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Despite the fact that as many as 20% of small businesses fail in the first year, there is never a shortage of entrepreneurs willing to take a risk and establish their own businesses across Essex County.
Many of those are in financial services, automobile sales, construction, and retail clothing sales.
“Starting a new business can be intimidating and exciting at the same time,” says Sabrina DeMarco, Executive Director of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Centre, a division of Invest WindsorEssex. “But there’s more involved than having a great idea, registering your business and opening the doors.”
DeMarco’s agency provides business planning advice, marketing strategies, financial and succession planning, business preparedness information, all with an eye towards helping small businesses in Windsor Essex survive those early years.
According to the Business Development Bank of Canada, almost 67% of new businesses survive to celebrate their fifth anniversary, however getting past that initial 12 months can be a major challenge.
Further, goods-producing companies have higher survival rates than services-producing businesses with 49% still operating after 10 years compared to 44%.
And finding ways to help small businesses survive is an important part of the Canadian economy, with small businesses creating more than 470,000 jobs between 2014 and 2019.
There are ways to help ensure a business survives through those early uncertain years.
DeMarco recommends that anyone thinking about launching their own business consider thinking one or two years ahead, when it comes to capital expenditures and cash flow.
“If sales aren’t as high as you anticipated or planned for, you need to have cash in reserve to get you over the rough spots,” DeMarco advises.
In the second and third years, business survival rates fall, and by the time a business is five years old, it is often well-positioned to survive. Those that don’t survive, often fail because of poor planning, poor management and a lack of vision on behalf of the owners.
The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Centre also provides ongoing support, as well as business retention and expansion advice, including marketing and advertising suggestions.
Demarco suggests: “It is critically important to have a digital presence on social media and you have to engage those customers in new ways.”
For this edition, Biz X magazine takes a look at four companies in a variety of sectors, celebrating between five and 90 years in business this year.
Each have different reasons for their success, but all have something in common — a dedicated commitment to customer service.
Closet Cravings Upscale Consignment Boutique & Gift Shop Inc. Celebrates Fifth Anniversary
Lisa Berbynuk’s five year old consignment business grew out of her long-time interest in clothes and luxury-brand fashion accessories.
Previously, she spent 16 years working in a completely different field — at the Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Clinic.
But back to her current interests: “I noticed that a lot of my friends had beautiful clothes that they wore once, weren’t wearing anymore or had never worn, and had hanging in their closets with the tags still on,” she recounts. “I saw a great opportunity to offer these clothes to other women who had an interest in fashion and quality clothing.” Berbynuk adds, “We offer these items at less than retail.”
Berbynuk takes clothing in on three month seasonal consignment contracts with sizes ranging from zero to double and triple X. She also offers a wide range of purses, shoes, active wear and jewellery.
In addition to standard mall brands, Berbynuk stocks clothing and accessories from brands such as: Coach, lululemon, Juicy Couture, Michael Kors, Banana Republic, Cole Haan, French Connection, Laundry and Club Monaco, as well as luxury brands such as Gucci, Prada, Celine, Chanel and Louis Vuitton.
She points out: “The fastest-growing segment of the business is on the luxury brand side.”
And in order to protect customers and preserve her store’s reputation, Berbynuk makes sure all the luxury brand items are independently authenticated.
“Knock-off clothing and accessories can be a major problem so we are very careful before we put anything out in our store to make sure it’s been authenticated,” she explains.
Berbynuk feels that protecting her reputation is one of the secrets to her ongoing success, along with word-of-mouth advertising from a legion of satisfied customers.
“When our customers leave here happy and satisfied with what they have bought and tell their friends, it’s the best kind of advertising and promotion you can get,” she adds.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Berbynuk was forced to close her doors, but her website — ClosetCravings.ca — brought in new customers and also enabled her to open up a customer base in the U.S.
“We ship across Canada and the U.S. and that helped keep us going during the various closures,” she reports.
Keeping the website current is time-consuming because of the store’s high turnover rate, and only five-to-10 percent of her products are posted on the site at any given time.
Berbynuk posts everyday items and hard-to-find luxury products on the website to give clients a taste of what they would find during a personal visit to the store. A large part of her stock includes clothing and accessories that have never been worn or used and still have the original sales tags in place.
All items are in mint condition and steamed for extra sanitization. Berbynuk has three employees and relies on added help from family members when necessary.
To help keep her customers in the loop, she also posts a variety of incoming items on Facebook and Instagram.
