Designed to ‘transform’ system
Trevor Nichols - Jun 21 - Biz Profiles

Image: Contributed
Foundry’s designer says everything is specifically designed to feel welcoming.

In just a couple of months, an ambitious and “transformative” youth mental health centre will open its doors in Kelowna.

Foundry Kelowna is a “world-class” centre that will host representatives from more than two dozen youth mental health and addiction services.

The centre is part of the BC Integrated Youth Services Initiative, and represents a monumental step forward in how the province cares for youth aged 12-24.

As Mike Gawliuk of the CMHA explains, having multiple agencies operating under one roof means young people seeking help will no longer get bounced from agency to agency, as they try to navigate the “labyrinth” of a system that exists today.

Gawliuk says dozens of young people have already fallen out of the often confusing and unforgiving system, but Foundry has the potential to change all that.

Having 25 support agencies all in one place will be significant, but its the physical place itself that Gawliuk says makes Foundry so special.

Created by Kelowna’s Evolve Design, the building is unlike any most clinic you’ve likely seen before.

Bright colours are splashed across the walls, and plants and moss walls grow in the lobby. The entire building even sounds and feels different; the usual harsh lighting and echoing corridors are replaced by warmer tones and softer acoustics.

Most would agree that the building is beautiful, but as Evolve’s owner Jules Galloway explains, its design is based on much more than pure aesthetics.

Galloway is a firm believer in Foundry’s mission, and says she came into the project believing  the physical space it occupied could contribute significantly to its success or failure.

She says that, before anyone even put pen to paper, her firm did an unprecedented 100 hours of consultation with staff, parents and youth in the system.

“One-hundred hours? Never before have we done that. Never before have we had that amount of input, that amount of stakeholders who have an opinion. It took us three months to get through it all,” she said.

On a recent tour of the nearly-completed building, Galloway demonstrated how everything in the building is purposefully designed to make clients more comfortable.

The reception area is a modern-looking room with a smattering of furniture scattered throughout. It’s an inviting space, but Galloway says it’s designed with much more than looks in mind.

“Some of the stories we had was that it might take three months for a  parent to get their child here, and it might take an hour to get them out of the car to come in,” she explained. “They don’t want some dowdy, grey, old, uncomfortable reception space, because they might just bolt—they might not get the help they need.”

So while the room is welcoming, the furniture is also placed so the clients don’t have to sit facing someone else as they wait. There are booth-like places for groups, but there are also padded benches to lie down on, or spaces that offer a little more privacy.

“All of the things have been built under the surface a little bit, so hopefully the intuition is that you don’t have to sit face-to-face with somebody, but perhaps they don’t notice that. Hopefully it just feels like a welcoming place,” Galloway says.

Further into the building, movable walls will allow agencies to configure the space however best meets their needs. There is also an entire section that will be completely closed to clients, making it easier for the agencies working there to cooperate without worrying about confidentiality.

There’s also surprisingly welcoming examination rooms, and a kitchen and lounge area Galloway says will be used for classes, projects and presentations.

“Part of our mission at Evolve was to fully understand the space. We were given a blank shell, and we wanted to make sure no space was used less than 75 per cent of the time. Everything has to be constantly interchangeable. It has to be super flexible,” she said.

Foundry Kelowna will be one of five similar projects starting in British Columbia this year, but Gawliuk says that, thanks to Galloway’s “world-class” design, Kelowna’s will be the “Cadillac model.”

Some agencies are already moving into the space, and more will begin to arrive in August. Gawliuk says Foundry should start accepting walk-in patients by the end of the summer, with the goal of a larger grand opening in the fall.

More information on Foundry is available online.

Your learning, in a bag
Trevor Nichols - Jun 09 - Biz Profiles

Image: Contributed.
Okanagan CEO Kristin Garn wants to radically reshape the way we learn

It didn’t take Kristin Garn long to realize working in a classroom wasn’t for her.

Garn has a degree in Education, Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Winnipeg, and for a brief time tried her hand at a traditional teaching job.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t last long.

She quickly left the classroom to run an educational consulting company where, as a high-priced tutor, she would “take like two weeks of lecture and give it to them [her students] in like 40 minutes.”

Even back then, Garn was subverting the traditional teaching techniques she thought were missing the mark. But when smartphones and mobile operating systems took root in society, Garn found an even better way to transform the teaching game.

