From a seasonal, ten-foot by ten-foot, seafood storage freezer, to North American smoked fish power house, the Hardy Buoys of Port Hardy, BC are an excellent example of how building a business and enhancing a community hand in hand.
Over twenty-four years ago, BC Hydro employee, Bruce Dirom and his wife Carol settled in Port Hardy to work and raise their family, not knowing they would eventually become one of the largest employers in the small, North Vancouver Island community. Back then, they also didn’t know that they would become the principal owners of the area’s only shopping mall either. But, such is life when you have a good idea and run with it.
Specialty Insurance Coverage for Unique Operations
“Hardy Buoys is a unique company,” says, Mark Johnson Senior Commercial Risk Advisor at Reliance Insurance, “They started as a place for sport fishermen to take their sport catch to be cleaned, packed and shipped home after their vacation. It has grown to include a very large commercial fish processing plant and smoking operations in addition to their sport fishing service. A large portion of the business is now dedicated to private label smoked salmon products. Also in the mix was their purchase of a local Port Hardy shopping mall. When they became our client in 2003, the value proposition was to identify, quantify and minimize risk exposure. We identified and jointly implemented several strategies to reduce risk for Hardy Buoys. Our Food Protect program helps them tremendously by lowering their risk and keeping insurance premiums low while providing excellent coverage.”
The Hardy Buoys brand is sold across North America, in addition to their own brand they also co-pack for other companies. Mark adds, “Hardy Buoys has a strong culture of best practices as seen by their many food quality certifications. Adopting risk reduction strategies has been second nature to Hardy Buoys.”
We spoke with Hardy Buoys co-owner, Carol Dirom to learn more about Hardy Buoys rise to the top.
1. Tell me about your journey with Hardy Buoys, it looks like in the last 24 years the company has had substantial growth?
My husband, Bruce and I were working for BC Hydro and were transferred to Port Hardy. We just fell in love with the town and knew we didn’t want to take the multiple town, transfer route to get ahead with BC Hydro. Bruce, being an avid sport fisherman, saw that there was an opportunity to help others in sport fishing. In 1994, we established Hardy Buoys Smoked Fish Inc., a small facility with a little walk-in cooler, and a smoker. At first it was a seasonal business, serving sport fishing tourists. We grew as things presented itself; we jumped on it and it took us in that direction. We went year-round, wholesaling Bruce’s delicious smoked fish to Island-based grocery store chains. Then came a very large expansion in 2008 to satisfy our own markets, become more brand focused with custom smoking and processing as well as tap into any other business opportunities for our facility. We had purchased half of the North Island Mall that was already home to our processing plant at that time, and just two years ago, we purchased the other half. Hardy Buoys Smoked Fish continues to grow, and at the same time, we are developing this mall into an integral part of the Port Hardy community.
2. Tell me what is the success of your business?
We have made it as far as we have because we are hands on. We have always worked hard to be part of this community. We have a supportive town, and we are extremely fortunate that people want to work for Hardy Buoys. We also understand our employees have lives and if they need to leave work to be with family we support and accommodate that. Outside of Hardy Buoys, we’ve raised our three children here. Bruce has been a volunteer coach in soccer and hockey. I’ve sat on committees for community events and organized sports. Hardy Buoys sponsors sport teams and youth organizations. We are rooted in the community because we love it here. Our son, Dylan has now joined the business, too.
3. What is the most interesting aspect of your business? What gets you to the office each day?
The challenge is what gets me going. I want to be part of the creative process. I love seeing the transformation of our hard work, especially the real estate product. The North Island Mall has come alive. People have not seen this much activity in this building for over 20 years. Our concept is very unique. It’s filling a gap, with health and wellness focused tenants offering a variety of services including a fitness gym, a chiropractor, a day spa and salon, plus we have a restaurant, a Filipino specialty store and a dental centre opening soon. We just launched Rendezvous Place, which provides everything from short and long-term boardroom and office rentals to a commercial kitchen, a food kiosk and a coffee bar. We worked very hard to transform 16,000 square feet of the former North Island College campus into a beautifully appointed meeting space with the needs of Port Hardy in mind. It’s not your typical mall.
4. There is a lot of news these days about salmon conservation? Is your company involved in this?
We have seen a lot of changes in the conservation. We buy our salmon and fish products from reputable brokers and companies and we try to buy BC fish when we can. We are participants in ThisFish TM (Ecotrust Canada) and Trace Register TM to maintain the highest of standards for food traceability from the sea to shore. We deal with farmed and wild salmon. In BC, there is an overwhelming demand for wild salmon. But outside of western Canada - there is not as much request for wild, so we do have to rely on farmed fish to ensure we have product. Essentially, we need all species of salmon to sustain our business.
5. Is the sport fishing services still a big part of the business today?
It is still a big part of our business. From early May to October we have a very strong sport fishing season in Port Hardy. We work closely with charter organizations that, in turn, have been able to build their businesses because we exist. We make it is easy as possible for their customers to have their fish processed. We’ve built all-inclusive packages to cover every need. Using Styrofoam coolers, waxed, vacuumed-sealed packaging, their catch can be custom smoked, filleted, frozen, stored and shipped.
6. Have you expanded to sell products internationally?
Yes, we are licensed to sell internationally, and we have some private label customers that also have global markets. Primarily, we sell in Canada.
7. What is the most challenging aspects regarding the insurance of your business?
I had looked at switching insurance providers, but when it comes down to it, it’s not an easy thing to switch. I have to say, when I signed on with Reliance, a lot of the challenges went away! I met Mark Johnson, Commercial Risk Advisor in Victoria, and his approach was to make it effortless for us. The best thing we did was start doing business with Reliance Insurance. They just get it. They have educated us in different areas to be better at our business, to be more diligent in our business - what we should and shouldn't be doing. They understand food manufacturing. I have been able to consolidate everything. Mark and Jen are always responsive; they really go that extra mile for us. And the price came down!
8. Has Reliance Insurance been a part of your growth? Would you recommend Reliance to other entrepreneurs and business owners? And if yes, why?
Yes, Reliance has definitely played a role in the growth of Hardy Buoys. Because they understand exactly what we are doing in our business, they are able to offer sound advice and guidance, helping us to make better decisions for the overall health and growth of our business.
Our rule is; don't do anything, don't buy equipment, sell anything or take on new business ventures without talking with Mark Johnson first! I do recommend them to any of our tenants or other business associates and, of course, anyone in the seafood industry. Yes, we always recommend Reliance Insurance.
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