When Brenda Hagerty started getting requests for Porcupine Canvas products from miners working across the country, she knew the company was meeting a need, but how to increase distribution remained a conundrum. That’s where Sling-Choker came in.
The two companies—located in Schumacher and Sudbury, respectively—are now collaborating on a distribution arrangement that gives Porcupine Canvas access to new markets and Sling-Choker added value as a supplier to the mining industry.
During its 30-plus years in business, Porcupine Canvas has been manufacturing high-quality canvas and vinyl products for a variety of industries.
Over the last three to five years, it has specialized in in site-specific customization of products that enhance mining health and safety, like their popular tool bags.
“A lot of these companies that are producing bags are not producing them especially for the mines,” said Hagerty, general manager at Porcupine Canvas. “They produce a bag that the mines use, whereas we’ve targeted the mining industry. We’re developing the product with mining first in mind, so our products are that much closer to the application that they need.”
Products range from duffle bags to portable emergency refuge stations and are made of high-visibility, fireretardant materials to stand up in rugged underground conditions.
It’s that quality craftsmanship, along with the ability to help customers solve their problems on site, that attracted Sling-Choker to the collaboration, said Dan Villgren,
Sling-Choker’s manager of business development. It also provides the company with an opportunity to support another Northern business.
“We like the fact that the products they manufacture are manufactured here in Northern Ontario; any time we can support local business we certainly try to do that,” Villgren said. “We’ve always tried to be value-added, and whenever we can bring a new idea or a new solution to a customer, that’s a very strong angle for us and we’ve been very successful for that.”
Hagerty said Porcupine Canvas is constantly innovating, tweaking products and inventing new lines based on customer feedback.
She put her ingenuity to work after getting a request for an eyewash station cover. Her design could translate to orders for 500 to 600 eyewash station covers.
A full 50 per cent of the company’s business comes from customized orders, usually lines that are specific to different mine sites.
Turnaround time on new products is fast. “From initial idea to approval, we’re looking at less than 60 days, which is very impressive in the mining industry,” Villgren said. “It’s tough to do because there are so many regulations.”
Since time is so valuable in mining, it’s important to respond to customer requests quickly, Hagerty said.
Because Porcupine Canvas manufactures its products in Northern Ontario, product requests are vetted immediately and there’s ultimately less travel time for products to get to customers.
Though the mining sector has been a target market for Porcupine Canvas, the company recognizes the need to branch out to remain competitive during downturns in the industry.
Its prospector tents found new purpose in the glamping (glamorous camping) market—its canvas tents are used by the renowned Clayoquot Wilderness Resort in Tofino, BC—and they’re also popping up at camps around Muskoka in place of the ubiquitous Bunkie. Year-round requests come in from first nations groups for teepees, sweat lodge covers and canoes.
“We have a very diversified market,” Hagerty said. “We’re fortunate that we deal with a broad spectrum of industry, so when one’s slow one’s picking up.”
But she believes there are still vast corners of the mining industry that the company hasn’t explored yet, and that means potential for further growth.
With a focus on health and safety, Porcupine’s had to hire three employees within the last year, bringing to 12 the total number of staff, and purchased automated equipment to keep costs down and production efficient. If business keeps growing, Hagerty estimates the company will have to hire another three or four people.
With 15 branches ranging from as far west as Fort McMurray, Alberta, to Montreal in the east, Sling- hoker has large distribution network through which Porcupine Canvas can reach new customers.
Sling-Choker is also looking forward to growing the relationship as business expands.
“We had common goals and their products fit our business model very, very well, so it seemed like a really good fit,” Villgren said. “Things started and blossomed quite nicely.”