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Bold entrepreneurs seek out new markets.

There is no denying the fact that Canada is an exporting nation.

The limited size of our markets, the distances between them and the trade barriers between provinces force us to look outwards.

But exporting is not limited to our large, national forestry, mining and manufacturing firms. We have a growing number of bold entrepreneurs who are looking outwards to increase sales and create a cushion against future domestic downturns. The following are just three of these:

BEAR CHAIR

David Wright, his voice echoing mock horror, checks with a colleague in his office in South River.

"Is there a recession?" he asks, bursting with laughter.

Wright and his partners have been laughing all the way to the bank - even during tough economic times.

Since he and his wife, Cathy, founded the Bear Chair Company five years ago, their sales have almost doubled each year.

In 1989/90 the Wrights sold $350,000 worth of the unfinished, wooden chairs which resemble the Adirondack lawn chair. The company had $650,000 in sales the following year, including $150,000 in the U.S.

Wright predicts that the company's sales will approach $1 million by 1993.

One reason for the popularity of the Bear Chair is that individual chairs are sold unassembled and unfinished, giving hardware and building stores two ways to display and sell the product.

Despite the growth of his company, Wright complains that the cost of doing business in Canada is high, particularly with the present over-valuation of the Canadian dollar.

He says a return to the 70-cent (U.S.) dollar would make his chairs more attractive to U.S. consumers.

Wright's chairs currently wholesale for $45 U.S. each. He believes that between $35 and $40 U.S. is the "magical number" for consumers.

Wright is not afraid of entering new markets. His chairs and a new line of cedar furniture are now available in Europe.

"The main thing is we don't want to expand too fast," he says. "We want to keep track of where we're going."

Helen Gillespie, executive vice-president of Canadian Shield Spring Water of Sault Ste. Marie, says her company has used exporting as a means of reducing the cost of doing business in Canada.

The company started exporting water from a local, natural artesian spring in 1986. Today it sells 98 per cent of its product in the U.S., and it also fills occasional orders from England.

According to Gillespie, sales were "decent" until September, when the company suffered a "significant" decline.

In response, Canadian Spring started selling the New Age brand of fruit-sweetened drinks. Gillespie now calls Canadian Shield a beverage company.

The company also invested $200,000 in new equipment to create its own labels.

Gillespie says failing to make the cost-cutting move sooner was "the biggest mistake we made."

"We should have done this a year and a half ago," she says.

Holding steady is the current game plan for Canadian Shield beverage company. Gillespie has no plans for further expansion. For now the company will rely on its reputation in existing markets, she says.

However, the company now has the option of competing in the business of bottle labelling.

FABRENE

Consistency has proven to be the key to success for Fabrene Inc. of North Bay.

Fabrene weaves chemically-coated polyolefin fabric which is used for everything from seed bags and pool covers to floors of mobile housing.

When the conflict in the Persian Gulf intensified last year, Fabrene supplied coated sandbags for military use in Saudi Arabia.

The end of the conflict meant an immediate drop in sales, admits production manager Joe Rickertsen. But the company was back on track by the summer, "and we haven't looked back since."

"It's a very competitive business, but the markets are holding," says Rickertsen.

Half of Fabrene's product is currently exported to the U.S., but Rickertsen is predicting gains in off-shore exports.

"We feel very bullish about the future," he says.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Young, Laura E.
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Words:659
Previous Article:Tough times offer some valuable lessons.
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