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Business thrives via Web site (9/02)

By Ian Ross Advertising oneself on the Web as being the ‘one-stop shopping centre’ for canvas products can bring some unexpected business results. Porcupine Canvas Inc.

By Ian Ross

Advertising oneself on the Web as being the ‘one-stop shopping centre’ for canvas products can bring some unexpected business results.

Porcupine Canvas Inc. has reaped the benefits of Web exposure with a strong loyalty from Timmins alumni in distant mining camps and an uncanny knack for attracting orders from around the world through their online catalogue.

The Schumacher firm, which develops specially fabricated canvas products, celebrated its 20th anniversary in May, but manager Chris Pronovost says business has been so hectic, they have not had time to celebrate.

The seven-employee company racked up $900,000 in sales last year, exporting more than 10 per cent of its products to Germany, Russia, Turkey and the U. S.

“Because we do so much customizing, we’re so flexible with our customers,” Pronovost says. “Whatever they want, we’ll give them.

“That’s been a really good feature for us. We’ll do whatever they want in whatever fabric it takes.”

So when a big order comes in, the company wastes no time in gearing up to meet the challenge. Shipping to far-flung customers in Germany, Russia, Turkey and the U.S. has led to a lot of repeat business, she says.

That has meant fielding e-mail orders from residents in Florida requesting repairs to their camper tops to e-mails from a U.S. military unit stationed in Germany inquiring about customized canvas targets and a unit banner.

Founded by owner Deni Poulin in 1982, the business started out selling and repairing showshoes and tents for the prospecting industry before branching out into packsacks and exploration field equipment.

“It was the people in exploration that prompted us to start carrying a variety of exploration supplies,” says Pronovost, and expanding their selection to include retail items such as flagging tape, compasses, marking chains and all the field equipment necessary for the mining and exploration industry.

Selling exploration supplies and manufacturing canvas products made up the bulk of their business until the late 1980s when mining flow through shares stopped and so did much of their equipment sales.

Altering direction slightly, they began concentrating on what they do best, promoting their line of specialty fabricated products - tool and duffel bags, seat covers, tents, teepees, tarps and wet filtration products, the latter used by customers such as River Gold Mines.

“We decided to really promote the manufacturing end, instead of just being a retailer in ordering from somewhere and shipping to a customer,” says Pronovost. Their best selling item being a durable, neoprene-coated powder bag.

“Whereas exploration is very dependent on fluctuation in the markets, the mining industry is a more repeat business.”

And instead of just catering to explorationists, they have diversified their interests to include major forest players, including Domtar and Grant Forests Products, as well as recreational enthusiasts.

Their outdoor recreation line of products includes fabricated and repaired canvas and vinyl boat tops, awnings for homes and businesses, and canopy rentals for parties and tent trailers. They often receive orders “out of the blue” from customers for reinforced custom bags with extra pouches based on what they see browsing the Web site.

The company is planning to broaden its export opportunities by assembling a catalogue of manufactured products specifically targetting the U. S. mining, coal and petroleum sectors.