CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Stephen Hurst can now say he’s a “top dog” in more ways than one.
“Let me just say being an exporter is not for the faint of heart,” said Hurst, owner and president of Top Dog Manufacturing in Bedeque.
On Tuesday, Hurst was named the 2018 Exporter of the Year at P.E.I.’s Export Day event in Charlottetown. The award was presented by Premier Wade MacLauchlan at the P.E.I. Convention Centre.
The company makes reusable, antimicrobial, protective garments - such as aprons, sleeves, caps and gowns - made from a polyurethane film for food processing facilities.
Hurst said the largest company in Canada that uses the protective garments is Maple Leaf Foods.
The products are exported to 23 countries. The five largest markets are Mexico/Central America, Russia, the United Kingdom, The Caribbean and Peru.
"...If you buy a $10 apron and it lasts two years or you buy a $3 apron and it last three months, how many times are you replacing it? The cost of ownership is our trademark – save big with durability. Longevity. And, we deliver on that.”
Hurst, with a background in the banking industry and as an entrepreneur, was working as a business consultant in 2003 when Wayne Linkletter asked Hurst to look into an investment he had with a shower curtain manufacturer in Bedeque.
After about three weeks of investigating the company, Hurst’s advice was that the company was in financial trouble and for Linkletter not to write any more cheques.
They ended up acquiring the company in what Hurst describes as a “hostile takeover,” and officially launched Top Dog Manufacturing in 2004.
Last year, Hurst bought Linkletter out of the business.
The company employs about 15 people.
At Top Dog, Hurst describes himself as a macro manager with vision, who can “see the tall mountains and the valleys below.” He explained he’s hired talented people to manage the micro, daily details of the business.
Hurst said the company’s slogan – “Save Big with Durability” – highlights the difference between the cost of ownership with the cost of purchase.
“We deliberately made our aprons and all our products the most expensive in the market. Deliberately, strategically did that,” he said. “It’s like the price of BMWs. Why is the BMW more expensive? Well, you don’t know until you open up underneath the hood and start finding out what’s going on with the technology. That’s the same with us.
“So, if you buy a $10 apron and it lasts two years or you buy a $3 apron and it last three months, how many times are you replacing it? The cost of ownership is our trademark – save big with durability. Longevity. And, we deliver on that.”
In terms of business with Russia, Hurst said one container of about 30,000 items is worth about $400,000. The company is planning to ship another container at the end of December.
Hurst is also looking to expand exports into three Eastern European countries and Australia in the next year.
As well, the company is rebranding to focus on food safety.
“We’re going to start meeting more and more with the food safety managers in the food factories, whose number one job is to mitigate the food contamination risk.”