Economist warns path is not clear for small enterprises
Ian Simmons, co-owner of Kool Breeze Farms. File photo
Even though he has been part of the Prince Edward Island business community since 1990, Ian Simmons never ceases to be amazed by the diversity of the small business sector in the province.
“There is such a wide array of products and services available on P.E.I. and much of that is provided by small businesses,” said Simmons, who operates Kool Breeze Farms in Summerside with his brother, Douglas. “I know even in our own business, we get people coming in here all the time who say ‘I thought you guys just had plants — I didn’t know you carried such and such a product.'”
Like many small businesses, Kool Breeze started out small. Having grown up on a farm, the brothers always had an interest in plants. They began the garden centre as a hobby and it has now grown to 14 greenhouses offering a thousand varieties of annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs.
Simmons is convinced that, all other things being equal, consumers would rather support a locally owned small business.
He explained doing business locally means the money is re-circulated in the economy many times over.
“We try to do business with as many local suppliers as we can,” he said. “Hopefully, if we support them, they will support us.”
However, he said one key to success is the ability to be competitive on both price and service. Like many successful companies, Kool Breeze Farms takes pride in giving back to the community, and one way they do this is through an annual scarecrow festival.
Hundreds of people turn out to see the innovative creations made from hay — this year including everything from a witch to a farmer on a tractor.
Simmons agrees with a recent RBC poll that shows the need for what he called “incremental growth” adding that is especially important in a place like P.E.I. where population growth is relatively slow compared to many areas of the country.
Simmons said his company provides jobs for up to 24 people during peak periods in the summer. He said a number of his workers have been with the company for a number of years and are able to provide customers with knowledgeable service about their products.
While Simmons said he obviously doesn’t have professionals like lawyers or accountants on his staff, he does utilize those services within the Summerside community and that in turn “helps keep more dollars circulating locally.”
The RBC study showed many Canadians feel small businesses can't provide the perks and benefits that larger organizations can. Kim Ulmer, the bank’s vice-president of small business, said group benefit plans can be tailored to meet the unique needs of small businesses.
"Because every small business is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to starting and running a small business," says Ulmer. "Owning a small business can be incredibly rewarding, but the path isn't always clear."
He also addressed what question of access to capital, especially for new Canadians. While many small businesses do have trouble securing funding, he said it often “because they haven't been able to make the right business case or are under-prepared or under-capitalized — not because the funds are not available.”
As for the future, Simmons said they hope to continue their slow, steady growth, adding “I think P.E.I. is a great place to live and do business.”