District company inks five-year distribution deal with U.S. firm

Cedar furniture company Kish Gon Dug Canada officially signed a contract with U.S. company Two Pru’s Corp. during a ceremony Friday at Naicatchewenin First Nation (Northwest Bay).
The five-year marketing and distribution contact will give exclusive territorial rights in the U.S. to that company, which is owned by Vince and Michelle Pruitt of Kansas City, Mo.
“We’re very excited,” Tony Marinaro, director of operations for Kish Gon Dug Canada, said Friday afternoon. “We’ve been working hard trying to market our product.
“We spent a lot of time developing a quality product and we’ve accomplished that,” he added.
“We’re at a point where we’ve been doing some sales in the States. We had a partner there in the past, [but] the sales weren’t as good as we anticipated,” Marinaro noted.
“These individuals here [the Pruitts] have a distribution we’re going to tap into.”
Marinaro said the Pruitts, a brother-and-sister business duo who had purchased some of the Kish Gon Dug Canada furniture from a U.S. distributor three years ago, loved the product.
They came into contact with the company here after their supply of furniture ran out and they couldn’t track down that initial distributor to get some more.
“We have a retail store in Kansas City and had purchased some of the furniture to promote through our store (Above & Beyond),” said Michelle Pruitt, who had arrived in the district earlier in the week along with her brother, Vince, and given a tour of the area by Tom Bruyere.
“We loved it,” she added. “We’d seen it and it’s a great, great product.”
“Three years come and go, and the time is right,” she remarked. “We have in place already several manufacturer’s reps on the West Coast and the southern states.
“And we hope to acquire the East Coast soon.”
Pruitt also said they’ve got a nice distribution set up through the Midwest.
“It’s something we’re very excited about doing. It’s a great opportunity for us, and we’re really honoured to be hooked up with these guys,” she said.
When it came to Kish Gon Dug Canada, Vincent Pruitt said it was the “whole package” that impressed him and his sister.
“The quality of the craftsmanship is far and away better than anything we’ve seen,” he noted. “We see a lot of product and a lot of reps come through our door in years past, but the first time I saw this on our floor, it blew me away.
“Plus, it’s hand-crafted with pride,” he added. “Down in the States, everything’s made in factories. If it’s touched by a human hand, we’re lucky.
“And the First Nation being involved only adds to it.”
“It’s a five-year deal—to begin with,” hinted Michelle Pruitt. “Everyone in this community has taken such good care of us. We’re very, very honoured.”
“We really look forward to our future with these guys,” said Marinaro, adding Industry Canada and FedNor have been “phenomenal” in helping Kish Gon Dug Canada over the past four years.
“We’ve come a long ways. There’s been a steep learning curve for us in the marketing area—it’s not our forte,” he admitted. “We’ve had to find the people to do that.”
Kish Gon Dug Canada currently employs between 10 and 15 band members—depending on the orders—on a full-time basis in its 3,000 sq. ft. factory/warehouse located on the reserve, about 30 km north of Devlin.
While the number of employees may go up in the future, they’ll be staying about the same for now, said Marinaro.
“They’ve got 12 States with distributors and reps, but they’re being very conservative with their esitmates—about one container a month,” he noted.
“They’re going to sell to our production levels,” added Marinaro. “If we need to increase, we’re hoping we will, we’ll increase the production level, meaning more jobs and adding onto the existing factory so it’s more efficient.
“That’s the direction it’s going. Their market’s so large, we’re just going to have to test the waters and see how quick it moves.
“They’re very positive, but they’re also very conservative thinking a container a month,” said Marinaro. “That’s about 20 pieces a state.
“A container holds about 300-350 pieces, depending on the actual product. That’s not a whole lot of sales, but that’ll keep us going.”
For those who might not know, Marinaro explained the furniture at Kish Gon Dug Canada is made in a European-style, in that it is made without screws.
The wood is shipped in from British Columbia. All of it is “environmentally harvested” from blowdowns and trees that have been levelled by other natural causes—not human activity.
“That’s another selling point,” Marinaro said. “In Europe and the U.S., people are getting more environmentally-conscious. We’re the environmental choice.”
Marinaro said he thinks this deal is only the beginning of what’s shaping up to be a bright future for Kish Gon Dug Canada.
“Talking about exporting, we’ve been exporting to Europe. We sent two containers to Ireland this year,” he noted.
“There’s a lot of great stuff going on,” he added. “We’ll be meeting with a representative from Ireland before the end of this month. And there’ll be another agreement of some sort signed for the European market.”
Marinaro said there’s definitely room for Kish Gon Dug Canada’s product in the global marketplace, not only because of its quality but the “story that goes along with it.”
“Having it hand-crafted by the Ojibway people of Northwestern Ontario is something that even in Europe is a selling point,” he remarked. “There was a show in Ireland, where the product was displayed and in the evening, someone broke in and stole our chairs.
“As sad as that was for the gentleman who started his business up there, he was very excited about that,” he chuckled.
“And there’s other areas we’re getting into. There’s distributors in Thunder Bay that deal with saunas and we’re going to do a prototype. It’s all exciting new stuff,” said Marinaro.
He noted the success of the furniture company, which was incorporated in 2001 and went into production in 2002, has been a group effort.
“We’re very fortunate we have the support of the community, the leadership, and that the leadership has a long-term vision for this organization,” said Marinaro.
“That’s what keeps it alive.
“Successful businesses don’t happen overnight,” he stressed. “It’s a long-term commitment and they’re in it for the long haul. And the whole focus is the future of the community, the future of the youth.
“Not everybody wants to work in the bush, or even the furniture factory. This isn’t the only thing we’re going to attempt,” he added.
“Today marks an important day for economic development in our community,” Naicatchewenin Chief Wayne Smith said at Friday’s ceremony, holding the feather elder Steve Johnson recently had given to the band’s council.
“Back in 2001, an idea came to us as leaders and we sold it to the community,” he added. “As leaders, we must look to economic development.
“It’s been a long struggle,” Chief Smith admitted. “Over the past three or four years, it’s been up and down. But we never gave up hope. And now we’ve made it due to community support.
“We’ve always said we didn’t start this to make a million dollars, it was to create work for our band members. And we’ve succeeded.”
Chief Smith also thanked Marinaro and Tom Bruyere for all their work in getting this deal to become a reality.
Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Ken Boshcoff was one of several dignitaries at Friday’s ceremony.
“I think this is a significant occasion,” he noted. “When you have signings like this in a community, these are the things that really count.”
The signing ceremony, which was preceded by dancing, drumming, and singing, was held at noon at the Naicatchewenin First Nation Community Hall. A traditional feast followed.