Local Success Stories

RELEASED: July 22, 2015

– Al Knell had always talked about starting his own business, but it wasn’t until he was laid off from his manufacturing job, that his dream began to take shape.

“All I knew, is that I wanted to rent kayaks and ice huts,” said Knell. “I saw an ad in the local newspaper that said, ‘want to start your own business?’, and that’s where it all started.”

The advertisement was promoting a workshop facilitated by the Business Enterprise Resource Network (BERN) about the Self Employment Assistance (SEA) Program, a comprehensive course designed to provide budding entrepreneurs with the tools needed to start a new business. While the SEA program has since been cancelled, Knell was fortunate to be able to complete the full 40 week program, which provided resources for the development of marketing tools, a business website and most importantly, a business plan.

“I had no idea what a business plan was before entering the program,” said Knell. “The program taught me a lot.”

Once he graduated from the program, and established his new business, “A Breath of Fresh Air Outdoor Adventures”, Knell’s next step was to begin establishing the community partnerships which would become vital to his early stage growth. One of the first industry event’s Knell attended was an Event Partnership Forum, hosted by the City of Orillia, Ontario’s Lake Country and various other tourism organizations. The event focused on potential partnerships that could be struck between local businesses and events in order to better reach and market to, visitors to the area.

Knell also contacted Ontario’s Lake Country, who helped him set up an online profile, which he’s seen result in direct visits from tourists looking for activities in Orillia.

He also worked with the Orillia Area Community Development Corporation, better known as the CDC, to achieve funding for his initial start-up.

“I’ve received support from BERN, the CDC, Ontario’s Lake Country, the Chamber of Commerce,” said Knell. “There’s a lot of resources available, you just need to know where to find them. Everyone’s been really great.”

In 2015 the City of Orillia Parks and Recreation Department were looking to increase activities at Couchiching Beach Park and invited proposals for non-motorized sports vendors in the park. Knell jumped at the opportunity.

“It just made sense,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, I grew up in Orillia and live across the street from the park. It’s perfect.”

Knell’s new location at Couchiching Beach Park, between the swim area and public pier, allows visitors easy access to the lake in the summer. At only $8 an hour, Knell’s kayak and paddleboard rentals are the perfect activity for those looking to add a little excitement to their visit to the park. In the winter, Knell’s huts can be seen on Lake Couchiching about 100 yards behind the Orillia Aqua theatre.

Now he’s focusing on getting the word out about his new location. Facebook has been a key marketing tool, though it’s not always Knell that’s creating the post.

“Facebook has been one of the best tools so far,” said Knell. “People head out on a kayak, post a selfie to Facebook and send it to 122 of their closest friends. The friends ask ‘hey, where is that?’ It’s a great referral service that way.”

Since January of 2014, Knell has taken his dream from an idea, to a reality. He appreciates the support he’s received from the Orillia community and looks for ways to give back. In 2014, he provided kayaks to the Sun City Swim, for swimmers who needed a spot check boat to meet the criteria of the race. He also supports Big Brothers and Big Sisters by providing little brothers and sisters with free rentals.

For more information on A Breath of Fresh Air, visit abreathoffreshair.ca

Photo: Al Knell gets Sandy and Sean Madorin ready for a kayak experience on Lake Couchiching.

Source: City of Orillia