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Star 40 small business survey.

In creating this special edition on small business we responded to those who asked us to tell you more about Manitoba's medium-sized companies. Though Manitoba's businesses don't relish chest pounding, they were ready to commit to our effort.

This Star 40 list represents people whose talents have built businesses and made them survive. They answered our survey to tell us that they are proud to do business here. These people are managing real estate, inventing new lines of equipment, advising people on computers, printing or publishing, consulting people on plumbing, selling curling supplies, providing accounting services or selling beeswax. With drive, determination and intelligence, and following their own guiding star in one of the finest provinces in Canada, they and their children will push Manitoba's economy to its enormous potential.

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Sill Streuber Fiske & Company

FINANCIAL REALISM

Matt Jones and his 14 partner-owners don't look at the world of business through rose-colored glasses. As the managing partner of Sill Streuber Fiske & Company, a Manitoba-based accounting company, Jones is a realist.

"We're competing with large national firms and we have to bid for work," he says. "Our strong point is an in depth interest in our clients' business."

The firm is 82 years old and has grown to become the ninth largest group of professional accountants in Manitoba.

Specialization is the key to success says Jones. Separate and specialized consulting teams for computers, taxation and auditing/accounting strengthen expertise. The company provides services primarily to small and medium businesses. With regional offices in Altona, Winkler, Morden and Selkirk, the firm is poised to offer personal service within the agricultural community.

Jones specializes in health care matters, and has taken a leadership role as chairman of the Municipal Hospitals Board responsible for the multi-million dollar upgrading. He is also on the seven-member Winnipeg Jets steering committee.

And the firm is also connected to the international scene through Moore Stephens which has 200 offices around the world.

Says Jones, "To compete you have to stay on the leading edge. We must stay tuned to the international economy. As an example of market changes, there is a lot of action in the Eastern Bloc countries where they need help rebuilding their banking system."

Valmar Airflo Inc.

MAKING A MILLION

It's the cry of all true inventors: "There's got to be a better way to do this." Charles Balmer, owner and chief designer of Valmar AirFlo Inc., in Elie, Manitoba, doesn't say those words out loud, but his work proves they are a driving force in his life.

In the mid-'70s Balmer took a long look at the way farmers spread granular fertilizer on their fields. At the time he was working as a mechanic for Elie Motors and flew his own spray plane. He designed a machine which used air to distribute the powdery fertilizer. It flopped. Balmer tried again and the result was revolutionary. The machine now sells throughout Western Canada and the U.S.

Shortly after that success, Balmer scraped together all his life savings and launched Valmar AirFlo Inc., which peaked with sales of $7 million a few years ago, but has now settled into the $4 - $5-million range. The success of the company allows the 62-year-old owner to do what he does best. "I do all the designing and dreaming of new products," he says. "What I'm good at is recognizing what the future needs -- I let the others do the business work."

The dreaming has led to several other farm equipment breakthroughs -- some manufactured at the Elie plant -- and other designs which earn royalties for Balmer. He is particularly proud of what he calls his "diploma" -- a plaque which hangs on the wall behind his desk. The diploma represents a patent which has already earned the company $1-million.

Gould Manufacturing

LITTLE WHEELS

Beside a gravel road in the north of the city is Winnipeg's internationally recognized car manufacturing plant. "We're Winnipeg's best kept secret," says Gord Bingham, president of Gould Manufacturing -- GM for short. Although it may be a secret here, Gould Manufacturing is well known at amusement parks in China, Japan, Malaysia, the U.S. and in the Persian Gulf area where the company's pint-sized 1911 Model T's give thousands of fun-seekers a lift.

The 28-year-old firm builds a few dozen cars every year. They are two-thirds the size of the Henry Ford original, and Gould Manufacturing makes every part by hand, except the engine and the rear axle. It takes a day to build a car and there isn't an assembly line in sight. Such speed depends upon having plenty of parts on hand. Employees spend the whole summer making those parts for the hectic building season, which lasts throughout the fall and winter. Close to $500,000 has been invested in specialized tools -- the hubcaps alone require three tools to make. The company is using those same tools to try and break into a new market.

Hot off the drawing board are plans for other vintage cars and trucks which double as mini-kitchens selling hot dogs and hamburgers.

Bingham bought the company three years ago. He is a restless man who has owned many different businesses including a racquet ball club, a bar and a fiberglass plant. "I'm a turn-around artist," he says, "but I won't tire of this one. I've always wanted to build cars."

Superior Business Machines

COMPUTER WARRIORS

It has been a tough year for Ron Anderson. In 1991, he and his wife increased their ownership of Superior Business Machines to 100 per cent. Since then, revenues have soared almost 20 per cent, but profits are down. "The prices of products have come way down in the last few months," says Anderson.

