By Korie Marshall
I am one of those statistics about small businesses owners that fail within the first five years. Actually I think I abandoned mine within the first five months.
I didn’t plan to start a business; I was just making beads and jewellery, and thought it would be fun to try selling them along the fence of the Public Gardens in Halifax, where lots of artisans set up in the summer. But city regulations meant you had to start a business and get permits, with fees I didn’t think were necessary every step of the way, but eventually I was out there.
Lots of people seemed to like my stuff “but can you make this one in red?” Well, actually, no, because I don’t really like red. I could say it was my prerogative as an artisan, but in reality, it was because I wasn’t interested or able to commit what was needed to make that hobby a real job. I was never interested in starting a business to begin with, I was really just interested in making stuff for myself, and I thought maybe selling some of my extras would help me recoup some of the money I’d spent on supplies. I certainly wasn’t making money on my time. At one point I calculated that if I paid myself minimum wage (about $5 per hour at the time) I’d have to charge $30 per necklace, and that wasn’t including the supplies and my time hawking along the fence. I think I was charging $15 to $20, and it was still pretty slow going. Pretty soon, I stopped selling and eventually gave most of my necklaces away as gifts. But the experience gave me a taste of how much is really required if you are thinking of starting a business – and an appreciation for someone who really wants to commit to it.
I often hear people say you need to be flexible and be able to do a lot of different things to be able to stay here in Valemount. I’ve worked a number of jobs here, and I didn’t intend to work in journalism, any more than I intended to start a business, but now I am part of another small business, one that I hope is going to continue to grow here in the Valley. I still don’t want to start my own business, but I am committed to this community, and to this business. I am learning the ropes, doing the things I can do, and often stepping outside my comfort zone, trying to do better. I recognize that just like this business, most other businesses here need some flexibility in order to survive, and certainly to grow, if they are interested.
I think Shawn and Diane Fowler are a great example of people who are committed to this community. They moved here, started buying property and building houses to sell, which created tax revenue for the Village, and brought jobs and business to the community. They invested their time and money and energy here. And when the economy slowed down in 2008-9, there weren’t as many people buying new houses, so they came up with other ideas. Renting out vacation homes was not what they originally planned, but it is an option that has allowed them to keep doing what they have been doing – investing in the community. And more than that, because they have been doing it, they have a good perspective on what works and what doesn’t.
In Canada, we seem to have no problem understanding that people want to go to warm spots for vacations, like Mexico, Hawaii or Jamaica. And we have no problem recognizing some people want to spend their winters in Arizona or Florida, and they are probably going to want their own place there, which means their other home is empty (but still costing them money) for half a year. If that was me, I wouldn’t want the hassle of trying to rent out my empty place, but if there was someone I trusted who could manage it for me and there was a demand that could help cover my bills on one property, I am pretty sure I’d give it a shot.
But that is not to say everyone is going to do it. First, I don’t go south for the winter, and second, as much as I love my home, I don’t think a vacationer would be interested. Sure, there might be other places I could buy or build, but that is a lot of risk, and it is simply not something I am interested in. I can picture a situation where I wasn’t planning to do it, but it turned out to be a good option – I just don’t happen to be in that situation.
I know there is sometimes a tendency to worry about what might happen “if everyone starts doing it.” Do we want every second home to be a vacation rental? Do we want 20 micro breweries or newspapers, or a bunch of medical marijuana grow-ops opening up, or 50 mobile food vendors on the streets? Maybe not. But is that really a risk right now, or even five years from now?
There is sometimes a perceived need to regulate and control things, in case everyone wants to do it. But the reality is not everyone is going to want to start a newspaper, a micro brewery, a grow-op, a food truck, or to rent out their home. I think the fact that lots of us are interested in doing different things is an amazing strength in this community. People who really have a passion for and an understanding of what they are doing are the best at it, and I don’t think that is ever going to be something you can regulate. You can either let people find their niches and do what they do best, or you can stifle them. I hope we all find our niches.