From idea to reality:

It all started with an idea and grew from there.
Connie and Doug Cuthbertson knew for years they were going to move and expand their home-based framing business on to Scott Street. The Fort Frances couple just didn’t know when.
But at the end of last year, everything fell into place. First, the volume of business was getting to be too much for their space at home. And then the opportunity came along to set up on one side of a store that had been vacant.
The rest, as they say, was history.
Northwoods Gallery and Gifts opened April 30 and in doing so, Connie Cuthbertson figured she tripled the number of people who even knew her framing business existed, accessed the tourism market with her pre-season opening, and picked up walk-in clientele.
But it wasn’t as simple as putting up a sign and opening the door. Cuthbertson said she spent years compiling information and ideas, and researching the market by talking with people.
“I had that element of time,” she noted, adding the idea had been in her head for years, which gave her a chance to research it gradually–including wandering around trade shows looking at what was out there.
“I already had quite a few suppliers in mind,” she said.
Cuthbertson also talked with people and listened to what they wanted when it came to diversifying into giftware. With a population base this size, she felt it was important to be flexible and open to new ideas, especially when it came to keeping with the current trends.
“I think that’s the main thing. You really have to know who it is you’re going to be buying for,” she said, stressing she learned so much listening to people who walked into the store.
“They tell you all you need to know,” she remarked.
Then there was the decision on what the store itself should look like. That’s when the artist in Cuthbertson came out, explaining she wanted it to be warm and cozy–leading to the log cabin motif with pine floors.
“I knew I wanted atmosphere. That was important to me,” she said.
“I like people enjoying the shopping experience.”
That meant a lot of work but it was a task made easier with the support of her family, who helped with the renovations.
And it has remained a family business, with her husband and their two daughters all helping out at the store. The couple also employs two other full-time employees and summer students.
“The most rewarding part is working with Doug. We’re having fun,” Cuthbertson enthused
On the down side, the move has meant paper work–and lots of it. When her business was strictly framing, she dealt with 20 different companies. Now, they deal with some 200.
“There’s just a huge amount of paper,” she admitted.
But that’s a price she has to pay in order to meet her goal. By January, when things slow down, she’s aiming to train others to handle the framing, freeing her up for three half-days and two full days in her home studio.
That was another reason for the move–Cuthbertson wanted to reclaim her studio and focus on that aspect of her life.
“For me, painting still is the number-one objective in life,” she noted, explaining when they first opened, they gave themselves five years to make a go of it.
“As long as we do our homework and keep up with things, we’ll be here for a long time,” she pledged.
The Cuthbertsons are part of a growing trend in Rainy River District. More people are looking at new businesses, and more are looking at expanding.
In fact, 42 people–double the number organizers had expected–turned out for a small business seminar last week. Hosted by the Rainy River Future Development Corp., guest speaker Karen Loroff of the Thunder Bay and Area Business Self-Help Office outlined the steps to starting their own business.
Already, one is anticipating to be up-and-running within the next 90 days and others are expected to come forward with their ideas over the next few weeks.
“People see the growth in small business,” Jack Hendry, business investment manager with the RRFDC, said of the nation-wide trend.
Downsizing also has contributed to the push toward small business, with people who can’t find a job deciding to create their own. Northwestern Ontario traditionally has a higher unemployment rate.
“[And] we’re a lot better informed today than we were 10 years ago,” Hendry added.
Throughout the district, he felt people were catching the entrepreneurial spirit, with the RRFDC helping out 53 new or expanding businesses over the past year.
And that’s not to mention others who didn’t go through the RRFDC.
Their success, Hendry said, helped create a positive atmosphere for those contemplating the self-employment plunge, as well as stimulating the local economy and the quality of life here.
“I think people see where things are heading,” he said, noting things were moving from the public sector over to the private sector.
For those tossing around the idea of starting a business, Hendry suggests writing down both the pros and cons. After that, tackle a two-page outline of a business plan to get a better appreciation of where it is heading.
Then focus on a detailed business plan. At that point, people may want some help. Both the RRFDC (274-3276) or Loroff (1-800-668-9360) provide assistance without charge.
“All it takes is one individual with one business, and it grows from there,” Hendry said. “It’s truly incredible.”