BY LINDSAY BRISCOE
You could almost feel the suspense in the room at the inaugural Chukuni Business Awards this weekend, where area entrepreneurs, employees, and individuals received awards in a number of categories for business and volunteer excellence.
The Community Development Committee (a sub-committee of the Chukuni Communities Development Corporation) had been tossing around the idea for a couple years, but the event finally started coming together this spring.
“Part of our mandate is to promote local businesses in the area and this event does just that,” said committee member Stacey Fleming.
“We think that the business owners and employees in the area work hard to provide a product or service to the community and strive to provide a superior level of customer service. It is about time that our local businesses get recognized for their hard work.”
“Every local event such as a children’s sporting group/event, the Wilderness Entertainment Series, or hospital fundraisers are sponsored in large part by local businesses. I think it’s important to take a moment and show our appreciation for all the positive things our local businesses do and provide,” added committee chair Cindi Lumgair.
The committee worked together to form a broad selection of award categories, but there were no actual votes placed by the community.
“Businesses and organizations in Red Lake and Ear Falls were nominated by the community, some multiple times. In choosing winners the committee took into account the number of nominations and how well the nomination demonstrated that the nominee met the criteria. After group discussion, the committee members voted on each category,” explained Lumgair.
“We have other ideas for more defined categories, should we run the event again in the future,” she added.
After the meal catered by Antonio’s, and before the awards were handed out, attendees welcomed keynote speaker Ron Buist. Buist previously served as Tim Hortons’ marketing director for over two decades and invented the company’s famous Roll up the Rim to Win campaign.
“Reward the customer base. Give something back to the people who come back to you through all kinds of weather,” he said to the crowd, as he spoke about his 24 years of experience working with the multi-billion dollar international company.
“If you can’t be first, be the best. There is no in between.”
Winners weigh in
When Linda Lesnick’s name was called for the employee of the year award she felt overwhelmed and surprised.
“Obviously I appreciate the fact that people even thought about me and thought enough about me to put my name in,” she said in an interview shortly after receiving her award.
Having been an employee of Bearskin Airlines for 16 years, she’s learned the importance of compassion and understanding, particularly in an environment like an airport, where the stress level can be quite intense at times.
“I always want to put myself in the shoes of the person on the other side of the counter. We have people who are traveling for very sad reasons as well as people who are traveling for very happy reasons. We have people going for some pretty scary medical treatments and we might see them on a regular basis. We have a lot of people who travel for work and they’re away from their families. So you always want to think of how they’re felling when they check in.”
The positive company culture at Bearskin also played a role in keeping the warm smile on her face day in and day out.
“I love my job. I love the people and the company that I work for. They’ve always been a great employer. Harvey (Friesen) would come in and say hello to us by our name. You felt like you were important to him,” she said of the company’s long-time president who passed away in 2014.
Good customer service: what’s the key?
Robyn Clayfield, owner of Forever Green Gift Boutique, agrees with Lesnick that in small-town business, it’s not just about providing a service, it’s also about being there for your customers.
“Whether it’s birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, or funerals, everyone has a different need, and you have to see that before you can really serve someone,” she said after picking up the award for customer service excellence.
“You’re also like a counsellor in the shop because you have people who are going through hard times in their household and they want to do flowers for their wife, or maybe someone’s had a death in the family, or a friend who’s having a bad day. You end up hearing a lot of the back stories, which obviously remain confidential, but often you’re a listening ear for those customers as well.”
Clayfield said her nomination and win were a great honour, especially considering the respect she holds for her fellow nominees.
“All those years of being a small business in Red Lake are sometimes overlooked. It’s a sense of pride and achievement and it definitely keeps you rolling.”
Business customer service excellence: Forever Green Gift Boutique
Business of the year with less than 25 employees: Balmer Video
Business of the year with more than 25 employees: Norseman Inn
Business supporting youth: Goldcorp Red Lake Gold Mines
Citizen and/or group of the year: Grace Community Church
Employee of the year: Linda Lesnick (Bearskin Airlines)
Home based business award: Jim’s Gun Shop (Jim Garneau)