Targeting a Niche Market

The stock and trade of gunsmithing

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Noreen Cox with Patricia Area Community Endeavours is impressed with the calibre of Gary Beardsley’s gunsmithing business.

An entrepreneurial spirit and an unwavering passion for his craft are what drive Gary Beardsley, owner of Great Northern Gun Works in the northwestern community of Vermilion Bay. Today, the retired resort operator and animal nutritionist is finding success in a new niche market.

Having carefully scoped out the market, Gary established a gunsmithing business that repairs, restores and refurbishes firearms. As the only federally licenced gunsmith within a 400-kilometre radius, he set up shop on the Trans-Canada Highway in 2013 to capitalize on the nearly 2.8 million vehicles that drive by his front door every year.

Beardsley had some help along the way, including from Patricia Area Community Endeavours Inc. (PACE), enabling him to realize his vision. The Patricia Area not-for-profit business-focused organization is one of 24 Northern Ontario Community Futures Development Corporations funded by FedNor. PACE offers free business advice and workshops, as well as commercial financing to entrepreneurs and those looking to start a business in its catchment area. In Beardsley's case, a loan helped with construction costs, as well as the purchase of highly specialized equipment.

According to PACE Business Development Coordinator Noreen Cox, the risk of each loan application is assessed using five criteria: character, capacity, conditions, capital and collateral. She adds that one of the keys to success is finding the right fit.

"Great Northern Gun Works stood out because of its uniqueness," revealed Cox. "Gary spotted an opportunity to provide a value-added service in the tourism industry that would serve an area stretching from Thunder Bay to west of Winnipeg. Furthermore, as an avid hunter, angler and gun collector, he speaks his customers' language and shares their passion."

Having grown up in Wisconsin, Beardsley first visited the region as a young boy on a fishing trip with his father. When he was seeking to make a career change in 1992, he headed north of the border and bought a resort. Twenty years later, he sold it and decided to get his certificate as a professional gunsmith, something that had always intrigued him.

Growing business

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A prime location in Northwestern Ontario is helping this top gunsmith capture a niche market.

"I do business with people from the United States and from as far north as Rankin Inlet in Nunavut," stated Beardsley. "Thirty to forty percent of my clients are Indigenous. Their firearms are well-used because hunting and fishing are a way of life for them. Since many live in remote communities, they don't have easy access to a gunsmith. So when the ice roads are operational, I see a tremendous influx of Indigenous customers. Others drop off their firearms for repairs when they fly into Sioux Lookout for medical appointments."

Thanks to word of mouth and the Internet, Beardsley's business continues to grow. Many of his customers mail their firearms to him with instructions about what they'd like repaired. In fact, he hired one of his customers, who had brought in an heirloom firearm for servicing, as part of his business succession planning.

"He's a whiz with the Internet and communications through Facebook," marvelled Beardsley. "The business' online presence has raised the profile of our operation and is bringing more people to our door. In fact, I'd say our business has increased 50 to 75 percent."

To find out how you too can realize your business dream, contact Patricia Area Community Endeavours at 807-221-3293, or your local Community Futures Development Corporation.

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