Monday, December 3, 2012

Avoiding Complacency


Whether in small business or big, you are only as popular as your last big invention!  Although you may be analyzing a healthy balance sheet, be assured there is a competitor working on providing a newer version of your main product or service.  As an entrepreneur wanting to keep your share of the market, it is important to watch the horizon and check over your shoulder.
FOCUS ON ACTION: A strategic plan is crucial to lay out your path forward in business, but be diligent in carrying out the actions to bring your goals to fruition.  Many companies create a strategic plan toward success, but fail to set the action items that will propel the plan forward.  Status quo – being happy with the way things currently are – can surely lead to the eventual demise of a thriving business.  Growth and improvement happen on purpose.
SUCCESS IS NOT AUTOMATIC:  While your business may be a leader in its industry, it is not enough to relax and maintain the lead position.  Continual development of new products or services is essential for remaining at the top – one great product will not ensure that success automatically continues infinitely.  Working to refine and improve your base product will ensure you are competitive beyond your initial success.
BE DYNAMIC:  If your product line and your success are to continue, you must have a dynamic strategy.  To be planning for a  truly sustainable future, your marketing approach must be vibrant and fresh.  Attracting new customers or clients to a familiar product requires creativity and following up with more dynamic products or services that will complement your existing line.
SPIRAL UP:  A business will either spiral up or spiral down.  If you add products or services, you will add employees and revenue.  You may expand your business or create another branch – you will afford more money for research and development, and  you will spiral up with even more products added to your line.  You may become diverse and buy out or merge with a competitor or a business in a related field.  Each increment of the upward spiral will bring with it growth and development, brought about by vision, hard work, careful planning and deliberate action.

Monday, April 30, 2012


$hop at Home was created to remind consumers that independent businesses in our region offer a fresh, local alternative to global chain stores and big box stores.
Studies show that for every $100 you spend locally, $48 stays in your community!  When you shop at a big box or chain store, only $13 returns to your community.  Here are some great reasons to $hop at Home:
·      * local business owners contribute more to local fundraising
·      * local businesses employ local residents
·      * local businesses support other local businesses
·      * the business community is reflective of its community’s culture (they will stock the products you need)
·      * tax money spent locally is used for local infra-structure and facilities
·      * shopping at home reduces your carbon footprint
In the Northern Lakes region you will soon notice retailers, restaurants and service providers with the $hop at Home decal displayed on their counter.  Participating businesses will honor a discount card that can be purchased for $5 through Northern Lakes Economic Development Corp.  Your discount card entitles you to a 2% savings on your purchase at these local businesses (some restrictions may apply).  If you don’t see the decal, be sure to ask – start saving money in your hometown!
If you think the purchasing power you have does not affect your home town, let’s look at an example for one product:  gasoline.  If you fill your tank (on average over vehicles per family) twice per week and for purposes of easy math, let us say it costs you $65 per tank.  That means you buy 104 tanks of gas per year for a total of $6760 per year.  If you are filling your tank outside your home community 25 percent of the time, you are costing your local filling station $1690 per year.  Let’s say that 500 people in a community of 5000 (surrounding rural included) decide to focus their gasoline purchases exclusively in their hometown for one year.  Those 500 people would be ensuring a combined total of $845,000 stays in their own community in one year by shifting the purchasing pattern for a single product! That makes a difference.
The benefits of shopping locally are not only realized through increased sales for the retailers – the benefits are shared by all of us when our pooled efforts result in a significant shift in the allocation of our purchasing power.  Simply put, the more people choose to Shop at Home, the stronger our business community will be and the more those businesses will give back to our community in all the areas listed at the beginning of this article.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Three Cool Lessons From Shopping Locally

 Last April, I undertook a self-imposed moratorium on shopping in the city.  My intention was to concentrate on fulfilling my daily needs within my hometown area, and I want to share with you some of my biggest surprises and how I managed to survive while depriving myself of neither necessities nor frivolous material whims. I am not without shopping-sin (curse you, Old Gringo) but after a year of research, I feel qualified to preach on the joys of shopping at home.