Today, Garn is based in the Okanagan and is the CEO of Mathtoons Media Inc., a company that’s been designing adaptive learning software for mobile devices since 2011.

Garn, a “math head” who appears to put near-absolute faith in the power of data, sees incredible potential in smartphone-based learning—so much potential, in fact, she ready to radically reshape the way we learn.

She decries the fact that we send kids to school with textbooks, or that most of society’s teaching techniques revolve around sitting in rooms listening to people talk.

“We plunk people in a big room and talk at them, and then just cross our fingers and hope they remember everything,” she says incredulously. It’s something that bothers Garn a lot because she believes that, in many cases, for people to learn effectively teachers aren’t even necessary.

“It turns out that teaching has very little to do with learning. What’s really important is how someone learns,” she explains.

She says people are either effective learners, or they aren’t, and the quality of the person teaching them is way less important than how they’re learning.

An effective learner will learn regardless of how good a teacher is, and an fabulous teacher teaching an ineffective learner likely won’t make much progress.

Her company’s mobile app, Practi, takes teachers and classrooms totally out of the equation, figuring out how its users learn, and creating learning experiences for them based on that knowledge.

“It kind of pushes the information at you and watches your behaviour as you are acquiring your skills, and then facilitates your learning from there,” Garn explains.

“It basically takes the lecture and the classroom right out of learning.”

Garn admits she often comes up against strong resistance to this this idea, however, she still believes mobile learning is the future.

She draws a parallel between mobile learning, and the emergence of the fast food chain McDonald’s.

McDonald’s, she says, “untethered” the experience of dining out by giving its customers their food in a paper bag.

For a population used to sitting down to eat their meals, the idea that they could take their food anywhere was a game changer, eventually transforming the way society thought about eating out.

Mobile learning, she said, could be the same thing.

“People really have this feeling like, I have to be sitting in a classroom and there has to be somebody at the front of our classroom for me to learn. And we’re saying, ‘no, here’s your learning in a bag, buh-bye,’” she says

“You don’t need the teacher, you don’t need the classroom. The teacher and the classroom were never really what was teaching you. You were always learning.”

For years Mathtoons Media focused on classroom-based applications, but Garn says she faces such strong opposition to mobile-based learning in schools that they’ve recently shifted their focus and begun focusing on corporate training.

“I’d rather build something very big, and what I discovered was the textbook in the classroom is not moving aside very quickly,” she said.

She says everything from the tourist industry to call centres are finding use for the software, and things only appear to be speeding up.

Already, she says, she is experiencing less and less resistance to the idea of mobile learning, and she thinks it’s only a matter of time before a lot more people begin getting their learning “in a bag.”

The winding path to Unite
Trevor Nichols - Jun 01 - Biz Profiles

Photo: Contributed

Jesse Brown, the co-founder of a the new Kelowna-based app Unite, always considered himself and adventurous guy.

After moving to and exploring Kelowna for a few years, he’d basically hit all the landmarks you tend to hear about.

Then, one day, he realized there had to be more.

“I sort of just had a realization one day that there’s no way I’ve done everything that I can do here,” he recalled.

With that realization in hand, the UBCO student went to his friend and future (former) business partner Jay Bell, and the two starting chewing over the idea.

Before long, they realized they could create a solution.

“I, like many here, want to find something that I can go out and do with my friends that isn’t that restaurant I’ve been to 100 times, that isn’t Knox mountain, you know. I wanted something different,” Brown said.

Their solution, the Unite app, aims to catalogue all Kelowna has to offer and serve it to hungry activity seekers in a simple, user-friendly way.

The app is loaded with a selection of “cards” for a bunch of different activities in and around the city, complete with a picture and some basic information about the activity, and how to get there.

Users can swipe through the cards and, similar to Tinder, chose what does and doesn’t interest them.

It also allows users to share activities and connect with their friends, or find new people to go on adventures with.

It’s fairly user friendly, and Brown says having easy access to a plethora of information about what to do in the Okanagan is something many have been waiting for.

He’s passionate about his app, primarily because trying to find things to do in the city was one of the primary “pain points” in his own life. But the fact that Brown is all-in on his new startup might surprise some, considering the fact that only a few years ago he lost it all on a different one.

