BY: Miranda Minassian, The Packet & Times
Bucking the trend of outsourcing labour abroad, a local businessman and his family-run dock company are bringing much-needed manufacturing jobs back to the area.
After taking over its competitor, Muskoka Leisure Docks, whose pole docks were manufactured in China, On the Water Designs decided to invest in a home-grown alternative.
"Our history is in manufacturing. We've taken those abilities and put them into this new product line," said Brandon Jewitt, general manager of On the Water Designs. "Now we have flexibility in manufacturing. We don't have to order six months in advance and hope we have the quantitites right; we build on demand."
Called the leisure series, these mass-produced, standardized aluminum dock sets are now made and packaged entirely out of "On the Water Designs' Kilworthy location, just north of Orillia.
Taking over manufacturing of the leisure series has opened an entirely new market for the small business, which has been able to get the line into hardware stores across the province, including Orillia and Coldwater.
Whereas the custom-manufactured docks the business is already known for require expertise to ensure components are fitted, transported and installed properly, the standardized leisure line is compact, lightweight and simple enough for do-it-yourself types to manage the project singlehandedly.
"I've seen a woman put a 40-foot dock in a minivan, including decking, and take it home. You can do that now," Jewitt said, noting the local aspect has become attractive to many customers.
The portability of this new venture has also opened the door to expanding the business internationally and, in doing so, creating a revenue stream year round.
Developing a plan to have money come in through the winter is important to Jewitt, who is working toward keeping his staff - which currently doubles to 14 in the summer months - employed all year.
"Ideally, I don't want to be retraining people every summer and hoping for the best," he said. "If we start shipping ( to) places like the southern United States, they have summer weather year round."
With seasons similar to our own, Scandinavia is another market he is investigatig, as the product would be shipped during the slow season, Jewitt said.
"It would be great to see more businesses looking at (international markets). Too often businesses only look locally," said Wendy Timpano, general manager of the Orillia Area Community Development Corporation. "There is lots of opportunity out there."
While extending their reach isn't for every business, finding new markets is the key to growth, Timpano said.
Loacally, larger companies have traditionally been the ones to take advantage of overseas or American markets, but the Internet has allowed even small businesses to get in on the action, she noted.
Stephanie Stanton, president of Orillia Manufacturers Association, has seen some stabilization of manufacturing jobs in the area, but only after the industry took a serious hit.
Shrinking employment in manufacturing is a common trend in almost all developed countries. Canada's manufacturing industry lost 278,000 jobs - about one sixth of the total number - from 2000 to 2007, with the industry taking another 10% dive after the 2008-2009 recession, according to Statistics Canada.
"I do see some signs of growth," she said. "I've experienced hills and valleys in manufacturing. In business in general, you always have to redevelop your product line. It is a constant struggle."
For On the Water Designs crew, challenging the status quo has been key to their growth.
"It is always in the back of your head because you don't want to repeat mistakes," Jewitt said. "That is what drives innovation. You always want to do better."