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Grand openings: how to create your own job in a down cycle.

Morris Wills wasn't listening when his friends told him he should keep his long time secure job as a plant manager in an aircraft propeller factory. A recession was no time to quit regular work and start his own business, they said.

But in the depths of the worst economic squeeze in 60 years, he did just that. Now Wills is president and owner of Canadian Propeller, a company which inspects and refurbishes enough aircraft propellers monthly to earn the company a solid income.

Wills walks into the library of his small Brooklyn Street shop near Polo Park Shopping Centre and pulls a red binder from the shelf. He opens it to a technical drawing of an ordinary propeller. Arrows and numbers are scattered across the page pointing to the 108 separate parts of the prop.

It's a complicated, high-fee line of work and Wills says he has all the business he can handle. Because of the high liability insurance costs and the wages commanded by the five well-trained employees who work for the company, inspection costs for a propeller average about $700 -- an overhaul costs $1500.

When Wills quit his job he had more than 15 years experience in the propeller industry which dates back to the summer jobs he had while in high school. That part-time work, at what is now the competition, became full-time employment after graduation. In a short time Wills was made manager of the plant. But the company could not hang onto him forever.

"I always wanted to be self-employed, it's in my nature," he says. "I like to run my own show."

The show started in February 1991 when Wills quit his job. Start up was tense. For three months he ran ragged because the new company had to be ready to go by May 1, the start of the busy summer season, otherwise the year would be lost.

A business plan was drawn up, financing put together, tools bought, premises rented and a manual written for Transport Canada which licenses all propeller companies. Sleep became a rare commodity, but there was still time for worry.

"The first week was the scariest," says Wills, sitting in his office which he shares with half a dozen propellers and three pictures of planes. "I'd never been out of work in my life and I thought 'Oh my God, what have I done!'"

What Wills did was create a very successful enterprise. The doors opened on schedule, May 1, and work was already waiting. Now, about 40 propellers a month go through the shop -- from Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the northern border States. In fact 90 per cent of the work is from outside Winnipeg.

Business increased 50 per cent during 1992. Wills is now in the unusual position of having banks approach him asking if he wants financing. A nice change.

During the start-up phase, Wills initially approached his own bank manager with his business plan but got a chilly reception. "He was scared that I quit my job." Financing eventually came from the Federal Business Development Bank.

Katherine Lind is another entrepreneur who experienced the same kind of risk-aversion reception from her banker when she turned up in his office with a business plan in the summer of 1992. The manager didn't even look at the document before he said no.

At just 23 years old, Lind wanted to start a school of the performing arts. For years she had been working as a free-lance dancer and choreographer in Winnipeg. During that time she noticed the demand for instruction in dance, acting and singing was increasing dramatically -- demand she attributes to the increased amount of musical theatre in town, especially at Rainbow Stage, and American television shows like "Star Search" -- a hit program with the under-10 set who dream of fame and fortune on the stage.

When her own bank turned her down, Lind shopped elsewhere and got an enthusiastic reception from a banker who she suspects has a daughter taking dance lessons. From the beginning Lind got help from the Business Start Program, a provincial government plan which helps would-be entrepreneurs prepare for the nail-biting interview with a bank manager. It also guarantees any loan which the bank may offer, up to a maximum of $10,000. Once she got her loan, Lind spent two months renovating space on Portage Avenue. She opened the doors to her studio in August 1992.

Some days there are more than 250 students aged three to adults who are twirling, tapping and prancing on the stage of Studio One School of Performing Arts. In addition to dance lessons, there is instruction in stage make-up, voice, musical theatre and drama. The school charges $24 per month for four weekly lessons. Says Lind, "when everything around seems on shaky ground I feel lucky. I feel like I'm in a stable atmosphere."

Sharon Hillman, of Gladstone, started her business -- Sharon's Perogies -- by accident. For years she had pleased her family with perogies made from a family recipe. Eight years ago, when a relative opened a restaurant in Gladstone, he asked Hillman to supply the Ukrainian doughy morsel. Soon people were knocking on her door asking to buy a batch to take home. Three years ago demand was so great, Sharon and her husband Jerry starting producing in commercial quantities. With the help of the National Agri-Food Technology Centre in Portage la Prairie they tested different ways to cook, freeze and label the food.

The business is completely self-financed, although recently money was borrowed to buy and renovate a building in Gladstone which will soon become its headquarters. The company sells between 1,000 and 1,500 packages of perogies a month throughout rural Manitoba, and not one cent has yet been spent on advertising.

Keeping the customers happy is time intensive since all the perogies are made by hand even though Jerry Hillman developed a machine which could mold the product. That attempt at automation flopped. Hillman says the mechanically-made product had a machine look to them and they had "no fingerprints in the dough." On a good day, Jerry and his wife can make 170 dozen perogies.

Nonetheless, Sharon's Perogies have been a good recession dodge for the farming family and last year was the best ever for the firm. "Our business is growing," says Hillman, "We chose not to participate in the recession."
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Ryan, Bramwell
Publication:Manitoba Business
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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