Back in 2013, Brown and Bell ran a company that dealt in the digital currency Bitcoin.

Things were going well: they had moved to Silicon Valley, there company was valued at about half a million dollars and investors were taking interest.

The pair were “living the dream.” Brown says, until their company got hacked—an especially catastrophic event for a Bitcoin company—and they lost everything.

“We lost a considerable amount of both ours and client money, and it was just a total shit show,” he recalled.

After the hack he and Bell decided to shut the whole thing down, and Brown found himself back in Kelowna, going to school.

But he still had ideas, and in particular his concept for Unite was one he felt quite strongly about.

But an idea is only an idea until you can put it into action, and Browns says he and Bell were having a tough time finding developers to build the app, or investors to give them a financial jumpstart.

“We were unfunded, we were basically just grinding students, and everyone we talked to said this is the best idea ever, this is the number one pain point in my life, so that was good for us, but it was really hard to get to that next stage,” he said.

Those challenges forced Unite to the back burner for a while, and Brown found himself taking a job when he got out of school

But then his Grandfather slipped him a little seed money— just enough to get the project off the ground— and Brown quit his job and once again dove head-first into another project.

Photo: Contributed
Jesse Brown shows off the Unite app.

Once he had the cash he rounded out his tam, found a few developers, and got to work.

“We worked out of our hose. On an hourly bases we were probably all making like seven bucks an hour. We had no air conditioning, we lived in a house right on Richter Street with no air conditioning. Right in our living room all five of us were working in our tank tops and gym shorts all day,” he said.

“It was not easy to jump back into the deep end again, but I don’t regret it at all,” he said.

Then, last fall, they attempted to blast Unite onto the market, with less-than-desirable results. The app was buggy, Brown said, it had too many features and just wasn’t properly refined.

“I think we tried to do way too much, way too fast, and we ended up not even solving the problem,” he said.

However, the crummy launch ended up being a “blessing in disguise, because of the assumptions we had ended up being wrong.”

Over the next six months the team went back to the drawing board, and vowed to created something truly worthwhile.

“We said ‘let’s not make a student app, let’s make a full-fledged, awesome, thing. Let’s design it well, let’s get good content, and really do this right.’”

The new Unite app launched a few weeks ago to a small group of friends and family, and Brown says it’s starting to take off, which is exciting for Brown not just because he wants to see his company do well, but also because he feels like he’s offering a really good service.

“This isn’t just we want to get some money, or because we want to be the next Zuckerberg. It’s really not that,” he said. “When we started talking about this it was like ‘this is something we would use every day.’”

Unite is available on both Android and Apple phones, and Brown says thy will continue to add more features and improve on their product as more feedback comes in.

Business built by Sticks + Stones
Trevor Nichols - May 26 - Biz Profiles

Photo: Trevor Nichols
Carla Bond-Fisher and the team from her Kelowna office.

As a child, Carla Bond-Fisher would map out her bedroom on pieces of graph paper.

By Grade 4, she had already researched and selected the program she intended to study when she finished high school.

For whatever reason, she says, she always felt like design was her calling, so the fact that she ended up running a design studio isn’t that surprising.

Although maybe it’s a little surprising.

Architecture, after all, is still a fairly male-dominated field—and back when Bond-Fisher got into it, that was even more true.

When she graduated from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1986, with a diploma in Architectural Technology, she says she was one of just three women in her graduating class of 100.

Entering a male-dominated field as a women is never easy, but she worked hard, and in 1995 took the plunge and started her own small business, drawing on her architectural experience to create attractive spaces for her clients.

But even though Bond-Fisher would eventually grow Stick + Stones Design Group to the design studio powerhouse it is today, at the time she was just looking to get by.

“It was never my intention to have a business with this, so it took a lot of the pressure off,” she said with a laugh. “I think my few goals were to just make some money for myself—I was newly married, I was young and living in Canmore—and I was in the right place at the right time.”

Whatever her humble goals were initially, over the past two decades Bond-Fisher has built Sticks + Stones into a thriving brand, with offices in Canmore, Calgary and Kelowna.

“I now have 16 employees, a lot of them are women, and we’re rocking it,” she says.

