Business is looking up in the Ashcroft and Cache Creek area, with a record number of inquiries from potential business owners, according to Deb Arnott, manager of the Community Futures (CFDC) office in Ashcroft.
“As of April, honest to goodness, I’ve never seen it so busy,” says Arnott. “We met our targets the first quarter – that has never happened.”
CFDC is a federal program with 269 offices across Canada. Their mandate is to support small businesses in a variety of ways, including counselling and loans.
Arnott says there were people walking into the office, phoning, people being referred.
“I talked to people and asked them ‘How did you hear about us?’ It was word of mouth. Everybody said they heard of us through word of mouth. That took 25 years – and that’s why I believe business struggles to much – that’s how long it takes to get your name engrained in the region so that when sombody wants something, they think of you. I was actually quite stunned.”
A lot of it, she says, is people who come to town with their partner who has started a job here. They come with the skills to run a business but they don’t know where to start.
She says that when she meets with couples, often one of them has been working out of town, and they want to be that family unit again.
They may have come from a community of 25,000, she says. “I tell them to keep in mind this is a small community, keep in mind we’re right next to Kamloops.”
“I’m seeing some younger clientele,” she says. “I’m seeing some clientele with families who are looking for a rural community so they can raise their kids in a safe place.”
They just want to know where to start, so Arnott walks them through the steps.
“I find that if I can keep encouraging them to do their business plan, they’re still around,” she says.
Those who take their chances and open their doors without a business plan are often out of business in half a year or less.
“Some people are a little nervous sharing too much,” she says. “I get that too, but it really bothers me when I walk past a business and I go ‘If only’.”
Business has changed quite a bit, Arnott says, since 2008/2009 when a lot of warehouses and contractors were left without payment from businesses going out of business. They want their money up front now, she says, and the bills come in so fast once you start a business that a month goes by before you even know it and there are a ton of bills to pay.
“It takes couage to start and run your own business,” she says. “A lot of courage, and thank goodness there’s people out there who are prepared to do that because we wouldn’t have our downtown cores without them. We have a lot of home based businesses but where would anybody really go to find the basics?”
“I really, really struggle with the lack of a Chanber of Commerce,” she says. “I go to the chamber meetings around the region and I’m also watching them attract less and less people around the table. I really count on the chambers as being the voice from the business community, but I recognized long time ago that is not the case. Yes, I can get information from the chamber, but I also need to go out and get information directly from the businesses because they’re not participating in the local chamber. Do we need to revisit what the role of a chanber is?”
She says Hope, Lilooet and Lytton have the only active chambers in her region.
“My dream is to have a joint marketing done with businesses here,” Arnott says. “To get everyone on the same page.”
“Buying online is killing local businesses,” she says. “People come into a local business, try on a product and order it online to save $10. We have a generation who’ve never touched money ever. We used to stand in line to put our paycheque in the bank. Now it can be done without ever stepping foot inside a bank.”
What I think we need to do is really build that awareness with people,” she says. “They really need to support their local businesses because our businesses support our comunity efforts.
“So walk through their doors, see what theyve got in there,” she says.
She would also like to see businesses doing more to support each other.
“Businesses need to market what they’ve got to pull in the customers. It goes both ways,” she says.
Last year her office, along with the Village of Ashcroft, hosted a breakfast for businesses – a sort of meet and greet with speakers. She says she was shocked at how many business people were meeting each other for the first time. It’s not a big business community, she says. It can be a lot closer, more supportive.