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Against all odds.

When your scheduled business start-up comes in the midst of a serious recession it could be scary. Do you surge ahead or do you delay?

FOR POTENTIAL BUSINESS TYCOONS, THE ROYAL BANK OF Canada provides a quiz of simple questions from the real world about coping with uncertainty and the risk of failure.

With adjustments for those who like living on the edge of bankruptcy, the quiz is a warning for those contemplating self-employment in the free enterprise system where capital is king and the only god is profit. It says that the person most likely to succeed in business is one who dreams big but remains rooted in reality.

In other words, if you can't make money you will go broke. Yet, more than 7,000 new businesses of every size were registered with Manitoba's Corporations Branch in 1991. There are a lot of risk takers out there on mean street. Given the new business lifespan, a lot of them won't be around next year, but they added to the important ground swell of those who want to try their entrepreneurial wings.

Among these faceless company names are Gregory Loader, Ruth Marr and her husband Rick Bueckert. They started separate businesses last year at a perilous time in the Canadian economy. But, for them, the time to do business couldn't wait until times were better.

Loader is well prepared for a business risk. He has a Business Administration diploma from Red River Community College, backed by a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Manitoba. He started a telephone equipment company last February when the Manitoba government became the last to deregulate telephone service. Before then it held a virtual monopoly on the tool.

Says Loader, "I wanted my own business and deregulation of the telephone industry was effective February 1, 1991, and we were ready to go."

The 30-year-old Loader sank $30,000 of his own money into the business which is up and flying on the delicate wings of commerce. Deregulation of the telephone supply business, better known as "inter-connect," allows private firms to sell telephone equipment in competition with the Manitoba Telephone System. MTS still runs the lines into buildings, however once beyond the wall, the equipment is an open market.

"We're not interested in the residential market, only the business sector," he says. "MTS does an excellent job already but we can do a few things quicker because as a smaller company we can move quicker to trouble shoot when an office telephone system is down."

With that aim in mind, and a solid, experienced sales manager, Tim Molyneux, on board, Loader's Execuphone has made an enviable start in an economic downturn.

Its equipment -- computer linked telephones and other systems -- comes from NEDCO, the largest wholesale telecommunications distributor in Canada. When hooked up to a computer, the equipment allows for monitoring of the telephone as a business tool. Such information as time on the telephone, accurate billings for law firms, call forwarding, and who in the office receives calls, are all a part of analytical packages sold by Execuphone.

The company's list of installations range from $6,000 to $20,000 and the client list includes the St. James School Board, Greater Winnipeg Cablevision and N.M. Paterson and Sons Limited, a large private grain company. Loader says many businesses still aren't aware of the capabilities of the telephone.

"Many still have dial phones," he says. Loader predicts his year-end will see gross sales of $500,000 on the balance sheet. Net is another story and he says that profit margins are small, so a tight rein on the business plan is essential.

What brought Greg Loader into the business was nothing more than being a heads up entrepreneur. He was keenly interested in the working of the political process and wound up working as a field organizer for the federal Progressive Conservative Party in the last federal election. There are framed thank you letters from the prime minister behind his desk.

"I wanted to see how the system worked," he says. "I am a firm believer that instead of complaining, people should attempt to effect changes in the system."

When he had the opportunity to join the political bureaucracy on salary, Loader opted for his own business. He was aware of the deregulation coming because of his involvement in a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce sub-committee, and after researching the telephone field he put a business plan together. It was turned down by two banks, before the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce gave him a line of credit to get into business. Keeping costs tight, Loader painted his own leased office space on Wall Street and bought the furniture from a bankruptcy sale. He also vacuums the office rather than pay a cleaning service. "That's the way it is right now," he says.


While Loader is busy selling telephones, on the other side of town, the perpetual motion woman Ruth Marr and her husband Rick Bueckert are planning cycling holidays in the south of France; their own and the clients they will take with them on this idyllic pursuit. Their company, Randonee Tours, a cycling touring business, officially wheeled into being last year after an attempt at guiding Americans from Minnesota and North Dakota went flat. But the hilly, vineyard-laced landscape of the Dordogne area near Bordeaux, is undeniably a more seductive scenic offering than the wide expanse of Manitoba.

Marr, who has a master's degree in botanical science, is a private environmental consultant and has written two credible books on hiking and cycling in Manitoba. Bueckert, a former pizza restaurant owner, has a degree in the classics and art history.

Both Marr and Bueckert are now experts on the Dordogne area, and are fully versed in the location of such sights as cave drawings of early man, wine tasting, castle viewing, and snail farming. The tour is topped off with a mad day in Paris.

It all sounds too good until you see the thousands of made-for-poster slides of happy cyclists moving through the French countryside.

Believing people would pay for a no-fuss, pre-planned vacation on the quiet seat of a bicycle, the couple invested about $15,000 in special touring bicycles with gel-seats for the comfort of their fellow riders. The bikes are stored in the region and are taken out for the tours. For about $3,000 for a two-week vacation, including air fare, tourists can glide through the heartland of rural France. Comparing their tours to some high end cycling trips by Toronto-based companies, Marr says their package is personally researched, reasonably priced and retains quality.

"We're interested in keeping our groups within manageable limits, around seven or eight," she says. "That way we can book into smaller, quality bed and breakfast hotels and have wonderful home-cooked meals."

Getting into the tour package business can be a headache but the couple possess a natural buoyancy, making them candidates as ideal holiday companions.

"You have to like what you're doing and the people you're doing it with," says Marr. "And some of the people have become friends. The trips are designed loosely on a group basis, but personal side trips are easily worked into the schedule. Most people, though, are happy with companions."

Marr says Randonee takes care of details. Marr is fluent in French, knows the locations of hospitals and doctors, good meals, vineyards and what are the best seasons to travel. This year there are plans to have two trips in the spring and two in the fall to take advantage of the quieter pace on the side roads.

Says Marr, "The shoulder seasons are the best for travel because of milder weather and less traffic and tourists."

While all the research and planning may seem like fun, it is the bottom line that counts in the end.

If all goes well, and they are optimistic that it will, the couple estimates gross earnings for this year at about $161,000, with a small profit to expand their operation to anywhere in the world which will suit cycling traffic.

Says Bueckert: "We want to make sure that wherever we design cycling trips, we want to deliver quality, in-depth experiences where we look after all the details and all our guests have to do is peddle their bikes."
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Title Annotation:start-up companies succeed despite recessions
Author:Gage, Ritchie
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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