Last august, Sticks and Stones  was named one of the top 11 best-designed offices in Canada. Along with the Tommie awards the office has accrued over the years, in April Bond-Fisher was given the prestigious Top in Technology Award by the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC.

Those accolades were well earned. As well as running three offices, as she was building her Bond-Fisher was also raising three kids. She says that, on the day she gave birth to her youngest, she worked right up until 5 p.m.

“I would say as a woman, having to raise three kids at home and then grow a business, you have to be a little bit crazy,” she says.

These days, Bond-Fisher spends most of her time growing her business and mentoring her young employees.

While she doesn’t take on a lot of hands-on projects anymore, she says she gets her “creative fulfilment in the expansion and the idea of staying cutting edge, and what’s next.”

“What I’m seeing now in trends are things that I either did at the very beginning of my career, or I spent part of my career removing them from homes,” she says. “I feel like I’ve gone full circle, and had a full life cycle of design, and feel quite satisfied.”

Not a dreamer
Trevor Nichols - May 11 - Biz Profiles

Stuart Lang sits atop the quadricycle that will form the backbone of Smile Cycle Tours.

Stuart Lang sits atop the quadricycle that will form the backbone of Smile Cycle Tours.
Photo: Trevor Nichols

The last thing Stuart Lang wants is to be thought of as a dreamer.

“People that have dreams, and often don’t take action towards realizing those dreams, are perceived as dreamers,” he said recently, over a plate of chicken tenders at Central Kitchen + Bar. “It’s good to dream, but you have to have an action plan. Dates and implementation will always drive results.”

So when the young entrepreneur bought an 800-kilogram, 15-person quadracycle from Holland to start running his own pedal-powered craft beer tours in Kelowna, he made sure he had done his research first.

Lang might not like the dreamer label, but his budding business, Smile Cycle Tours, is evidence that he is one, even if he is very driven about the whole thing.

He still remembers the exact day – Nov. 29 –  he decided to leave his job and start his journey as a business owner.

Lang has a double major in biology in science, but after he graduated he had trouble finding work in his field. So not long after he got his degree he “pivoted” and took an MBA.

But, even as he worked for a big telecommunications company, he knew he wanted to be a part of the tourism industry. That desire lead him back to his hometown of Kelowna, where he worked for a time with a wine tour.

It was during a slow period, early in the winter, when he decided to take the plunge.

“I was trying to just get by and pay my bills, and that’s when I started to think … I need something that I can take more ownership in,” he said.

He thought about the whimsical, giant cycles he had seen crawling through the streets in Germany, and realized he could do something similar in Kelowna.

“I realized this is the chance for me to start something in Kelowna that I had an interest in,” he recalled. “I had no reason to not do it, and on Dec. 20 I was wiring money over to the Netherlands, just prior to Christmas, really kind of swallowing my gut and going ‘this is happening.’”

Now, as tourist season approaches, Lang’s dream is really starting to come together.

Because of different circumstances and different laws, Smile Cycle Tours doesn’t look exactly like its predecessors in Europe, but Lang said he believes he can use “the hand [he’s] been dealt in Kelowna” to his advantage.

 

Photo: Facebook

His quadracycle is a massive, four wheeled vehicle that runs entirely on pedal power. Guests sit facing one another on two sides of a long table, and their pedalling drives the vehicle.

Lang sits in a raised driver’s seat steering the cycle and acting as tour guide. While European tours often have a tapped keg right on the bike itself, laws are different in Canada, so Lang’s tour is more of a pub crawl.

Each tour meets outside Central Kitchen + Bar, and Lang takes them on traditional beer tours where guests can visit several of Kelowna’s craft breweries, or others where they can visit their choice of craft spirit and wine creators.

“Kelowna can offer something that I think many other communities can’t, and that’s four products right in the downtown core: craft breweries, distilleries, cideries and wineries,” he explained.

Ultimately, he said, Smile Cycle Tours is a great “slow fun” experience for anyone looking to get a taste of Kelowna’s craft alcohol scene, and his tour will also help promote local businesses.

He’s just getting off the ground now, but with all his planning, Stuart the dreamer seems poised to become Stuart the successful business owner.

“I’m ready to take that next step. I’m ready to own something, and take it from zero to at least wherever I’ll take it. And that’s when I intend to do,” he said.