In addition to planning ahead (fuelling up the night before a business trip, checking local grocery flyers for great deals on COFFEE!!!, etc.) I found that we have almost everything I needed in the small businesses at home – I just didn’t know it.  I covered off most of my Christmas shopping in Spiritwood, and I have not heard any complaints yet nor have I been re-gifted any of the items I gave…just wait until my birthday for final clearance on that claim, please.  When I committed to finding great gifts here, I discovered that it is wise to take time to look through all the retailers’ wares carefully – this helps to avoid the panicky last-minute choices that tend to show up at garage sales in spring.  My best finds:  Levi’s jeans for my toddler nieces - size 2 and 4, bath salts disguised as ice cream cones, bone china tea set, bar fridge (for my youngest, of course),  2011 Ford Edge (for me, I don’t spend that much on my friends) Christmas floral arrangements, baby blankets and piggy banks (a staple in a town where swine genetics is a major employer), shopping spree for new jeans (the best part of being from a small town is being able to tell the store owners “My daughter is coming in next week to shop for jeans, so I will be in sometime after that to settle up”.  This can also be a curse when I am shopping for an undershirt and three staff at the clothing store ask if I am shopping for my Grandma because my aunt was just there yesterday and bought her some undershirts…).  So yes, Christmas shopping, birthdays, baby births, Mother’s Day and Rider Season Opener Day can all be accommodated by small-town shopping.  That is because 30% of the retailers offer a wide range of Rider gear and/or green cupcake soap.

 Something I knew before this project began but which became even more abundantly obvious is that customer service in small towns is nothing short of stellar.  Whether I was looking blankly at a shelf that was lacking tanning lotion or an array of ink cartridges that did not include my specific number, or whether I was sitting in the crowd at the Stockyards – employees and owners wanted to know if there was something they could help me find.  Without exception, local business offered to order in exactly what I wanted when they didn’t normally stock it.  Oh, there is one exception -  the stockyards, who cannot not seem to find a bovine that doesn’t scare me (they’re still looking though.)  For the last three years I have been yearning for a thumb ring.  I have tried on rings in expensive jewelry stores, mid-range jewelry stores and even American jewelry stores.  You city people may laugh at what you are about to read – and that’s okay because it made me chuckle, yes it even brought a head-shake – I found the COOLEST thumb ring in the feed store.  It is a Montana Silversmith black and silver ring and like tattoos, I should have been born with it.  Insider tip:  if you don’t find something in a small town, look in the least obvious place – if you still don’t see it, ask someone.  It’s there somewhere, they just don’t know what it is called.

 You get what you pay for.  I proved this over the past year when I needed to make two major purchases of the same product.  One was purchased at a sale price in the local furniture store and one was purchased for much less in the city during a Boxing Day sale.  The one from the city is larger and was less expensive, but the one I bought locally is the one I use more (especially to watch curling, which is a religion in SK and therefore mandatory on Sundays).  Whether it is brand name clothing at the fashion store in town or furniture or saddles or cowboy boots, the items that are popular in our small town are popular for a reason:  we don’t have to buy them again soon.  This may seem counter-productive to a big-box mentality, but if you buy a $10 shirt and it shrinks, are you going back to the same store for another $10 shirt? 

There were more lessons learned, but my favorite aspect of the experiment was that I had more fun than I have ever had shopping in the city (I know, I am a hayseed and I like it that way) but people still think I shopped in the city!  My style has not suffered, nor has my grocery bill.  In fact, my hair is looking better than ever thanks to our full-service gas stations – meaning I don’t have to wear a toque when it is cold and windy and I am trying to look presentable at a public meeting or social event (okay, I don’t go to social events…unless you count door-knocking during election campaigns). 

Please visit the Spiritwood and District Chamber of Commerce facebook group if you need more ideas from my ‘Twelve Days of Christmas Shopping’ where you will find photos of local items and names of businesses that provide them.  I don’t mind if you join the group, but then you will receive updates every time I find myself having fun (shopping) locally!  You are also invited to leave a comment here – please do.

Monday, March 5, 2012


There comes a time when a small-town Saskatchewan community has to ask a most important question:  how is our hockey rink feeling?  The heart of the community beats many days and nights within the frosty walls of the beloved facility, and attention must be paid when an old archrib arena is feeling the effects of heavy use and age. 

