PORT HARDY—Ten months after hosting a huge community party for the CBC television program The Big Decision, Hardy Buoys Seafood has seen a big boost in business.
But the program had only an indirect impact on the company, and owners Bruce and Carol Dirom still have mixed feelings about their involvement with the program and investor Arlene Dickinson, the show’s host.
The Big Event was organized by the Diroms and drew more than a thousand people to the Civic Centre in February for free seafood samples, entertainment, a pizza-baking contest and a glimpse of Dickinson, the CBC ‘Dragon’ who was taping an episode ostensibly to determine if the company was worthy of her investment.
But after initially saying Hardy Buoys did what it needed to do, Dickinson went mum after the show aired in early April.
“As far as what’s happened from the Big Event itself, there’s nothing really from our end,” Carol Dirom said. “We were totally interested in pursuing an ongoing relationship with Arlene Dickinson, but we never heard back from them.”
Fortunately, Hardy Buoys, which was seeking to expand but struggling to acquire the necessary operating capital in the preceding year had other irons in the fire at the time they were dealing with Dickinson.
In the months after the show aired, the company listed its smoked salmon products in major Canadian outlets Sobeys and Walmart. More recently, Hardy Buoys has entered the Giant Tiger and Metro chains.
“It’s been a spiral effect,” Bruce Dirom said. “Initially Walmart kept putting us off, saying they loved the product but there were issues with the packaging; it was one excuse after another.
“When the show aired, their head purchaser got ahold of our sales manager and said, ‘We’ll list you tomorrow.’
“(The show) did give us some national exposure and legitimacy.”
What it has not supplied is operating capital. But, since Dickinson sent an accountant to spend five days poring over the company’s books and reports with controller Mike Schnurr, the Diroms have decided they’re not ready for the kind of assistance being offered.
“At the end of the day, they’re venture capitalists, and it’s a business,” Carol Dirom said. “We were told Arlene would be interested in putting financing up, but it would come at a pretty high interest rate.
“There’s part of me that carries a bit of guilt, because I rallied the whole town around the idea that they were helping Arlene make a yes or no decision. But I think we would have gotten here on our own anyway. It’s the culture of Hardy Buoys.”
The company’s most recent coup is a deal signed with a Vancouver-based distributor shipping product to China, which Bruce Dirom said calls for an initial shipment of 7,000 kilograms of product in the New Year.
“We’re hoping that will eventually get to 13,000 kilos a month,” Bruce said. “If we get that, it basically doubles our business from where we were when the Big Decision aired. “Today, we’re up a million (dollars) in sales from last year, and that was our break-even point.
“Starting the new year, we’ll be on pace to do substantially more.”
One sign of the company’s success shows in employment. Hardy Buoys currently has 65 employees, which represents essentially its high-water mark for the season and well more than this time last year.
“In September we typically lay off about a third or our employees, and this year we hired 15 people,” Bruce said.
Still, while the Big Event and the ensuing Big Decision program did not result in a direct infusion of capital, the Diroms admit the experience played its part in Hardy Buoys’ ongoing success.
“We had exposure,” said Carol. “There were people who stopped and took a second look at us because they’d seen us on the show. It was some kind of catalyst. I believe everything happens for reason, and maybe that’s why all these pieces of the puzzle fell into place.”