‘I want to own everybody’
Trevor Nichols - May 05 - Biz Profiles

Photo: Trevor Nichols

For a guy who bought his business because he was “just looking for something to do,” Justin Fortier has some pretty big plans for Kelowna’s Fleek Factory.

Trained as a film student, Fortier says he bought the business that would eventually become Fleek Factory in 2015 because he “needed a real job.”

At the time, Auto Art Extreme did custom wraps for vehicles, but Fortier always had much more in mind for the business.

Fortier also has a background in marketing and sales promotion, but said he “always liked everything creative,” and wanted to build a space where he could put that desire to use.

About six months after buying Auto Art Extreme, he moved his new business to its current Spall Road location (tripling its square footage in the process) and rebranded to Fleek Factory.

The idea, Fortier says, is to eventually become a one-stop shop for businesses looking for branding. He wants to handle everything, he says, from their business cards to their signage to shooting and editing their commercials and handling their web design and digital marketing.

“I want to own everybody,” he says with a good-humoured chuckle.

James Eubanks, Fleek Factory’s manager, installer and “cool office dad” elaborated.

“It’s not really one thing we do: we can do whatever you need, kind of,” he said.

Eubanks handles most of the vehicle wrapping, which still makes up the majority of Fleek Factory’s business, but Fleek Factory  has already moved into signs, stickers, decals and t-shirts, and a few weeks ago shot its first music video.

Fortier says he kept the Fleek Factory brand deliberately open and vague, so they could eventually branch to even more services.

“That’s where the factory comes in, we will make whatever you need to be made,” Eubanks says. “If you own a business and you need everything, we will take care of everything.”

That attitude is imbued in the very “factory” itself. The walls of the 500-square-metre space are alive with giant screen-printed murals. High-end camera equipment sit prominently on display, and the open concept lends the place a sense of tech-startup creativity.

The rest of the Fleek Factory team – “beard boss” and lead graphic designer Koltyn Gaboury and graphic designer and “rose among the thorns” Hayley Hutchinson – occupy vibrant, open space offices in the back of the building.

It’s a small team right now, Fortier admits, but hopefully, soon, they will be a lot bigger. 

After all, “owning everybody” will take some manpower.

Stay at ‘Hotel UBCO’?
Trevor Nichols - May 01 - Biz Profiles

Photo: Contributed

This summer, as soon as students pack up and leave the University of British Columbia in the Okanagan for the summer, the university will take their unused dorm rooms and “furiously transform” there for their new summer purpose.

Starting in May, about 700 of the university’s 1,400 dorm rooms are converted into a kind of “Hotel UBCO,” which tourists, travellers and large groups can check into, just like a hotel.

“Hotel UBCO” offers accommodations ranging from single-person rooms with a shared kitchen, common room and bathroom, to full suites with all the amenities.

Guests can book online through sites like Expedia.ca and Bookings.com, and check in at the 24-hour desk on campus.

While the university plainly advertises the fact that it is “not a five-star hotel,” the dorms are becoming an increasingly popular option for tourists who don’t mind forgoing some hotel luxuries for a lower price point.

Linens, towels, and soap are provided in the rooms, but there’s no regular room service. Guests have access to a laundry room for cleaning the sheets, and can cook their own meals in common kitchens.

“We don’t have the fluffy duvet comforters and maybe those king-sized, dream beds. We have our institutional dorm beds, but the rooms are still pretty nice,” says Suzanne Nazareno, who manages accommodations at UBCO for Student Housing and Hospitality Services.

While the concept of sleeping in dorm rooms during vacation is still novel to many, Nazareno says “Hotel UBCO” has become a pretty big business, contributing “significantly” the the university’s budget.

“Rather than having empty residence buildings sitting here all summer long, we utilize the space and are able to support our budget,” she says.

Nazareno says this year all 700 of “Hotel UBCO’s” rooms will be sold out during every single long weekend over the summer, as well as most of the weekends in July.

She says a big part of that is the price point; A single solo room goes for as little as $59 a night, while a family suite with four lockable bedrooms goes for a little over $200 a night.

“It’s really a unique location to go and stay, and you don’t always have to pay $300 a night,” she says.

Photo: Contributed

But alongside the budget boost, Nazareno says “Hotel UBCO” also serves a secondary purpose for the university: recruitment.