Built in 1967, the Centennial Arena has hosted countless events – summer and winter – and has seen many visitors.  Renamed after two RCMP officers gave their lives while protecting our community, the current Cameron-Bourdages arena has reached the end of its current use.  A committee of volunteers hosted public meetings and then proceeded down the arduous path of obtaining funding, and a government program allotment was the catalyst for the construction of the new arena we are using this winter.  The volunteering is far from over, however.  We must now pay the balance of the hefty invoice, which will be primarily achieved through fundraising.

Just as the community leaders funded the 1967 project, so we will offer events, contests, auctions, rallies and lotteries in order to provide incentive to support our new arena efforts.  Corporate sponsorship may be solicited through naming rights, but the ongoing costs related to insurance and maintenance will require money above what is generated of a user-pay schedule.  To that end, our fundraising committee has launched the Spiritwood Recreational Lottery.  Between February and July of 2012 we will sell 3000 tickets in a lottery that provides excellent odds of winning a high-value prize.  With generous corporate sponsorship from Martodam Motors, Spiritwood and District Chamber of Commerce, Northern Lakes Economic Development Corp. and the majority of Spiritwood’s business community, we will raise substantial funds for our arena while raising awareness of our community at the same time.  In keeping with the ideal recreational nature of our area, we are proud to be offering items of the sort that get us through the work week in anticipation of the weekends – truck, camper, boat, quads and CASH! 

Being from a great place to live, work and play is a blessing for which I am thankful.  Helping to ensure our town remains vibrant and alive is a privilege, and knowing that our efforts are being directed to maintaining one of the primary recreation facilities in the community is greatly rewarding.  Thanks to the planning committee who saw the daunting project through to this point – we, our children and our visitors will enjoy the fruits of your labor for many years to come.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It Should Be Easier!

It Should be Easier

I spent 45 minutes today ordering a new deposit book.  That doesn’t include the five minutes it takes me to walk from my office to the bank, where I thought I would be handed a complimentary new one with their logo on it so that I could continue depositing my millions there with ease.  “We don’t give them out anymore, you have to phone this 1-800 number and order one.”  I don’t like the concept but I try to be progressive, and with this “kindness” thing to which I am dedicated, I smile and thank the Bank as I head back to the office to phone in my order quickly.

Automated, bi-lingual messages do not mix well with an attention deficit of such magnitude as mine.  While I was waiting for the voice reel to arrive at the number of the selection that most closely matched my needs, I became distracted by thinking about how much longer a phone cord I should buy to allow me to do other tasks while waiting for automated voice reel messages.  I only had to start over twice, but finally I was able to pay attention long enough to find out the sales tax in Quebec is going to increase to 9.5% as of – some date soon, I forgot to listen to when it will be in effect.  I fully expect I won’t be able to advance my number-pressing sequences because of this, which makes me feel slightly grouchy and I decide to hang up and phone the branch on Main Street to talk to someone I have known since birth.  Mine, not hers.  But I spent eight or 10 minutes on hold and was then automatically transferred to someone in Toronto.  Not a classic “win” but she didn’t ask me to press any numbers.  She did, however, want me to spell everything.  “What is your address please?”  Box 267 – “Could you spell that please?”  T-W-O…S-I-X…S-E-V-E-N – “So you are at 267 what?”  Box 267 – “Could you spell that please?” Box – sorry, B-O-X – “Thank you.  And what province?”  Oh, crap.

After spelling my complete auto-biography to the representative in Toronto (she doesn’t know my brother in Barrie) I may or may not be receiving a deposit book – which is no longer free - yes, I actually paid for today’s pain.  But I did not swear at all, I refrained from muttering and sighing, and I (sort of politely) explained that for the record, I am not in favor of the new system where I phone someone in Toronto who does not have access to my account information rather than being served by the person who has known me since birth (and has all my account information plus a few school pictures of me). 

