise in the sale of businesses within the next five years compared to the previous half decade.

 

He attributes that forecast to a lack of succession options for aging Canadian business owners, post-pandemic burnout among entrepreneurs and pressure to match competitive salary expectations amid high cost of living.

 

“The drivers for business owners to sell that we’re seeing have a lot to do with an aging population and no plans for family members to take over the companies,” Morrow told BNNBloomberg.ca in a telephone interview. 

 

SUCCESSION GAPS

 

After decades of growing a business and steering it through the pandemic, many owners feel it is time to sell their companies now that their businesses have recovered, Morrow explained. However, many business owners do not have successors in place to take over their operations, he added. 

 

“Another reality that is pushing owners to sell their businesses is the lack of management they have been able to retain since COVID,” Morrow added. 

 

HIGHER WAGE DEMANDS

 

Demand for higher wages is also posing challenges for small businesses, Morrow said.

 

Small businesses can’t find the right employees, he said, because qualified candidates are seeking opportunities at larger corporations that can pay higher salaries or offer better employment perks, he explained. 

 

Morrow is observing these trends through clients he works with at BDO Canada which offers accounting, advising and professional services to businesses. 

“Someone with 20 to 30 years of expertise in a field is now a highly sought after resource in this labour market and large companies will bid to have them,” Morrow said. “This leaves smaller companies with less competitive options to offer them.”

 

TECHNOLOGY COSTS

 

Another challenge driving business owners to sell is the steep cost of new technology used in business operations today, he added.

 

“We’re seeing a lot of owners who have been in business for years who are now simply unable or unwilling to invest in the technology needed to bring their companies up to speed. They either

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‘It’s beautiful’: St. John’s Black-owned market helps small businesses share culture, creativity

Margaret Asuquo, who started a small jewelry and craft business called Marge’s Creations and Designs last year, says it’s amazing to have the opportunity to sell her work alongside other creators at the Black-owned vendor market in St. John’s. (Jessica Singer/CBC)

Margaret Asuquo says she’s been creative her entire life, always picking up new hobbies that allow her to use her hands to create something beautiful.

Being able to sell her original work — including beaded bags, earrings and necklaces — alongside other Black artists and creators at a vendor market is nothing short of “amazing,” she said.

“It is like the biggest pat on the back,” said Asuquo, who started a small jewlery and craft business called Marge’s Creations and Designs last year.

“To kind of see it come to life and then hear people like kind of say, ‘It’s beautiful’ and everything is like, oh my God, my heart is full. So it’s amazing.”

The Black-owned vendor market celebrated its third anniversary Saturday on George Street in St. John’s, an event that included live music and performances, as well as Black vendors selling clothing, food and jewlery.

A woman wearing a bright orange, blue and red sun dress smiles while standing beside a table covered in brightly coloured textiles and clothing.
Nicole Obiodiaka is the organizer and founder of Centra, an organization that works to curate cultural experiences in the city, including the Black-owned vendor market, which celebrated its third anniversary on George Street Saturday. (Jessica Singer/CBC)

Nicole Obiodiaka is the organizer and founder of Centra, an organization that works to curate cultural experiences in the city, including the vendor market.

This year’s market was the biggest yet and the first on George Street. Last year it was held at the St. John’s Farmers’ Market. 

Obiodiaka hopes the market will continue to grow and expand.

Not only is the market a “beautiful” way for small businesses to showcase their talents and creativity, Obiodiaka said, but it’s also a way for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to experience other cultures. 

“It can be through shopping, through dialogue, through the music, like, it’s a whole multisensory experience to immerse yourself in our culture,” she said. “So it’s beautiful.”

Margaret Ajayi, the owner of St. John’s baking and catering compan Meggs Cakes & Events, moved to the province around four years ago from Nigeria. She can’t remember how many cakes she’s baked or events she’s catered since she arrived.

A woman wearing a black shirt stands in between two young girls.
Margaret Ajayi is the owner of Meggs Cakes & Events, a baking and catering company in St. John’s.
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How Rechie Valdez went from banker to baker to Small Business Minister

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Federal Minister of Small Business, Rechie Valdez outside her office in Mississauga on Aug. 18.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

In early 2020, Rechie Valdez made a decision. She would leave the banking industry, where she had worked for more than 15 years, to focus full time on her small business: baking desserts and wedding cakes.

“I freaked out my mother,” Ms. Valdez said. “I was able to let go of the corporate life, the job security and everything. I really wanted to believe in me and everything I built. It was very daunting and very scary. For most entrepreneurs, it is.”

A year and a half later, she made another leap of faith and put her name on a ballot. She was elected. And this summer, the rookie MP was named to cabinet as the Minister of Small Business, the federal Liberals’ first dedicated minister in that portfolio in four years.

Ms. Valdez sat down with The Globe and Mail at a bakery in Mississauga, near her constituency office. (She closed her own bake shop when she got into politics.)

She steps into her cabinet role at a critical time. Small businesses in many sectors struggled to survive pandemic lockdowns. The taps of federal aid were turned off last year, but a crucial deadline looms to pay back government pandemic loans.

In the coming weeks, Ms. Valdez will help decide whether to extend the deadline. And beyond that, she will shepherd programs that have struggled to get uptake – such as a $4-billion initiative to help small businesses upgrade their digital tools.

Ms. Valdez is the first Filipina cabinet minister, though her family’s journey to Canada was not direct. She was born in 1980 in Zambia to parents who were both born in the Philippines.

In 1989, the family – now including a younger brother – immigrated to Canada. Her father (an engineer) found a job quickly, but her mother (a nurse) couldn’t get her credentials recognized and had to go back to school while working.

“I watched them work so hard,” Ms. Valdez said. “They gave up everything and they sacrificed everything. But you know what, because they did, we got our education here, in this country.”

Ms. Valdez graduated from the University of Windsor in 2003 with a degree in computer science. She was hired by Bank of Montreal to work the

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