Scott Metherell has always loved Georgian Bay. Originally from Burlington, Scott eagerly spent every summer in Honey Harbour at his family’s cottage. As years passed, Scott started working summer jobs with his brother, Todd, at various marinas learning the waterways and how to service customers throughout Georgian Bay. It was during this time that he realized a need in the community. “Seasonal residents often wanted help with smaller maintenance jobs that other businesses in the area were too busy to handle,” said Scott.
“We recognized the opportunity to cater to this niche market and knew we could fulfil the demand.”
Scott and Todd started with smaller tasks such as grass cutting and painting. During the summer of 2006 and following Scott’s first year at Queen’s University, BigRedWorks was born out of their search for their first barge – a barge with big, red pontoons. The name stuck, and the colour red is now reinforced throughout their entire business with red barges, ATVs, boats and uniforms. By the end of their first summer, BigRedWorks had grown to six employees! After his brother and his sister graduated from Conestoga College and Wilfrid Laurier University respectively, they also joined the team full-time. Twelve years later, BigRedWorks now has five permanent and nine seasonal employees to help handle Georgian Bay’s busy summers.
Scott accessed several grant opportunities available to businesses in Muskoka to help with the successful growth of his venture, including the Summer Company program and summer student subsidies. Scott emphasized that, “If you can get a grant, the seed funding is extremely helpful for a new business.” Summer Company is an Ontario program for students between the ages of 15 to 29 that provides training, mentoring and grants up to $3000 for eligible applicants. It is delivered through the Ministry of Economic Development and Growth’s network of 57 Enterprise Centres throughout the province.
In Muskoka, the Summer Company program is delivered by the Muskoka Small Business Centre (MSBC) in Bracebridge. MSBC Manager, Terri Plaxton Smith said, “Student entrepreneurs bring so much enthusiasm, talent, and determination to the process, that they could put many seasoned entrepreneurs to shame. I am very proud to be able to offer a program of this caliber that provides entrepreneurial youth with such an amazing opportunity to learn and grow into our future business leaders.”
When asked how BigRedWorks manages the seasonality of their business, Scott said it’s all about offering ancillary services.
“I enjoy the seasonality of our business. It gives us time to calm down and enjoy the beautiful area we work in, while thinking about how we can better service our customers.”
As BigRedWorks expanded, they started offering a winter patrol service, checking seasonal homes for break-ins and storm damage. They also began selling, assembling and delivering products to enhance their customers’ overall cottage experience, such as Muskoka chairs, dock boxes and flag poles. To help spark demand during the slower season, BigRedWorks often offers promotional deals to their customers in the winter for summer services.
Even further, Scott and Todd received their real estate licences to sell properties around Georgian Bay. “It was a natural fit and gave us the opportunity for cross-promotion,” said Scott. “We have a superior knowledge of the Georgian Bay area and maintenance levels of various properties to help buyers make informed decisions. We are unique in that we can help move buyers in and out and also clean up properties to get them ready for listing.”
BigRedWorks also plans their staffing requirements around seasonal demand, hiring motivated young students or seasonal residents that return to school or home in the fall.
When asked what advice Scott would give to young entrepreneurs looking to open in Georgian Bay he stated, “Be fearless.” “Try anything for one summer, and if it works then keep at it. If it doesn’t, pivot and try something new. The community wants to see businesses succeed and is willing to help and support local ventures.”
Visit the BigRedWorks team at 4 Franks Lake in Honey Harbour or connect with them on Facebook and Instagram.