Skip to content Skip to site navigation Skip to search

Small business in AlbertaAlberta success stories

Entrepreneurs thrive in Alberta. Select a story below to find out how Albertans from across the province are turning ideas into business opportunities, and how being here contributes to their success.

Localize

Edmonton, Alberta

Business opportunity

Meghan Dear was frustrated with grocery shopping. Like a growing number of consumers, she wanted to know where the food in the store originated. Although the question seemed simple, the answer proved elusive. Meghan’s entrepreneurial side decided to take action to answer this question and from there, Localize was born.

Business overview

Localize provides customers with a quick and easy way to get information about the food in stores, by identifying products that are grown and produced locally. This difficult, time consuming work can be complex and daunting for many grocers.

Grocers participating in Localize are provided with labels that display product information as well as unique Quick Response (QR) codes. These labels can be placed on the shelves beneath their products. Customers can view the product’s location of origin on the label, and can scan the QR code with their cell phones for more information. This allows customers to get a product’s full story within seconds, enabling them to make more informed choices as they shop. The result is win-win-win for food producers, grocers and customers.

Getting started

In 2011, Meghan produced a prototype Localize label and visited some local grocers. After contacting Sobey’s Nottingham in Sherwood Park (known for supporting local producers), Meghan was asked to start implementing her labels the following week. Five labels in one store eventually grew into thousands of labels in hundreds of stores.

Localize has since won awards for the Best Social Business Case at the Social Enterprise World Forum, and the Grand Prize Fast Growth in the TEC Venture Prize competition in Alberta.

An Alberta success story

Today, hundreds of grocers utilize Localize’s labels to help customers make more informed choices. Localize is now on track to increase its influence by leveraging data collection and analytic capabilities. It’s also looking to expand across Canada (expanding the service in Ontario) and into the U.S.

“One of our greatest assets has been starting Localize in Alberta,” explains Meghan. “There’s energy here for new solutions and momentum for new ideas.” Localize is an amazing, Alberta success story that started out with a simple idea and grassroots engagement.

Poppy Barley

Edmonton Alberta

Business opportunity

Before the shoe industry was almost entirely consumed by mass manufacturing, cobblers used barleycorns and poppy seeds as the measuring units when creating custom footwear for clients. Today, that traditional approach appears to be lost to the sands of time. The vast majority of shoes are mass-produced in standard sizes and average shapes by manufacturers.

For Justine Barber and people like her, the convenience of mass produced shoes came with discomfort. As Justine later discovered, 60% of women struggle to find shoes that fit, while growing increasingly tired of solutions based on cookie-cutter “fast fashion”.

Taking its name from the traditional measuring units, Poppy Barley is much more than a maker of custom footwear. The company combines advanced pattern making, digital shoe lasts, and collaborative e-commerce with the art of custom shoemaking. The result is a proprietary technology that includes an extensive backend system, ensuring that purchase orders and inventory management are integrated with factory production in real-time.

A commitment to ethical fashion is also embedded in the company’s supply chain. Poppy Barley shares exactly where, how and by whom their products are manufactured. Customers not only receive made-to-measure, high-quality footwear, they also receive the whole story behind the production of their new, favourite pair of kicks.

Getting started

After the welcome experience of having a pair of boots custom-made, Justine had a vision. Why shouldn’t every woman with an internet connection be able to obtain affordable, high-quality footwear custom made for her unique feet? Justine convinced her sister Kendall that the market was there, and the two sisters set out to realize their vision.

On a factory sourcing trip, the sisters met Lupita Lyons and Laura Obregon. Together, the four women realized they could make much more than just custom boots. They could transform the shoe industry by re-thinking every step — from sales, manufacturing and distribution to everything in between. Soon after, Poppy Barley was up and running.

Using an e-commerce model and a direct-to-customer approach has enabled the company to be agile and compete against traditional custom and artisanal footwear manufacturers.

An Alberta success story

“We wanted to create a new standard in the footwear industry,” says Justine. “Now women can receive beautiful fitting, one-of-a-kind, ethically made footwear — without breaking the bank.”

The company is introducing additional products and expanding into new markets, including a line of shoes for men. “We’re committed to growing an innovative, socially responsible company dedicated to challenging the conventions of the traditional retail model,” says Justine.

“We know Poppy Barley has incredible potential to be something big.” With custom footwear at a revolutionary price point, Poppy Barley is marching confidently into the future.

Fiber-Werx

Sylvan Lake, Alberta

Business opportunity

Challenge has been a hallmark of Scott Getschel’s long track record of experience, which stretches from food services, to retail sales, to recreational management and startups. So when Scott joined Fiber-Werx in 2002 as an investor, it didn’t take him long to recognize the challenges in innovation-driven manufacturing and ultimately become full owner of the company.

Fiber-Werx is a custom manufacturer of fiberglass products, and specializes in facing challenges with innovative, out-of-the-box thinking. Originally focused on boat repair and building waterslides, Scott saw opportunities to grow the business.

As a strong and lightweight material, fiber reinforced plastics (FRP) lend themselves to a number of commercial and industrial applications. They don’t rust or corrode and they don’t require painting. They offer low conductivity and are transparent to EMI and RFI radiation. However, because the fiberglass industry is well established in many developing countries, companies in places with lower labour costs and fewer consumer protection laws are able to offer very competitive prices.