“With all these people that walk through our door it’s almost like a recruitment tool for the university,” she says. “You’ve got lots of moms and dads travelling with kids for sports tournaments, and they’re walking through here going ‘this is residence?’”

“It’s a really great ways to expose the visitors to UBC and what this campus is all about.”

And with entire buildings of extra rooms available in the Okanagan during the busiest parts of the tourist season, what’s good for UBCO is also good for the valley as a whole.

“It’s good for the university and it’s a good thing for the OKanagan to be able to have an extra 800 rooms to be able to house all those business that ultimately comes to the Okanagan,” Nazareno says.

Most challenging business ever?
Trevor Nichols - Apr 28 - Biz Profiles

Coco Chong He and Dale Lockhart.
Photo: Trevor Nichols

When you start to learn about the bonkers business environment language schools have to operate in, it can make you wonder why anyone would run one.

But that’s exactly what Coco Chong He and Dale Lockhart have been doing in Kelowna for well over a decade.

The pair run the Language school International Gateway Kelowna, which not long ago celebrated its 15th anniversary.

Lockhart says he and Chong He started the school because they thought they could do better than the big-name one they were working at in Vancouver.

So after extensive research they set up shop in Kelowna, starting out with just a single, Japanese student all those years ago.

Over the years they’ve grown, adding and subtracting various programs, and today they have a vibrant school that has partnerships with clubs and organizations across the city.

The pair clearly have a passion for their work, which is a really good thing, because running a language school might just be one of the most challenging business ventures there is.

Lockhart says each year the school serves anywhere from 40-60 students during the winter and 100-130 students during peak season.

Obviously, when more students enroll the school does better, but enrollment can vary significantly from year to year based on a complex web of local, national and international influences.

Like many businesses that deal with international clients, the relative strength of the Canadian dollar can bolster or hinder the school’s success.

Lockhart points out that Canadian language schools are in close competition with schools in other similar countries like Australia, New Zealand and Ireland.

How each country’s currency is performing will influence potential students looking to study English abroad.

“For a lot of international students, they see the three of us and Ireland as being very similar,” Lockhart says. “So whichever dollar is a little bit better, they will probably go there.”

Another factor that can dramatically impact International Gateway’s enrollment is the political whims of countries where many of their students came from.

Lockhart says visa agreements between Canada and other countries are vital to business, because there are so many schools to choose from in so many different countries.

Any extra barrier to getting into Canada, like stricter visa requirements or a student’s ability to work, are enormous.

Photo: Facebook

Lockhart still looks back at the Stephen Harper era with somewhat of a shudder. At one point, Harper’s Conservative government changed visa regulations for people coming from Mexico, which caused a 20 per cent drop in International Gateway’s enrollment that year.

Lockhart says Canada is actually one of the hardest places for students to get work, which makes it much more difficult to compete on the world stage.

“It hurts us, especially from countries where their currencies aren’t as strong, and they want to balance it out by working a bit,” he says.

So how do a couple of English teachers, passionate about passing on the language, structure their business around the whims of world leaders?

Lockhart lets out a hearty laugh and pretends to frantically juggle.

Lots of their business comes from international travel agents, and when they notice repeated requests from those agents for specific programs, they try to find a way to offer them.

They also offer small class sizes, and work to spin Kelowna’s “small city” status to their advantage, touting the advantages of true immersion to potential students.

When they first started up, Lockhart joked that International Gateway “would take anybody for anything.”

“If someone was looking for English and cigar making we would probably find a way to make that happen,” he said with a chuckle.

While they still adapt to their students’ needs, Lockhart says they have a much more refined set of programming now, and that seems to be working well.

At their 15th anniversary celebration earlier this month, students, community partners, teachers and former students from abroad all showed up.

That, Lockhart says, is a testament to the impact International Gateway has had.

‘Ballsy’ move for Frock
Trevor Nichols - Apr 27 - Biz Profiles

Chantel Couture.
Photo: Trevor Nichols

If there’s one thing Chantal Couture has learned after 15 years as a business owner, it’s that timing rarely works to your advantage.

So, when a large retail space opened up on Bernard Avenue earlier this year, she decided to snap it up as soon as she could and figure out the rest later.

That’s how her newly branded business, Frock and Fellow, found its way to Kelowna’s main retail drag three weeks ago.