As the computer giants like IBM and Apple roll up their sleeves to do battle for market share, unintended victims can be companies like Superior -- lower prices means profit margins get squeezed. And Anderson, who spent 20 years with IBM Canada -- rising to become Manitoba branch manager -- predicts it is going to get worse following the introduction of the new IBM product line in September. "It's going to be war out there."

"The only way we can exist today," says Anderson, "is to sell a bundled environment."

Superior sells packages -- particularly to small business -- which include hardware, software, installation, support and service. "We're looking at markets that can grow."

The company's eight service technicians and three systems engineers currently look after 200 networks installed in schools throughout the province. In addition, Superior services all government PC's -- except Wang products.

In the fast-changing and confusing computer business, where most products become obsolete the moment they are paid for, Anderson is gambling he can survive by offering what computers can't -- the human service touch.

Dorchester Developments Ltd.

BUYING, FIXING, SELLING

Head office takes up part of the ground floor of a rooming house on the edge of Osborne Village. The lively speech, peppered with plans for the future, shows the two young owners of Dorchester Developments Ltd. haven't yet become infected by the apathy of success.

Arch Honigman and Jeff Rabb have come a long way since they bought their first building on Corydon Avenue in 1987 -- hammering, plastering and painting their way to $40,000 profit. Since then, they have bought, renovated and either sold or rented, apartment buildings in the Wolseley, Fort Rouge and Osborne Village areas.

Today they own over $5-million worth of buildings -- with $1-million in real equity -- in addition to managing rental units for other owners. The company specializes in character buildings for economic reasons. "We love taking a building that's a complete dump and renovating it," says Rabb "Our buildings always command the highest rents in an area."

Lately, the pair have been on a buying spree. With low interest rates, and purchase prices scraping bottom, Dorchester Developments sees an opportunity to get in on the ground floor in the hopes of riding a rising market to the penthouse. The buying has been made easier since the recession means their property management business is booming and they have cash on hand. But Honigman does sound a not of caution. "We're very conservative guys," he says "Real estate isn't like milk -- it doesn't spoil."

Aerotech International Inc.

COLD CASH IN HOT AIR

The next time you board a plane in sub-zero temperatures, give a thought to Aerotech International Inc., a private Winnipeg-based firm owned by Paul Sigurdson. If it wasn't for Aerotech, you probably would not be going anywhere. The company makes giant heaters -- about half the size of a Honda Civic -- which blow hot air into aircraft engines. Without them, the engines would not start.

Aerotech heaters have performed well at the South Pole -- the world's coldest spot. Antarctic Research Associates, a U.S. firm which supplies equipment and support to scientists working on the bottom of the planet, has nothing but praise for Aerotech's products.

Closer to home, Aerotech heaters are used to warm the tents at the Festival de Voyageur and were once used to heat an apartment building which had a broken furnace. But airlines around the world, the military and some oil companies continue to be the main customers for Aerotech heaters.

Kevin Yestrau, Aerotech production manager, says the recession has had an impact on the company, but nothing "drastic." "An airline can get away with not buying new uniforms," he says, "but if they have to keep an aircraft on the ground because they can't heat it up, they lose thousands. What we sell is a necessity."

Lank/Beach Productions

QUIET ON THE SET

The people involved in Lank/Beach productions are like an extended family, and walking into their 'house' on Wardlaw Avenue is like going into someone's home. There are some major differences though. Instead of slippers and toys filling a corner of the main floor, there is a pile of camera equipment, and upstairs, a video editing suite occupies the spot where a bed probably once sat.

From this house the three people who run Lank/Beach, and their five regular freelancers, produce lush television commercials and corporate videos.

The owner of the company is Barry Lank, who started the firm in 1983 with Kathleen Beach, who unfortunately died a year later. Lank learned the film business in university, then returned home to Winnipeg and spent nine years freelancing. In 1983, the two partners bought a $3,000, second-hand camera in New York and started doing their own productions. The company's current client list includes Advance Electronics, Saan Stores, MTS and various branches of government.

Lank says the company thrives for several reasons. They take on small jobs because they often lead to bigger ones later. All three employees have plenty of job titles. With such a small, tight crew costs are low. According to Lank, his company can produce a commercial, or corporate video, for 40 per cent less than it would cost to do a similar production in Toronto or Vancouver.

Lank says the fact his motivation is not money also helps. "I do it because I enjoy it," he says, "the money is a pleasant by-product."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Manitoba Business Ltd.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes company profiles
Author:Fetter, Elaine
Publication:Manitoba Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Words:1852
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