This is not a rant against banks (fooled you, eh?).  It is a commentary on the decline of personal service in business today.  Everyone has become accustomed to the automated telephone answering voice and the frustrating and time-consuming circus-game of “guess the magic button” in order to complete a simple task.  I always try to take a lesson from each experience – good or bad – and my resolution today is this:  anytime I am in a position to ask for others’ patronage or support, I am going to make it as easy and pleasant as possible so that they decide in my favor.  I may be vetoed, and the effort may be greater, but I am going to try to give better than what I got today.  That should be easy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Climbing a Mountain

You may recall my blog post in January regarding goal-setting.  Consider this post an in-depth review and step-by-step worksheet for how to set goals, and also accept it as evidence that when you tell others about your goals, you will be more committed to following through.

As a girl who LOVES my perfect prairie province of Saskatchewan, it may seem odd (or normal, depending how odd or normal you are) that I should desire to climb a mountain.  It did not occur to me naturally, I read about an excursion taken by a group of buddies – not my buddies, some stranger’s buddies – in a magazine article from Cowboys & Indians magazine.  The mountain they climbed was Mt. Whitney in California, which is a great coincidence because I need to go back to Folsom, California anyway (and get a Harley t-shirt since I got lost the first time I tried…) but I digress.

So what’s the big deal?  Well, Mt. Whitney and the forest rangers paid to protect Mt. Whitney don’t let just every girl named Bevra from Saskatchewan climb to the peak at random.  No, the mountain is attainable during the summer by permit only - a permit that must be applied for between Feb. 1 and March 15.  Because my idea of a great mountain-climbing experience involves spending six days on a motorbike in sunny hot weather, I am pinning a lot of hopes on being drawn in the permit lottery, but if I am not chosen for the restricted summer months I will need to do the climb prior to May 1.  Typically, I cannot get my bike out of my yard prior to May 1, so what do I do.  Believe me, I am climbing this mountain and here is what I need to do:

1.    Research Mt. Whitney – I have read about my challenge on the internet and now have knowledge of what equipment I will need (I am not a hiker, I am a biker).  I may be able to use the same boots.  The rest of the “tools” I am not fully acquainted with, so a trip to a sporting goods store will be an early priority (I travel light on a bike and will copy my own style with this mountain gig also.)  Hopefully, the staff at Fresh Air Experience are trained to withhold laughter until a customer is out of the store.
2.     Train – Mt. Whitney Trail is 22 km round trip.  I once walked from Chitek Lake to Leoville in a walk-a-thon…I was four years old and I won the trophy for ‘Youngest Walker’ but the training for that has long-since worn off and just never you mind how long ago (what year were Yogi Bear slip-on running shoes in fashion?)  I will need to get in shape and ensure I can walk/crawl/hobble 22 miles within daylight hours, carrying a backpack full of socks and bottled water.
3.     Enter the lottery for a permit so I can ride bike down to Cali and hike this thing in the heat of summer.  If I am going to become faint from thin mountain air, it shall be warm thin mountain air.  I have chosen all my desired hiking dates and entered online.
4.     Plan the bike route – I have been over this territory before and cannot wait to ride through Nevada again (mostly because I get to see Montana and Idaho on the way!)  I will include a swing through Folsom and THIS TIME I WILL FIND THE HARLEY DEALER!  (Would parking somewhere and taking a cab be considered cheating?)
5.     Investigate accommodations somewhere near Mt. Whitney – I need to have one full day off the bike prior to the hike as I will need to eat “carbs” or whatever and generally introduce my system to the altitude.  Staying in Lone Pine, CA looks like a good idea - do they have “carbs” there?  Book it.
6.     Contemplate Plan B – that is in the event that someone else gets drawn for my permit and I cannot hike in the summer months.  I am a firm believer in having a contingency plan so that I can define all the angles and come at the challenge from one of several ways and still accomplish the ultimate goal.  Sadly for me - very, very, very sadly for me – Plan B includes me starting my training last week because I may need to do this hike in April.
7.     Check flights to Reno or Las Vegas so I can rent a bike and ride to Mt. Whitney if I need to befriend Plan B for real.  This would be a good time to advise someone in these towns that they are renting me a bike – I need to inquire if they have one of my favorites and how many of my children they will take on trade.
8.     Was anyone going to remind me to check my passport?  Okay, I did that already – it expires on July 1 this year.  I have already been to the awesome Walmart photographer for a recent mug shot and have sent away the renewal application and astronomical fee.  Check in on me 5 – 6 weeks from now, we can laugh and show each other our passport photos…sick.
9.     Enlist my brother to tell our mother   – what, he is better at calming her down than I am.  And I was kidding about trading the kids for a rented bike, so maybe she won’t even care.

