The SLBDC team had the pleasure of visiting A Village Fireplace Shop in Wyoming, Ontario. We sat down with owners Tina and Wayne to discuss the evolution of their business, from a small operation with 2 employees to a multiservice, multiproduct company that now employs a team of 14. A Village Fireplace shop just celebrated 21 years in business this past January but don’t let the name fool you. When they opened so many years ago, fireplaces were the focus, but like any smart entrepreneurs, Tina and Wayne saw opportunities for expansion and didn’t hesitate to diversify and grow their business at every opportunity. They are ‘home comfort specialists’ offering much more than just fireplaces. They offer a full line of Heating and Cooling products, hot water tanks, barbecues, generators, accessories and parts, and so much more. In addition to the products they sell, they also offer service to those products as well as inspection, chimney sweep services and many others. Among that team of 14, Tina and Wayne have a son who now works with the family business. Their hope is that that he will continue the family tradition of entrepreneurship. On the day that we visited, Tina and Wayne’s grandson arrived during our interview and was right at home in the shop. You can see that hard work and character run deep, both in the family and the business.
When asked what important early steps contributed to their success, Wayne recalls how he sought advice from another local business woman. She told him to capitalize on the presence of larger centres close by (like Sarnia) rather than put all his eggs in one basket. That message was received loud and clear and these savvy owners worked to not only diversify their product lines, but also their client base and opportunities. Rather than see themselves as a small business in a small town, Wayne always saw them as a growing business located at the centre of the county. He saw opportunity throughout Lambton County and beyond, often finding new customers in neighbouring counties. While Wyoming is a small town, viewing it as “the hub of the county” gave them a unique perspective when going after new business. It wasn’t always easy for Tina and Wayne though. In the beginning, lenders were leery about investing in what they thought would be a small-town business with a single product line. Wayne and Tina were so grateful for the support they received from the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation in those days. The SLBDC staff was able to help sort out the financial side of the business, while they began the process of proving themselves, both to lenders and to locals who also questioned whether their small town could sustain a “fireplace shop”. Additionally, they were able to develop a strong business plan to get them started.
In 1999, a massive addition to the building signaled that A Village Fireplace Shop certainly wasn’t going anywhere. Soon after, a second property had to be purchased for the purpose of warehousing. When reflecting on his experience with the SLBDC team, Wayne adds “everything they did for us was a great experience. They always stayed in contact and offered help with anything we needed from doing the books to just running the business”. While the magnitude of their growth may have come as a surprise, proving themselves to their community has been a great reward. They could have moved their business to a bigger centre at any time, but Wyoming is where the dream started, and where it will continue to grow. When asked about the surprises of entrepreneurship, Tina and Wayne are pragmatic. They did not enter this partnership with any illusions. They were prepared for hard work and few breaks – although perhaps not as much paperwork. Given the scope of their products, due diligence is a big part of the day to day operations and staying abreast of regulations and changes are a constant. Do Tina and Wayne have any advice for future entrepreneurs? “Many people don’t realize the hard work…they think they can take breaks and relax when they have their own business” says Wayne, but Tina is quick to add “at the same time, it’s important to take time away when you can”. They are accustomed to working seven days a week, with few breaks. With her young grandson on her lap, Tina details an upcoming family trip that has been a dream in the making. Her grandson squeals with excitement as she talks about what they will do. These are the rewards for a lifetime of sacrifice. With three generations on hand, and two very hard working entrepreneurs at the helm, it is obvious that A Village Fireplace will be here for generations to come.
A Village Fireplace Shop is located at 623 Broadway Street in Wyoming, Ontario. They are open Monday-Friday from 9-5, and Saturday from 9-2. You can view their range of products and services on the company website at www.villagefireplaceshop.com . They can also be found on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/villagefireplaceshop?fref=ts or you can follow them on twitter (@VillageFP). To contact them by phone, (519) 845-9915.