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Frozen Globes 2015: Take it from the top

Frozen Globes 2015: Take it from the top

Our annual celebration of the territories’ brightest business stars takes over Iqaluit on April 30. And while the votes get tallied and the finalists are named, we thought we’d check in with some of our past Frozen Globes winners, to hear first-hand what they’ve learned about running a successful enterprise in the—at times—harsh Northern business climate
By Herb Mathisen, Laura Busch
Feb 27

The Frozen Globes are back!

Our annual celebration of the territories’ brightest business stars takes over Iqaluit on April 30. And while the votes get tallied and the finalists are named, we thought we’d check in with some of our past Frozen Globes winners, to hear first-hand what they’ve learned about running a successful enterprise in the—at times—harsh Northern business climate.

The leaders on the following pages share a sense of adventure, a tolerance for risk and a willingness to learn from their mistakes. And the biggest thing you’ll find these stories have in common: these people love what they do and they’re not in it for the money.

Air North: 2013 Best Marketed Company
Christopher Griffiths, 34
Marketing coordinator
Whitehorse, YT

Since joining Air North full-time in late-2012, Chris has transformed the airline from social media dinosaur to one of the funniest, most honest northern-savvy businesses on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

"I’ve always been an airline nerd. I love planes and the idea of working for an airline directly is incredibly  appealing, and it means that I get to stretch myself. I’m not just a designer here: I do many, many more things than that, which lets me actually exercise some of my other passions that I wouldn’t be able to just working from home."

"Everyone is fundamentally offering the same thing. Every airline is offering you a chance to go from Point A to Point B on an airplane that has seats in it. So what you need to do is find the areas which allow you to stand apart from the pack. Otherwise, it just exclusively becomes about price."

"There was a real fear of social media when I was first hired. For what it is, it’s relatively misunderstood—or at least it was. I don’t think that the power that it has was clearly understood, so it was just seen as something that would kind of be a never-ending pit of time consumption."

"Social media is not a marketing channel. It’s not an advertising tool; it’s a customer service thing first and foremost. So I really don’t see it as a place where it would replace too much of the advertising that we do."

"To be honest, the volume of stuff isn’t overwhelming. In terms of my daily workload, social media take up maybe 20 per cent. It’s not an all-consuming thing, which really is thanks to our size. If we were the size of our much larger competitors, there’s no way that I could keep up, even if I was doing it full time."

"There are instances where customers need some type of support and our centre’s not open. Social media give us an opportunity to address questions, issues and concerns immediately, which is an incredibly powerful thing to be able to do."

"Oh boy, there are some people who say some truly bizarre, bizarre things sometimes, and there’s times where I will respond somewhat in kind because I think it’s a great thing for the company to have a sense of humour. It’s not about trying to mimic anyone else or trying to force any one thing—it’s not about trying to make everything into a joke. It’s about being willing to poke a little bit of fun at ourselves and, you know, tease the president of the company from time to time."

"I think I’ve annoyed my family and my girlfriend by going, “Oh no, I have to answer this. It’s a tweet from someone and they’re in trouble.” I think I mostly get away with it." 

"To anyone who’s using social media for their business: don’t be afraid of showing a little bit of personality. Don’t be afraid of letting people in and being willing to be human, because the moment it starts to sound like everything has been crafted down to the perfect word by a marketing team or a PR person, the more likely people are to tune out."

I Like Cake: 2014 Best New Company
Sadie Vincent-Wolfe, 30
Iqaluit, NU

Having recently celebrated the second birthday of her bakery, Sadie tells us how she makes do with the monumental challenge of staffing in the North—and how it sometimes means she has to bake 18 cakes a day on her own.

"At first, I was doing the business out of my home. It was growing and growing and growing. My husband said he missed cooking dinner at home, so I told him to build me a bakery. And he did.
When I first opened up, I was still working another job full-time and trying to juggle both jobs because it was really hard to let go of a paycheque with all of the uncertainty and not knowing how it was going to go. Then I moved to part-time, but we were just so busy I couldn’t handle both so I jumped off and did this full-time."

"It was scary, but it’s been so worth it. I may not get a paycheque every two weeks like I used to, but it doesn’t feel like I’m going to work every day. My kids come here for lunch. Frankie, my youngest daughter, is here with me during the day. I don’t feel like I’m missing out."

"We do soup and sandwiches during the week and pizza on Fridays. Our catering has picked up a lot. We do a lot of country foods for different companies, for meetings and training courses. I was worried it would be quiet for January and February, but we’ve been busier than ever."

