The Central Okanagan has greatly improved its services, offerings, and resources for small business owners, say several Business Excellence Awards nominees, but the region’s work is far from over.
Several of the nominees agree that the Okanagan lifestyle is an important draw for business owners—and in building a great place to live, the Okanagan has by and large succeeded.
“That’s one of the great things about the Okanagan that I noticed when I moved here from Vancouver,” said Yoree Grozenok, a local franchise owner with 1-800-GOT-JUNK.
“In bigger cities, it’s harder to manage a work-life balance. You can really build a great lifestyle here.”
A.J. Hazzi, of Vantage West Realty, agrees.
“I think young entrepreneurs want to build businesses here because of the lifestyle,” said Hazzi, a nominee for Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
“Small businesses are how places like Kelowna survive. People want the lifestyle, but they also need work.”
But in spite of a great lifestyle and a strong resource network, small business owners still face a variety of challenges—challenges that are proving difficult to master.
“Accessing non-collateral based loans to fund growth (is difficult),” said Hazzi.
“My company has had to fund its own growth. As an entrepreneur, this makes it nearly impossible to focus on the business because you’re so busy working in the business.”
Hazzi says that mentoring is another area where he’d like to see more support.
Entrepreneurship needs to be nurtured at a much earlier age, he says, and the school systems can play an important role in doing so.
Meagan Hughes, owner of Cottage Quilting, notes that the crafts industry in particular is one that presents challenges.
Demand for her business is seasonal, she says, and therefore allocating resources for marketing is a struggle.
“As a small business, it’s very hard to do promotions. You only have so much money coming in, so you can’t allocate much of it to advertising,” she said.
“My biggest challenge is the snowbirds. I came from Calgary, and we didn’t have the seasonality there—people quilted all year round.”
“The solution for me was in being creative and finding new classes, new ways to draw people into the store.
“We do a lot of mother-daughter events. During the summer we did five-dollar technique classes.
“You have to be creative in how you’re going to approach the slower times of the year.”
Hughes says she’d like to see small businesses receive more funding for advertising to help them keep a steady stream of customers.
These three nominees all agree that there’s more work yet to be done, but they also stress the many benefits that the Central Okanagan offers entrepreneurs of all ages.
Support organizations like Women’s Enterprise, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Kelowna Innovation Centre have made the Central Okanagan a great place for business owners, they say.
Grozenok perfectly sums up the state of entrepreneurship in the Okanagan when he reflects on the various business development groups in the region:
“I’ve never had as much help and support as I had when I started my business here in Kelowna.”