Raise Your Hands Up In The Air For Small Business!
Plus The Big Smoke On Area Vape Shops
Cover Story And Photos (unless marked) By Dave Hall
Small business is the economic engine that drives local economies across Canada — and the Windsor Essex region is no exception.
Small businesses can be found here in a host of different sectors, from manufacturing to hospitality and from the service sector to agriculture and technology.
Whether they have a physical location or operate solely online, it is important consumers support local companies and business owners every time they need a product or service.
Traditionally, in October, we celebrate “Small Business Month” to show our appreciation to the small business leaders who have run companies for many years, as well as new start-ups popping up in the local business world.
Local entrepreneurs, who started their businesses with little more than a dream, are also recognized during this month with a special week-long celebration. This is an initiative of the Business Development Bank of Canada, during which the WindsorEssex Small Business Centre, a division of the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation, stages its fifth annual “W.E. (Windsor Essex) Shop Local Show”.
“This show has become incredibly important for our local businesses because it gives them a chance for exposure to a wider audience,” explains Sabrina DeMarco, Executive Director of the Small Business Centre. “Nearly all of them have their own brick-and-mortar locations, but bringing them all together under one roof will provide them with a chance to display their products to hundreds of people at once.”
This year’s “W.E. Shop Local Show” is expected to include more than 50 local vendors and takes place October 24 between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Fogolar Furlan Club, 1800 North Service Road in Windsor.
Among the vendors at this year’s show are: Little Food Foods, Dressed By An Olive, Red Lantern Coffee Company, Pelee Island Winery, Nidaas Fine Foods, Ruscom Maple Products, Papa D’s Hot Sawce, Whiskeyjack Boutique, Culture Shock Jewelry, Tagged It Paper Co., HotHive Branding and Design Studio, Witch and Whimsy, Little Sheep Yarn Boutique, Corporal 4 Life Apparel, SweetLegs, Dave’s Woodworking, Stepping Out Fashion Boutique, Peekabloom Baby Accessories, Southwest Shores, The Dandelion Shop, Emerson Supply Co. and Smelly Wellness Aromatherapy. (Note: for a complete list of vendors and more information on the show, visit online).
According to Statistics Canada, there are 20,000 businesses in Windsor and Essex County and 85 percent are classified as small or micro businesses with fewer than 10 employees, but they remain a huge part of the economy across the area.
“There’s a place for all sizes of businesses from small two-person shops to big box stores,” says DeMarco. “But, it’s the small businesses that shape the fabric of our community and they are the ones that help grow our economy.”
She mentions, “As an example, we have a fantastic food and restaurant sector in Windsor with a vast variety of ethnically-diverse restaurant options and we can attribute all of that to small entrepreneurs who took a chance by opening their own business.”
All of these local companies, and many others, started as a dream, but turning that dream into reality can be a challenge.
One of the major impediments to small business growth and success is access to start-up and ongoing capital.
This is where the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) enters the picture as a flexible, non-demand lender that provides peace of mind to small entrepreneurs.
“We are able to provide working capital on a more flexible and favourable basis than the chartered banks,” explains Celso Oliveira, Manager of the Business Centre at BDC (2485 Ouellette Avenue, Suite 200, Windsor). “We are also able to provide relief on principal payments, because we recognize that early start-ups often have cash-flow problems.”“In 2008, chartered banks started calling in loans simply because they were nervous about where the economy was headed, which caused a great many problems for small businesses,” says Oliveira. “But, we are a non-demand committed lender and we stick with our clients through good times and bad, which creates peace of mind and confidence.”
The BDC (celebrating 75 years) also provides financial planning advice and takes a cradle-to-grave approach when it comes to supporting small businesses and their owners.
This year’s “BDC Small Business Week” runs from October 20 to 26 and celebrates a nation of entrepreneurs and the changing face of Canadian entrepreneurship.
DeMarco mentions that her organization and the BDC are working closely together on some common files to help local entrepreneurs launch their businesses with as much help, support and advice as they can provide.
The assistance generally comes in the form of helping write business plans, marketing and accounting advice and helping with access to start-up capital.
“We’ve seen them change over time,” says Oliveira of small businesses. “We’ve seen them succeed. Join us as we celebrate Canadian entrepreneurs and explore the key factors driving their growth.”
Locally, small business owners come in all shapes and sizes from many different demographic groups and industries.
One of the fastest-growing small sectors, given a boost by changing federal legislation regarding the legal use of cannabis and its accessories, are vape shops, which sell e-juices, e-cigarettes, vaporizers and other accessories related to the use of cannabis products.