"Sometimes when we can get enough country food, we’ll make a stir-fry or stew. When there are people from out of town who have never been here before, they really like to try things like the seal soup and caribou and mattaaq. We do simple preparations of it, just so people can have the experience."

"We’re still doing a lot of out of town orders for cakes. People pick them up at the shop and either bring them on the plane or send them through cargo. And online, it’s from the smaller communities where they might not have somebody to do customized birthday cakes. I’ve even sent cakes to Ottawa."

"The biggest cake I’ve done was for the city on Canada Day. It was a lot of cake. It was so heavy. It was enough for 500 people. We had to take it on the back of a truck. Once people saw it, they started lining up even though they weren’t serving cake for another hour-and-a-half or so."

"It’s so hard to keep staff. I usually have one person in, but it’s been so hard keeping one person."

"We’re feeding like 40 people a day for lunch, plus taking orders, plus people are coming in during breaks or for last-minute birthdays. My door’s been closed a little bit more—when I’m running to the store, dropping off catering—but people are still coming, so it’s really good."

"Saturday is usually my busiest day—it’s usually around five cakes every Saturday. But the last holiday was so busy with birthdays and Valentine’s orders, I did 18 in one day."

"Keep on top of your books. It’s so hard to catch up once you get behind."

Canoe North Adventures: 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year
Al Pace, 56
Lin Ward, 64
Norman Wells, NT

Al and Lin paddled northern rivers well before they officially started their guiding company in 1987.

Lin Ward: "In the beginning, I wasn’t a paddler. Going on my first trip, I was very uncertain. Then, the moment I got out there, I knew I’d found what I wanted to do."

"People tend to think the only people who come up here are those who paddle often, with all the right clothes, and all the right paddle strokes. That’s so far from the truth. Very ordinary people paddle with us. We really enjoy them because they come so wide-eyed."

Al Pace: "We really believe there’s a sense of urgency about going to these wild places. We’ve seen quite a bit of change in the North over 30 seasons. The effects of global warming, the fires last summer were just devastating."

"When people come up for the first time, they’re shaking with excitement. It’s really transformative. For so many years, we thought we were just taking people to the wild places and didn’t really understand that we were taking them through huge transformative life changes."

"There’s a different degree of wilderness in the North. It goes deeper into your soul. We meet many people who say “One of these years, we’re going to come on one of those trips.” We look them in the eye and there’s no spark there. We know they’re not coming."

Northern Vision Development: 2014 Best Marketed Company
Adam Gerle, 45
Vice-president marketing and sales
Whitehorse, YT

Get people up to the Yukon, and it’s good for everyone. That’s Adam’s motto when he hits the road to promote the territory for NVD, a burgeoning real estate empire that owns four Yukon hotels—including Dawson City’s Downtown Hotel, famous for its Sourtoe Cocktail. We caught up with Adam as he packed for a last-minute sales trip to Asia. Would he be bringing a dehydrated toe—the cocktail’s special ingredient—with him?

"Noooo. Somebody requested it but there’s now way we’re going to try to navigate international borders trafficking human body parts. We don’t want to risk it to find out what the laws are over in Beijing."

"We only have one big toe left. So the big toe stays at the hotel all the time. When we take the toe on the road, we bring two generally—the second and third toes. They’re equally gross, just not as big. But we’re not allowed to take the big one."

"You pack it in a baggy full of salt. You look like a drug-dealer. The salt keeps it all mummified and dried out and safe, according to the Chief Medical Officer of the Yukon."

"I’m too busy generally serving the Sourtoe Cocktail to actually have much time to drink it. I’ve barely done it. But we brought it to Tête-à-Tête in Ottawa recently—it’s the best thing we go to every year to attract meetings and conferences. They had a special event, so we brought the toe and the can-can girls and it was a big hit."

"The biggest part of my job is promoting the Yukon as a destination. You can have the most amazing hotels in the world, but if nobody is coming to the Yukon, it doesn’t matter. Getting people here is the big thing. Those big conferences generally fill up our hotels and the Holland America hotels. So it’s not really that cutthroat—it’s getting the big groups to come here as opposed to Banff, or Winnipeg, or Yellowknife."

