According to a recent statistic released by Alberta Economic Development and Trade, the number of small businesses in Alberta grew by 12 per cent between 2012 and 2017 - more than the national average of 11 per cent.
It might be surprising to hear that small business is booming in the traditionally oil-driven economy, but Pierre Cléroux, vice president of research and a chief economist at BDC, says there’s a reason for it.
“Small businesses are very flexible and they are creative,” he said.
“So when an entrepreneur sees a demand or an opportunity they are able to create or grow a business on that opportunity,” he added.
Cléroux also said that small business is an important part of any economy, including Alberta’s, with small businesses accounting for 95% of all business activity in Alberta, and nearly 30% of the province’s GDP.
But you may still wonder - how are these businesses doing it? Here’s how three small businesses are thriving in Alberta.
Banded Peak Brewing, Calgary
Banded Peak Brewing, which is nestled away in the Calgary community of Manchester, opened in May 2016.
The idea for the brewery came to fruition after the owners Alex Horner, Matthew Berard and Colin McLean, had brought together a homebrew club in a 2400-square-foot industrial bay.
“Everyone has that dream after they make their first batch of beer,” McLean said.
And they worked to make that dream a reality.
The three friends put their heads together to create a business plan for Banded Peak Brewing and started the process of applying for a loan.
After receiving the funds and working with the city to get their business permit, the team was ready to hit the ground running and opened up their taproom, adding another 2200 square feet to the same space where they used to host their homebrewing club.
McLean credits some of their success to other brewers in the city, like Village Brewery and Tool Shed Brewing, who were willing to share their knowledge. They’re also proud to work with Alberta-raised designers like Alexis Killam, who is behind the design of their cans, which helped to “explode” their retail sales, a statement that’s backed by an impressive revenue growth of over 52% in 2017 over the previous year.
It was a long road, but McLean said he’s happy to be doing something he’s passionate about.
“When you get your business permit in your hand, it’s hard not to cry a little bit. That was a lot of work and we finally got it,” McLean said.
“We want to continue on the work we’ve done on the Barley Belt and make it more inclusive to more breweries coming in here.”
Boreal Connected Homes, Edmonton
Boreal Connected Homes installs consumer electronics like home theatres, security systems and other smart-home systems.
Owner, Jordan Forsythe, said opening a business was intimidating.
“I honestly could have started this business five years ago and I didn’t because I was afraid,” he said.
Forsythe wasn’t new to this line of business, though. He had spent 11 years at a large national chain doing similar work. But, as a regional manager, he had seen the numbers falling, and while he knew how to run an electronics company, he didn’t know how to start one.
Forsythe turned to ATB Financial for funding and advice. He also worked with Futurpreneur Canada, a national nonprofit organization that provides financing, mentorship and other support tools to aspiring business owners across the country.
Boreal Connected Homes, which has been serving customers since May 2018, uses marketing to help it stand out from its competition. Forsythe knew that marketing was not always top-of-mind when it came to electronics companies, and he jumped on the opportunity to use marketing as a way to engage customers with the help of his wife, who works in advertising.
While starting up his business took longer than expected, and has been challenging at times, Forsythe is thankful for his current success.
Currently, the business is sitting at nearly double its forecasted revenue, and Forsythe has been able to put more money toward marketing, training and equipment.
“I have been thriving, and my fears have been unfounded,”he said.
Umami Shop, Lethbridge
Umami Shop first opened in France in 2009, but in 2012 Patricia Luu and her husband, Sven Roeder, decided to head back home and bring the shop with them to Alberta.
The shop, which employs 18 people across the two locations, is better known as a “grocerant” and carries a variety of international, niche products. While you can grocery shop at the store, you can also visit the deli, sit at the café or order something from the in-house, made-to-order kitchen.
“We wanted to pursue something that we were more passionate about - something that we would wake up and want to do,” Luu said.
But bringing their second shop into Alberta wasn’t without its challenges.
“Bringing such a new concept into the province and even Canada is a big challenge. People aren’t used to it,” she said.
With the help of federal grants - and custom architecture to ensure the design of their building had the same look and feel as their France location - the store is now bustling with happy customers.
And that’s not just because Luu and her staff know their customers by name - although that probably has something to do with it.
The staff at Umami shop are trained from an international perspective. And, like the store's proudcts, the staff comes from across the globe.
“People want to taste that authentic, same taste, they had in Thailand, Bangkok or Milan,” Luu said. The shops has two ways of bringing that authenticity to the province. First, Umami shop will do everything they can to bring in authentic products for their customers. All they have to do is come into the shop or reach out on social media and the team will try to import the products they need.
The shop also has its own line of sauces that use ingredients from specific cities to which Luu and her husband have traveled.
The ingredients are brought to Alberta where the sauces are produced, making the whole line of sauces a made-in-Alberta product.
The store has consistently seen a 10 to 12 per cent growth rate year over year, and they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon; Luu and her husband are heading to China soon to present their sauce at one of Asia’s largest food shows.
When Small Business Thrives, We All Do
Forecasting two years of growth ahead for the Alberta economy, Cléroux agrees that now is a good time to start a small business.
“There are a lot of good opportunities right now, especially because technology is changing rapidly,” he said.