The owners of one of Port Hardy’s largest employers, say they hope starring in a television show will not only jump-start their foundering business, but maybe reenergize the rest of the North Island.
“Maybe other businesses are feeling the pinch,” said Carol Dirom who, along with hubby Bruce, owns Hardy Buoys Smoked Fish Inc., a business to be featured on the CBC’s new show, The Big Decision.
“We thought if we could get on a reality TV show that’s going to air nationwide, if anything we and the whole North Island are going to get exposure — you can’t buy that kind of advertising,” she said.
The Big Decision operates on a simple premise: two stars — Arlene Dickinson and Jim Treliving — from the hit show, The Dragon’s Den, search out struggling or stalling established Canadian businesses and offer advice.
They later decide whether or not to invest in the business, based on certain criteria being met.
And the opportunity to be on the show didn’t come a minute too soon for Hardy Buoys.
“The perception to the outside person looking in is Hardy Buoys is a very successful, small town business,” Carol said of the business that currently employs 35 full-timers.
“We’ve exhausted every option; we can’t borrow any more money, we can’t pull any more favours, there’s nothing personally that we can contribute to the business ― we’ve truly done everything we can,” she said.
“If the show wasn’t happening — you’d be looking at Hardy Buoys closing its doors, even maybe before this summer.”
As any owner knows, running your own business can be a roller coaster life; with skill, hard work and maybe some luck, there will be highs.
But a company can only survive by getting through the inevitable lows, stormy conditions Hardy Buoys has weathered many times in its nearly two decades of business.
“The big difference we notice since being in business for 19 years is that this low has gone on for longer than we have ever experienced in the past, and we have run out of ways to tighten our belts and ride this wave,” said Carol, who noted hers is just one of many companies across Canada facing tough times.
Meanwhile, Bruce has been on the road promoting Hardy Buoys’ products.
“We have been working extremely hard on a number of new retail chain accounts throughout Canada over the last year,” he said.
“The excitement for our product at the food service and retail level — there’s lots of interest.”
Dirom added working on new accounts was an eye-opener.
“I had no idea of the time it takes to list new products. From initial tasting and product introduction to having product selling at the store level is painfully slow with most retailers, at least from my point of view,” he said.
“Unfortunately we are in a financial pinch that could slow or prevent some of these future sales.”
Carol said it’s great they get the added boost from the sport fishing in the summertime, but it’s just not enough any more.
“What we’ve noticed in the last couple years is we have longer layoffs and every time we have one, we lay off more people and when we start calling (workers) back, we don’t call back as many as we
would have before.”
“However, there are always more options as long as a person is willing to take them — sucking up our pride and being on this reality TV show is just one more way we can show our business and our employees that we aren’t giving up, we will do whatever it takes to keep the doors open.”
Dickinson recently visited Hardy Buoys and Dirom said there’s better than a flicker of hope the business will not only survive, but thrive in the years ahead.
“To be honest I don’t know if I ever felt so nervous at the thought of meeting someone, but I have to say the way she came in the room and the warmth in her eyes and in her smile, I thought I’d known her my entire life,” she said.
Dickinson has since left the North Island, but she’ll be back to make sure Carol has made good on the challenge left her.
“My challenge from Arlene is to organize a community event that draws attention to the North Island,” said Carol, who added she can’t divulge too much more.
She did say the event will take place in late February and promises to be a blast.
“It’ going to be like when the Olympic torch came to town, it will all be free,” she said.
Bruce said there will be a Plan B if Dickinson chooses not to invest.
Episodes showcasing Hardy Buoys are scheduled to begin airing in April.