REGINA, Oct. 20 /CNW Telbec/ - Convinced that Canada held opportunities he could never find in Europe, Johan van den Berg moved to Saskatchewan from his native Holland after finishing his mechanical engineering studies. After careful preparation, Johan and his wife Charla established Plains Powder Coating in 2007. In just two years, the company has polished up Saskatchewan's metal finishing market, providing equipment manufacturers and other clients with a long-lasting, eco-friendly alternative to spray painting. For their success, Johan, 33, and Charla, 34, have won BDC's Young Entrepreneur Award for Saskatchewan and will be honoured tonight at a ceremony in Ottawa.
Johan met Charla when he came to Saskatchewan on a student work term. The stay convinced him that Canada had a world of opportunities to offer someone with the drive to learn, take risks and work hard. Waiting for the right opportunity to start his own business, Johan acquired valuable experience in Saskatchewan heading up the powder coating division of another company. "My dad was an entrepreneur and taught me a lot; it's something that had always been in the back of my mind," he says.
Setting up for success
After more than a year of research and preparation, he and Charla were ready. Charla, who had worked as an account manager and small business advisor in a bank, did the business plan. Securing two major clients at the outset, they never looked back.
In addition to doing work for large agricultural equipment manufacturers, they powder coat anything metal: fences, built-in sunrooms on new homes, doors and windows, and bumpers for semi trucks, among other items. "Clients know we stand behind our work and guarantee everything we do," says Charla. Today, the thriving operation has nine full-time employees, with more during the peak winter period, as well as students on work term programs.
Unlike spray paint, powder coating involves no harmful volatile organic compound emissions and offers an unlimited variety of colours and textures. One of their challenges has been to educate engineers, rural municipalities and city planners about its uses for park benches, light poles and many other things. "Once you powder coat it, you never have to touch it again," Charla explains. The size of the small shop they rent has also posed an ongoing challenge. This year, they will move into a new 12,000-square-foot facility they are building on four acres of land, with room for expansion.
While the recession has had a limited impact on their business, they saw it as an opportunity to adapt, diversify, find bottlenecks and make changes. Using lean manufacturing principles, they make every effort to simplify and speed up processes, often with small inventions Johan has made. "If he sees something that will speed things up or make it easier, Johan will just make it himself," says Charla.
The two donate their powder coating services for projects in their community. With two young children, they volunteer for and sponsor kids' activities, as well as causes their employees are involved in. Employees are also given the flexibility to take personal time off when they need it.
"Johan and Charla have combined their vision, technical expertise, and business and management skills to create a flourishing operation. Their company is the kind of business that is well positioned to address the growing demand for 'greener' alternatives," says BDC President and CEO Jean-René Halde.
"What we have achieved here would never have been possible in Europe," says Johan. His advice to would-be entrepreneurs is simple. "Anything is possible. If you have your mind set on it, and you have the drive, you can achieve anything."
Recognition for young leaders
A major feature of Small Business Week, BDC's Young Entrepreneur Awards recognize the entrepreneurial spirit and the business and leadership accomplishments of Canadians between the ages of 19 and 35. Winners are selected by panels of business people from across the country who consider the originality of the business concept, success, growth potential and social involvement. They also take into account the entrepreneur's age when the business was started and any special challenges that were overcome.
2009 YEA and Small Business Week partners
Platinum partners of the 2009 Young Entrepreneur Awards and Small Business Week are Deloitte and Export Development Canada. Gold partners are Borden Ladner Gervais and Maclean's.
BDC is Canada's business development bank. From more than 100 offices across the country, BDC promotes entrepreneurship by providing highly tailored financing, venture capital and consulting services to entrepreneurs. Visit www.bdc.ca for more information.
Small Business Week is a registered trademark of BDC.
SOURCE Business Development Bank of Canada
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