There you have nine simple steps to climbing a mountain.  I have identified my goal, broken it down into several attainable steps and affixed timelines to each.  I have investigated more than one way to successful completion (and may need to build in smaller steps as I go along).  I have begun the necessary actions and will check my list frequently to cross steps as they are completed. 

Follow me along from here to the top of Mt. Whitney – I can’t wait to tell you all about it each grueling mountain step of the way!  No doubt my plans will need to be adjusted according to events unfolding, but one thing is now very clear – I am officially committed to this goal.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Testing Courtesy

Testing Courtesy

The generally accepted theory today is that the common courtesy of yesteryear has faded in direct proportion to the rapid increase in our schedules.  If you could identify that a high level of courtesy at your place of business would give you a competitive advantage, would you train your employees for it?

In general (non-scientific) terms, I submit that courtesy remains healthier in the small towns than in large centres.   Yes, we all know each other and therefore we are obliged to say hello on the street or wave to every vehicle we recognize, but does this carry over to newcomers or those passing through?  I am going out on a limb here and maintain that we still rank higher on the friendly scale than our city cousins, but there has been a decline overall.

However, there are common courtesies that we should all practice daily, and if they become habits they will have a positive effect on those around us (enthusiasm and friendliness are contagious) and the spinoff is that people will want to be around us more frequently and will remember our businesses as having offered quality products with exemplary service.

The following common courtesy ideas (reminders) are not intended as admonishment for a past infraction – as my girls will attest, they were commonly read the riot act from our 753-page Etiquette Book if they were caught licking a knife or (ugh!) drinking from a bowl – it is more a checklist of the basics that are most apt to fall by the way as our lives become more hectic and impersonal:

·      noticing when someone is approaching a door to a building at the same time as you and holding the door open for him/her to enter first
·      giving compliments when another has done a good job
·      returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner (whether it is “no thank you” or “yes, maybe”)
·      being available to others without making them feel like they are imposing (it only costs time!)
·      thanking your customers
·      arriving on time or early for meetings and appointments (when I worked at The Brick, we were considered late if we did not punch in 10 minutes early – Vince Lombardi time, google it)

What other basic principles of courtesy were you taught (it occurs to me that my girls may be the only ones in the community able to differentiate between the uniforms of a butler and a chauffeur, thanks to Elizabeth Post.)  See how I thanked her there - that was me being courteous…let’s all brush up.  Hey, it might rub off on our city cousins. 

Monday, January 23, 2012


As our region grows and we plan for achievement of greater potential, we will rely heavily on community builders to show the way – form plans, build foundations, assemble teams.  So what is the difference between leaders and managers?  Each has a valuable role and yet each role is very distinct, and no dream is successfully realized without a leader.

Contemplate a public meeting where the community has gathered to share information whether or not to begin a daunting new challenge – something that could change the face of the community and how it functions and succeeds into the future.  This challenge may be construction of a new arena or the transition of ownership of a major property. 

During this meeting, many ideas and perspectives are shared.  Pros and cons are weighed.  Facts are presented and feasibility is weighed.  Leaders among the group are listening and a vision is forming.  They are sitting among the group, reflecting on previous endeavors and drawing on the experiences gained through mistakes made and obstacles overcome.  They are measuring the comments and evaluating the common goals – a dream is at stake and the leaders are identifying the risk.  Can the people involved accomplish the dream?  One of the leaders will rise to speak, and the room will recognize the community builder as one who will have the answer, waiting for the inspiration and motivation that will be released,  the unifying message that will be delivered with emotion and sincerity.  The group sees the vision clearly and understands the importance of moving forward as one, trusting in each other and believing in the dream.

We have these leaders in our community.  They work alongside the team and never see themselves as being part of a hierarchy.  They encourage and listen to input and value a broad range of ideas.  They share the load and are always fostering teamwork, identifying training opportunities or outside expertise where necessary.  Everyone involved in the project works tirelessly toward a common goal and is internally motivated rather than by external benefits.  

