By Greg Nikkel
An audience of around 60 people gathered to hear three businesswomen, two from Weyburn and one from Estevan, speak about their successes in business, and advice for those who are in business or are planning to be someday.
The evening, entitled “Sweet Success”, was held for Business Week by Community Futures Sunrise and the Weyburn Chamber of Commerce at the Travelodge Hotel on Oct. 27.
The three speakers included Andria Brady, executive director of the Weyburn Wor-Kin Shop and Harvest Pie Company; Susan Minard of Minard’s Leisure World and Steadfast Homes; and Trina Hanson of the Black Tree Hair Salon in Estevan.
Brady grew up on a farm and learned about the importance of working hard there, she said, and asked, “Why did I choose to be executive director at a non-profit? It chose me, really.”
She had been working at other positions, and about 10 years ago she was searching for something different, she told the audience.
“I really had no idea what I was getting into,” she said, noting one of the first big challenges of her position were the “rather awful facilities” that the Wor-Kin Shop was located in; fast-forwarding nine years, they realized the dream of nine years of hard work and fundraising when they opened the new SARCAN depot, the new vocation centre, and then this year, their “crowning achievement” with the new day program building, all three located on Ebel Road.
Also most recently, they bought the Harvest Pie Company as a sideline business that their clients could be involved with, particularly those not able to work in the wood shop at the vocation centre.
“We were keeping our eyes open for a business opportunity, different from what we currently were doing,” she said, hearing about the availability of the pie company by someone she knew, founder Candace Sotropa of Ogema.
Brady noted they were helped by Verna O’Neill and Teresa LaFoy of Community Futures Sunrise, who assisted with the financing for it.
Going back to when she first applied for the position at the Wor-Kin Shop, she recalled telling the board that they were virtually unknown in the community.
“Nobody knew what we did; everybody thought we were just the SARCAN depot,” said Brady, who noted the board liked her attitude and approach, and she has worked hard ever since to raise the awareness of the organization in the community, such as developing a new website, Facebook pages for the various aspects of their activities, a new logo, and vehicles with the Wor-Kin Shop logo on it.
In addition, said Brady, she’s gone out to speak to nearly every organization and service club in the city to let their members know what they’re all about.
Passing on some advice from lessons she’s learned along the way, Brady said if someone is looking to get into opening a business, she advised to “do your research, and do what your gut tells you. You need an on-line presence, with a website and social media.”
She added some nuggets for what has helped her, advising people to “start your day early; that gives me a quiet time to get started. Take time to show appreciation to your staff; there are ways to do that which aren’t costly.”
Brady also suggested connecting with people who work in the same field or area of business, and added that it pays to take care of one’s self.
“You really need to look after yourself mentally, physically, spiritually; get lots of sleep, drink lots of water. Also, I keep a notebook by my bed to jot down thoughts when they come to me,” said Brady.
She referred to the next speaker, Susan Minard, and congratulated her for recently winning the ABEX Awards for marketing, and as Saskatchewan’s Business of the Year.
Minard began by introducing her mother, who had accompanied her to the event, saying she was “the most amazing woman you’ll ever meet.”
“How I was raised had a strong effect on me. I was raised on a farm, so I learned to do my share of work,” she said, explaining that she and husband Gene were married young, when “Saskatchewan was not the land of opportunity like it is now. There were days we didn’t know how we were going to survive.”
Minard got a job in a clothing store where she started learning business skills like inventory management; later Gene’s father encouraged them to get into the RV business.
They began quietly enough, but then in 2008 business just “exploded”, she said, and they found they didn’t have enough staff to keep up; then, in 2009, due to economic pressures in the United States, a number of their manufacturers went bankrupt, and they got the bad news two days before Christmas that their financing company was unable to continue.
This put Minard’s into a tight situation, and it took them until April to find someone who would finance them so they could buy inventory.
“We learned don’t ever put all of your eggs in one basket,” said Minard, going on to note that once they were back on their feet, they started a secondary business, Steadfast Homes, and designed their own line of portable office trailers.
She recalled meeting with Ted Hillstead one time, and he gave her a word of advice that’s helped her a lot: “He said to watch your cash flow, because it’s just as important as profit.”
She said he understood and cared about them as business owners, and commented that sage advice like that “is super-important”, along with such principles as surrounding yourself with good people.
The result is Minard’s was awarded as the top RV dealer for the last two years, and in March they were awarded as the best-managed company. Then more recently, as Brady had noted, they won the ABEX Award for Marketing, and as Business of the Year from the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce.
“Those are emotional highlights that will never be forgotten,” she said.
Hanson, who currently owns a hair salon in Estevan and is looking to expand to a second one in Saskatoon, noted she did a lot of other things before being able to make her dream come true.
This included working as a roughneck on a drilling rig for CanElson in the Stoughton area for a year and a half, and working for the previous owner of the hair salon before she was able to buy the business and be her own boss.
She was originally from Pine House Lake in Northern Saskatchewan, near La Ronge, and then living with her dad, who was a teacher, in Prince Albert.
Her mother died a year after she went to Prince Albert, but, noted Hanson, “She gave me strength in the end to overcome the drugs and alcohol. I didn’t want to be just a bar waitress; I wanted to be a welder, so I ended up going to high school and did really well. I wanted to be the best of the best.”
She later joined her dad at his farm near Stoughton when he got really sick, and along the way she had taken training as a hairstylist. While working on the rigs, her dad got a lead for a hairstylist’s position in Estevan, she ended up working there, taking a detour to work as a truck driver for Mustang Vac when her diesel engine died and she needed to pay for that.
Once she could pay off the truck repair, she went back to hair-dressing, and with the help of the Clarence Campeau Development Fund, she was able to buy the business and make a go of it on her own.
“You just have to be ready for whatever comes your way; if you’re strong, you can handle anything,” she said, noting her mom taught her to be a strong woman and not to rely on men.
Her advice for those in business is to “work alongside your staff and be involved in the business; stand your ground and don’t give in to whatever they want all the time. Remember why you got into business in the first place. You’re strong enough, you can do it on your own if you have to.”
By Greg Nikkel