Despite health issues raised mostly in the United States, where Michigan has already banned flavoured e-juices, local vape shops seem to be thriving.
Selling e-juices, which can help people quit smoking, to anyone under the age of 19 is illegal in the same way that selling tobacco and alcohol to those under 19 is illegal.
But, where this vaping regulation sometimes comes unstuck is the fact that some of these products are available at convenience stores and gas stations.
Specialty vape shops have to be licenced by the provincial government and one of the criteria is that 85 percent of sales have to come from juices, e-cigarettes, vaporizers and related accessories.
Anyone under the age of 19 is forbidden from entering a specialty vape shop.
There are as many as two dozen stores in the Windsor and Essex County region offering such products and what follows is a small cross-section.
Nekkid Monk Vape Shop
There are five stores operating under the Nekkid Monk umbrella, including a corporate store in London and franchises in Windsor, St. Thomas and two more in London.
Business owner Bill Thibodeau says he launched his first store five years ago on a shoestring budget and believes he was fortunate to get in on the ground floor.
“We created a small brand and when the industry expanded, we were ready to be pulled along with it,” he comments. “We sell one product and it’s designed to help people quit smoking. We sell an affordable e-liquid and we have never strayed into other products.”
Thibodeau says his company manufactures its own brand of e-liquids and he believes that allows him to sell at a lower price than many competitors.
Local franchise owner David Adamgbo, who opened up shop in the summer at 6640 Tecumseh Road East, sells vaporizers for juices and cannabis (but no product), just accessories.
“We’re getting customers at all ages from age 19 on up,” he adds. “All people trying to quit smoking.”
Despite health concerns voiced recently by Health Canada about the effects of vaping, Thibodeau believes his products are safer than tobacco.
“It’s not better than not vaping, but it’s 95 to 97 percent safer than smoking so there is a net health improvement,” he claims.
Thibodeau says Health Canada’s studies measure the effects of vaping on people who don’t smoke rather than the positive effects of people quitting smoking and choosing vaping products instead. “The industry is an easy target right now, but 90 percent of our customers are coming to us from smoking and reporting successes in quitting smoking,” he adds.
The local Nekkid Monk store is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Jeff Seremack, who opened Vape On four years ago, says business has been growing and that people seeking to quit smoking come from all demographics and walks of life.
“I smoked for almost 30 years and I quit smoking as soon as I started vaping,” says Seremack.
The amount of cigarettes people smoked before considering vaping, is taken into account when Seremack recommends juices with different nicotine levels.
“I need people to be honest about how much they smoke, otherwise the nicotine levels in the juices they choose won’t be as effective,” says Seremack who co-owns the shop with Marcel Lynch.
With three employees including Brigham Shearon and Mark Murphy, Vape On also sells vaporizers and pipes, but no actual cannabis products.
“I find more older people are coming into the store to check out what we have now that what we offer has gone more mainstream,” explains Seremack.
The store offers upwards of 120 different flavours with the fruit varieties being among the most popular.
On the health front, Seremack believes his products are 100 percent safe unless people start adding other ingredients.
“It has nothing to do with our juices,” he stresses.
Vape On is located at 6048 Tecumseh Road East in Windsor and is open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Loire Taylor started vaping as a way to quit smoking and about four years ago, she decided to start imparting her knowledge about the healthy effects of vaping by selling e-juices from her home.
“I saw a gap in the market here in Kingsville and quickly decided to get into it on a full time basis,” says Taylor, who now operates the E-Liberation store at 47 King Street East. “My goal is to help people understand the products, provide them with information and educational items about vaping and help them pursue a healthier lifestyle by not smoking.”
Taylor also wants to debunk what she calls the “demonization of vaping.”
“Studies in the United Kingdom have shown that vaping is 95 percent or higher better than smoking,” she explains. “It’s the chemicals in tobacco and the tar that are unhealthy and lighting them all on fire doesn’t help from a health standpoint.”
Taylor acknowledges there may be issues with people using black-market products but vapers who buy from legitimate sources have little to fear.
Taylor mentions she and fellow vape shop owners had to obtain licences as specialty vape shop businesses, but convenience stores and gas stations, which sell similar products, didn’t have to jump through any bureaucratic hoops.
“As for the future, I’d like to see these products taken out of the hands of convenience store and gas station owners,” she says. “We had to register and we should be able to sell these products exclusively.”
Taylor’s store sells hundreds of varieties of flavoured juices, e-cigarettes, vaporizers and other accessories. It’s open Monday and Saturday from noon to 6 p.m., Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from noon to 7 p.m. It is closed on Wednesday and Saturday.
E-Liberation can be found on Facebook, but currently has no website.