The evolution from managing to leading is possible within each of us.  Look inward, understand your fears and accept there may be risks.  If you have the ability to dream of greatness, you have the ability to lead.  Transformational leadership consists of a vision and a passion.  The process of developing your vision, selling your vision and leading the way will require enthusiasm – once distributed among the group, your enthusiasm will generate all the planning and action components that are required to find your way forward.  Lead the charge.  Lead change.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


In the early stages of forming our Northern Lakes Economic Development Corporation we chose our motto “partnering for sustainable economic growth”. We felt the importance of focusing on partnerships was worthy of being our primary goal. The difference in our communities today – because of population distribution, product and service availability and the increased mobility of the consumer – demands that we partner with our neighbors to offer a regional advantage.
When I was young, most families did not travel to the city more than once or twice a year. My family went once a year to North Battleford to do our Christmas shopping and to visit my Great Aunt Ida (thank you Aunt Ida, if you hadn’t lived near North Battleford we would have never left Leoville!). Other than this annual trip, all our needs were met – social, recreation, education, retail – within ten miles. Our town had a theatre, hardware store, school, hospital, gas stations, post office, grain elevators, sports teams, bowling alley, restaurants, lumber yard, groceries, library, plumbing/heating/electrical…everything. Not anymore.
Today’s world sees each small town with something to offer, but no small town can offer everything. People are traveling farther for various legitimate reasons on a daily basis and are filling their needs in the most convenient or cost-efficient place along their route and it is very difficult for rural businesses to find their competitive advantage, but there are many very strong businesses that remain and thrive in our small towns. And we all want people to know what we have and we try hard to entice them to visit us and find out for themselves what needs of theirs can be accommodated in our communities.
Much the same way that our small towns now partner together to form hockey teams and 4-H clubs, so must we also share regional resources to attract people or groups of people to patronize our businesses and tourism industry. Our shared vision can give us strength in numbers – we must share information, ideas, knowledge and financial resources to mount a cohesive campaign in order to supply the full package of what others will be looking for when they evaluate whether to establish a business or to travel or live in our communities. I accept that if someone is traveling from Prince Albert to Chitek Lake he or she may stop for fuel in Shellbrook, coffee and fish hooks in Spiritwood, groceries for the cooler in Leoville and end up doing a variation of the same when they travel back to PA. I expect that they will learn something in each town as well – view a poster for a motorcycle rally in the Shellbrook gas station, find a phone number for a good used ATV when buying fish hooks in Spiritwood, see that they can get a tire changed in Leoville…even if we are not conscious of the link between our towns, it is formed in the minds of those who are outside looking in.
We have come a long way from the days when each town pitted a team against the other in recreational activities. We are now on the same team (realistically and metaphorically) and will realize more collective benefit from forming a strong common force through co-operative partnerships.
Further interesting perspectives can be found in “13 Ways to Kill Your Community” by Doug Griffiths

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


“We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service relationship to humanity.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We are beginning a new year full of hope and promise in a most successful province that still has vast unrealized potential. There is opportunity awaiting us in the areas of financial wealth, career advancement and quality of life. Have you thought about your personal plan for giving back to your community?

Many people will be setting goals at this point in the year, and I encourage you to include a goal that will see you taking steps toward leadership in an area that is important to you. With the opportunity we are facing comes longer work hours and more commitment to family and career objectives, so it will take a conscious decision and a concerted effort from you to stay involved once you decide to join a volunteer organization. However, doing so will add a dimension to your life that will help define your character as a humanitarian.

Reflect back on your formative years or your early career – what organizations helped you get where you are today? Chances are you learned about agriculture, public speaking and volunteering through a 4-H club. Perhaps your town had a Boy Scouts or Girl Guides squad, a hockey team to which you belonged or a softball team. These clubs exposed you to the concept of teamwork and demonstrated the value of a combined effort to achieve a goal. The skills you learned from a mentor are within you now.

As our civic and service organizations – Lions Clubs, Church boards, sports teams and youth groups – evolve, so too does their leadership. It is incumbent on us to be proactive, to join our communities’ volunteer organizations to strengthen and replace the long-time leaders. Learn from them and succeed them.