The store is an expansion of her former consignment shop Frock. Occupying 372 square metres in the heart of Bernard Avenue, the shop resells pre-worn clothes in what feels like a high-end retail environment.

It’s an attractive space, with good product, but couture says the whole thing came together “quite quickly.”

She said when she saw in December that American Apparel was going out of business, she immediately got on the phone and expressed interest to the landlord.

Even though it was her busiest time of year at her other business, Funktional, and even though she was going to be out of the country for most of January, she still worked to snag the space.

She got the keys the day after she returned from her vacation. At the time she didn’t  have a name picked out for the new business, and didn’t even know exactly what she was going to do in the new space.

“Because there’s really only four viable blocks on Bernard, space doesn’t come up that frequently,” Couture explained. “So when that space becomes available you don’t have a lot of opportunity to plan.”

“The space presented itself, then the idea [for Frock and Fellow] presented itself,” she said. “The timing wasn’t even that good, but I learned that you make the timing work for you, because when you’re ready you usually can’t get the space.”

But Couture says once things got moving it became pretty clear what she should do.

Photo: Trevor Nichols

Before the move Frock was just Frock, without the Fellow. It was about a quarter of the size it is now, and only sold women’s clothes. But when she moved locations Couture expanded the brand, moving into men’s clothing as well.

“I think it was a ballsy move, no pun intended,” she said with a chuckle.

Not only was expanding into an untested product line a risk, but moving up in size as well. Frock and Fellow occupies the space that American Apparel used to, and taking over a space meant for a big-box store is a tall order for a local, small business.

“I’m trying to fill the shoes of a big-box store on a small business budget,” Couture said. “And that’s never been done [in Kelowna] on this scale.

There were a few hiccups getting things going – dealing with utilities and getting enough stock – but so far, she says, things have been going well.

Already she’s picked up hundreds of new consigners, and the store is “busier than we ever expected,” which is pretty good for a plan forged out of essentially pure opportunity.

Socially conscious profit
Trevor Nichols - Apr 26 - Biz Profiles

Photo: Trevor Nichols

Not long ago Pam Taylor, the owner of the Vernon store the Pink Spotted Goat, buzzed from display to display, rhapsodizing about the hand-crafted mugs and sustainably sourced personal care products on display.

The shelves of the downtown store are stocked everything from surprisingly chic handbags made out of old wool sweaters to meticulously crafted necklaces and upcycled decor.

In fact, the space is brimming with products from more than 100 different vendors, almost all of whom call the Okanagan home, and all of whom Taylor seems to have a story about.

It would be easy to write The Pink Spotted Goat off as just another crafter’s market selling the same gaudy jewellery and knitted scarves you’ve seen a million times, but that wouldn’t be giving Taylor nearly enough credit.

As much as she cares deeply about local, sustainable products, Taylor is also a shrewd business women. She looks for very specific items to include in the store, and in order to rent space at the Pink Spotted Goat crafters have to meet the muster.

She has a long wait list of people with products too similar to the ones she’s already carrying, and she actively seeks out specific products she knows will bring people in.

She also does a ton of research, buying a very specific selection of products wholesale that complement the local, hand-made fare.

Taylor is without a doubt running the business to make a profit, but she says that in no way precludes her from going out of her way to operate in a socially conscious way.

And really, her entire business is built around a socially conscious framework. By renting out spots to local artisans under a less aggressive rent and commission scheme, she is giving individuals access to prime retail space many of her producers would never get otherwise.

“I give the opportunity for the little guy or gal to have storefront space without the high risk of retail. Because retail is risky; it is expensive and a whole lot of other things like that, and I don’t know if any of them would be able to have a retail space on their own,” she says.

She talks about moms who use the extra dough from their sales at the Pink Spotted Goat to send their kids to dance lessons, or retirees who can finally afford to go out to dinner once in a while.

The injection the Pink Spotted Goat gives to the local economy is something Taylor’s very proud of. But all the upcycling and supporting local and environmentally conscious products doesn’t mean she’s not out to make money.

“We’re not sitting in a circle drumming on drums and singing kumbaya. I mean, this is a business, there’s business decisions that have to be made,” she says. “But when you look at the bottom line, and only stare at the bottom line you’re going to miss a lot, because you’re only looking down.”

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