Business overview

For Fiber-Werx, innovative, custom fabrication has offered a competitive edge. While other fiberglass manufacturers pursue economies of scale by offering only one product category made from one process, Fiber-Werx stays agile to serve a number of market demands. The company uses several unique processes to fabricate fiberglass products that meet customers’ unique requirements. “We maintain an openness to try new things,” explains Scott. “Every project is different, and we approach each customer’s requirements as a new and exciting challenge.”

Fiber-Werx has leveraged this approach with great success, including helping Devon Energy with a dual containment trench remediation project. Fiber-Werx is also one of only four companies registered with Transport Canada to manufacture, repair and modify FRP tanks for the transportation of dangerous goods.

They were also the recipient of the Central Alberta Economic Partnerships’ Innovative Business Award in 2012. In addition, the company’s commitment to innovation has led to the patented, people’s choice award winning Rizor Tonneau Cover, with a redesign expected in North American markets in 2015.

An Alberta success story

Scott points to Alberta’s competitive taxes, business friendly climate, and energy industry as benefits that enable Fiber-Werx to grow within the province.

While the future looks positive, Scott notes the importance of planning ahead and embracing challenges. “The work we do is very physically and technically demanding, so human resources are always a consistent focus. We have to be on a continuous learning curve from project to project.” “Innovation, collaboration, quality, integrity and service -- that’s how we differentiate ourselves and that’s our formula for success.”

The Silk Road Spice Merchant

Calgary, Alberta

Business opportunity

Colin Leach and Kelci Hind weren’t restauranteurs or chefs. But they had a passion for small business in their community, and they loved to cook and bake. Colin worked for a digital marketing agency and Kelci was a Registered Nurse. Outside of work, they pursued their shared love of cooking, exploring different recipes and styles of cuisine. Through these adventures, they realized good ingredients weren’t always easy to find, especially when it came to spices.

Despite their starring role in countless recipes, spices didn’t seem to be given much attention or prominence. In grocery stores, spices were treated as extras, relegated to nondescript aisles along with various other sundries. Colin and Kelci sought to right this injustice, and conceived of a shop that would give spices the presentation and value they deserved.

“Spices have been around for millennia. But in that time, some old-fashioned business values seem to have gone by the wayside,” explains Colin. “We rely on those values as our competitive edge; excellent products backed up by an excellent shopping experience with high quality customer service.”

Getting started

The Silk Road Spice Merchant is expanding into Edmonton.

The company has grown to include 25 staff members, bringing with it the inevitable challenges of managing an operation efficiently. Although Colin and Kelci’s biggest challenge has been learning management skills, they’ve relished the challenges, and say keeping focused has helped their startup grow.

An Alberta success story

The Silk Road Spice Merchant offers a vast selection of unique products, including nearly every existing culinary spice. The company’s carefully crafted spice blends (now numbering around 100) contain no colours, preservatives, or fillers.

Although they’ve considered larger-scale production methods, Colin and Kelci have made the deliberate choice to continue crafting their spice blends by hand. “It helps us stay closely in touch with our signature products, and that’s important for quality.”

“Commit to your idea,” advises Kelci. “When you try to be all things to all people, you lack a clear identity and confuse your customers. Develop your vision, identify your market and go for it.”

Terralta Inc

Medicine Hat, Alberta

Business opportunity

Laura Shivak had been building her small business for many years in Saskatchewan and knew the time was right. If Terralta was going to seize opportunities and grow, moving to Alberta made sense.

In July, 2006, Laura moved Terralta (and her family) to Medicine Hat, where they’ve been since. For a non-traditional energy company, setting up shop in the place known as “The Gas City” has been an interesting and rewarding experience.

“The challenge of moving our entire family to a new province was very difficult, but has proven to be a great success,” explains Laura. “Our research showed us that people were unfamiliar with renewable energy and wanted to understand what it was all about. With Alberta being prosperous, we thought it would be a smart move for us.”

Business overview

Terralta isn’t the kind of business you’d expect in a province rooted in non-renewable resource production, but that’s proven to be beneficial. Driven by an increasing demand for green-built homes and businesses, Terralta helps people heat and cool their homes in non-traditional ways. Originally specializing in geothermal and renewable energy systems, the company has increasingly focused on solar energy for homeowners and businesses.

Today, Terralta is the renewable energy contractor of choice for local builders in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. It is also CanSIA certified installer of domestic solar and commercial hot water heating systems.

An Alberta success story

With a boom in residential and commercial construction, Alberta has offered plentiful opportunities for Terralta, both financially and climatically. “Medicine Hat is growing and takes pride in being the sunniest city in Canada. So why not use the sun to our advantage?”

Providing innovative products and technological services, Terralta prides itself on its highly skilled workforce and rich history in the trades. The business has been involved in plumbing, HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning), hydronics and mechanical systems for 16 years. The company has a team of highly skilled tradespeople, including journeyman plumbers and gas fitters with great leadership and organizational skills.

Terralta plans to leverage its great team and technological knowledge to further grow into the commercial field. Even though there will be challenges, Laura is undaunted, and says that other small business owners shouldn’t be either. “Don’t be afraid to try,” she suggests. “Take a chance. Even when things look bleak, remember why you chose to follow this path. You’ll be glad you did.”