"We’re talking about people not knowing you exist, but if they do know you exist, they have these crazy misperceptions. Not everyone is really educated about just how easily accessible the North is. They think you live in igloos. They think it’s remote and desolate. They’ve heard horror stories about how much things cost—probably because places in Nunavut are very expensive. But Whitehorse is only a two-hour flight from Vancouver. People are amazed it’s that accessible."

"Our pitch is the North’s such a unique destination to go to. People are really interested in the North. It’s a part of Canada that really captures their imagination. It’s kind of exotic."

"It opens a lot of doors just being from the North. People really respond to you and they remember you. If I was an average marketing guy in Vancouver or Toronto, nobody’d remember me in a million years. But when I go to events, you really stand out. A lot of people call me “Mr. Yukon” because I’m the only person from the Yukon they’ve ever met."

Erasmus Apparel: 2013 People’s Choice
Sarah Erasmus, 28
Yellowknife, NT

Erasmus Apparel turned four in February. Since starting the business with her aunt and uncle at 25, Sarah’s designs might now be more visible around Yellowknife than the iconic landmarks that inspired her.

"I really love t-shirts. Basically, that’s the thing that started it. I love to have one-of-a-kind t-shirts, like at parties, and I would make my own or find really unique ones at vintage shops. When I finished school, I knew that I wanted to do something like this, so we basically decided—my aunt and uncle and I—let’s do this. Let’s try."

"For designs, I think of something that’s missing, that we don’t have, and then I do it. Everyone knows what the Giant mine headframe or Con mine is, or even a simple yellow knife on a t-shirt. And it’s like “God yes, I would wear that.” And so that’s just kind of how it took off—people just liked those familiar things and so I go off that. And it’s been working."

"It’s funny when people come in who used to work at Giant or at Con and they say, “Oh, I worked at Con, I’ll never wear a Giant mine shirt.” Or there are their kids who will come in and say, “My dad worked there, I’ve gotta get this stuff.”"

"I don’t know if I could go back to having a boss. It would be very hard. The only thing that would be nice about an 8:30-to-5 job is that, at 5 o’clock I wouldn’t have to worry about anything, not one thing, until 8:30 the next morning. Sometimes I’m like, “I wish.”"

"This one guy who taught me a lot about screen printing said the only time you’re ever going to get work done is between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. I thought, “No, no, no. That can’t be. Why?” And he said, “It’s because no one is awake really in the business world yet and no one can bug you.” Oh God, he was right. He was totally right."

"This guy speaking at a conference a year ago said, “An airplane’s never safe until you land.” That was the best realization: just because the company was three years old didn’t mean we couldn’t fail."

"If there’s one thing I keep telling myself when I’ve wanted to quit it’s, “You’re going to get past this. It’s just shitty right now, but you’ve got to get through it and it’ll be okay eventually.” Because, I tell you, we probably hit everything that could happen: shipping-wise, accounting-wise, or just having to do certain things over again. Sometimes at three in the morning on a Friday night I’ll think, “I don’t want to be here anymore, what am I doing?” But then, I remember, it’s not always going to be like this."

"I would never work a job just strictly for the money. I did that one summer and I said never again."

"Looking back to before I started, I would probably have told myself to get a lot more sleep."

Yukon Brewing: 2014 Best Yukon Entrepeneur
Bob Baxter, 58
Whitehorse, YT

Running your own brewery can be tons of fun, if you can keep a glass-half-full mentality.

"About a year ago, we started making real ales; beer that’s a British style that has never seen artificial gas. Every Friday at noon, one of those firkins comes out and people can come into the brewery and fill up a vessel with it and take it home. Every single one’s different and that keeps it fresh for the customers."

"I wish that I was a little bit more aware of the fact that you will lose before you win. I think it’s pretty common for every enterprise, you lose money for a while and then that slows down. Then you stop losing money and maybe turn that around and actually go the other way. Or maybe you don’t. You never know that success is just around the corner or— worse—failure is."

"Since 2009 we’ve been barrelling whisky. We haven’t sold a drop of it, but we’re getting real close. It’s getting pretty tasty. It will become one of the few single-malt whiskys that aren’t from Scotland. Believe me, we’ve done our fair share of sampling of it as it’s come along, and it’s darned tasty."

"We’re too small to be consistent, but we will revel in our inconsistency. So, if you really like a batch, you may want to buy two bottles because you may never see it again."

"It’s Friday and I know that in half an hour, if I go down to our store, there’ll be a line-up of people and they’ll all be happy and smiling. It’s so nice to be involved with something that, just 20 years ago, was a hunk of land with weeds growing on it."