“We dress people for special occasions, new employment opportunities and job interviews, especially people who may have been out of the job market and their professional wardrobe needs updating,” she describes.
Berbynuk has been actively involved with fundraising drives since she was a student at Assumption High School and continues that commitment today with contributions to New Beginnings, Street Help and Windsor Youth Centre. She also runs a Christmas gift program and makes donations to schools across the area.
Closet Cravings is located at 25 Amy Croft Drive in Tecumseh (adjacent to the Sobeys plaza).
Alpine Construction (Windsor) Inc. Marks 30th Year
A graduate of the Architectural Technology program at St. Clair College, Lou Savoni decided to strike out on his own 30 years ago after spending seven years working for another construction company.
“By that point, I had become the company’s unofficial general manager so I was pretty confident in my abilities, but it was still a leap of faith to go from a steady pay cheque to working for yourself,” explains Savoni.
Savoni launched his business, which specializes in relief and mitigation services following floods, fires and other disasters, with the help of his wife Ivanna Savoni and two carpenters.
Today, Alpine Construction has 20 employees, including son Chris and daughter Lauren Underwood.
“We worked out of our house for the first 18 months and now we have a 20,000 square foot shop and warehouse,” he expresses.
Savoni recalls his first project was a $3,500 claim to fix two small aluminum awnings that had been badly damaged during a hailstorm.
“It went smoothly and we just grew from there, largely through word-of-mouth at the beginning and then through referrals once our reputation was firmly established,” he says.
The majority of the restoration work is handled by Savoni’s own staff with the exception of specialties, such as electrical services, roofing and heating, ventilation and cooling.
One of the key components of Alpine’s success has been developing strong, committed relationships with sub-contractors such as Encore Mechanical & Building Services and RSK Electric.
“Our work is generally not planned and scheduled, so when our phone rings at 2 a.m., we need to be able to count on people to be available to step in and do the work,” Savoni emphasizes.
Scott Kennedy of RSK Electric has been working alongside Alpine on restoration and disaster mitigation projects for 17 years, providing electrical services after fires, floods, storms, rebuilds and emergencies.
“During this time, we have come to see firsthand how Alpine is dedicated and truly cares about each project and the community,” adds Kennedy. “We look forward to another 30 years of providing electrical services for Alpine projects.”
Jeff Cecile, Vice-President of Encore Mechanical, which itself has been in business for about 40 years, says that Alpine has been a great company to work with over the years.
“We do all their plumbing and heating restoration, as well as some electrical and it’s been a great relationship,” he comments. “They take care of their clients and we work very closely with them to make sure all the work is done properly and efficiently.”
But, even that can be challenging at times given the nature of Alpine’s projects.
“Our projects aren’t new builds, so we’re generally working in homes and businesses that are still occupied by residents or employees, which can make the work challenging at times,” says Savoni. “As a result of COVID-19 protocols, we are limited to how many people can be on site at any given time, which means that a week-long job can sometimes take three or four weeks.”
“Emotions can run high at times and we need to be able to work efficiently and communicate with our customers to help mitigate the problems,” he states. “We’re a little like mice — you know we’re there, but you’re not supposed to hear us.”
COVID-19 has added a new layer of challenges because of the limited availability and cost of materials.
Alpine’s jobs are generally all diverse and require different materials, so having a fully-stocked warehouse is virtually impossible.
“They are custom jobs for the most part and that makes it difficult to pre-order and that can be an issue at times,” Savoni indicates.
Largely as a result of Alpine’s reputation in the industry, Savoni is a founding member of Ontario’s Elite Mitigation & Restoration Group (EMRG.com), which pulls together contractors from across the province and responds to disasters across Canada when needed.
Along with his son Chris, Savoni spent six weeks in 2013 working in High River, Alberta when excessive flooding caused millions of dollars in damage to businesses and residences throughout the town.
Savoni, one of the group’s catastrophe managers, ran a large emergency team during the restoration efforts, and while it was extremely complicated to bring all the trades from various jurisdictions together as a team, he says he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
“Outside help can be essential in these circumstances, but one thing I’ve learned in over 30 years is don’t underestimate the quality and capabilities of local vendors and trades people,” says Savoni. “We are local, we are staying local and we are as qualified as anyone, anywhere in the province to get the work done.”
In addition to providing his company’s expertise to home and business owners, Savoni makes contributions on an annual basis to In Honour of the Ones We Love and Crime Stoppers, in addition to sponsoring house-league level sports teams.
Alpine Construction is located at 2645 North Talbot Road in Tecumseh.