Not Your Average Co-op
I didn’t know I would be moving away for work this summer, and certainly not to Tofino, which up until I took this job, I had never travelled to. However, when I came across the WardoWest Business Development job posting on the SFU Co-op job board, it jumped out at me instantly. This was a chartered fishing company in one of the best fishing locations in Canada, with a tourist season that expanded the town from a population of 2,000 to 15,000 for three months of the year. Most jobs I applied for were office jobs like many others, and were specialized roles in their respective fields like marketing or IT. When I looked at what duties I would be assigned at WardoWest, it seemed to cover a wide array of challenges for me to tackle in a less formal business setting. Furthermore, it seemed like a great opportunity to explore a part of BC I was not familiar with, and the prospect of working in a small company to see how much of an impact I could have in their performance intrigued me. I applied, and as luck would have it, they found me to be the right fit for the position and hired me for a three-month stint in Tofino from the end of May until the end of August 2016.
My training began with a few days of introduction in Vancouver with Brandon, an SFU graduate who had helped his brother Dave build the business since the company was founded in 2011. I was given a run down of the systems used by WardoWest and an overview of the position itself. I learned what I would primarily be doing and what priorities my job would have. Sales, of course, is an important part of ensuring a small business thrives; especially one that relies on seasonal business like the fishing in Tofino does. However, the delivery of excellent service to customers is what the company was built on, and what I was expected to carry forward through the summer season. It sounded like an excellent challenge with a high degree of responsibility, but I knew it would help grow me as a worker. After my Vancouver training wrapped up, it was off to Tofino on the May long weekend.
Upon my arrival, I was greeted in town by our general manager, Shawn, who is also one of our fishing guides and a local to Tofino. He and the other guide, Paul, took me out on my first open ocean fishing experience the day after my arrival. I was exposed to the swells and rolls of the ocean, and caught my first few fish as well. The time I had on the water allowed me to better understand what I was selling to the customer, and gave me an appreciation for the work our guides do as well. After this, it was down to business, and I began my summer as an employee of WardoWest.
Big Tasks in a Small Company
There was a lot of pre-work done leading up to the season. My boss, Dave, and his brother, Brandon, had attended trade shows and booked many trips already to fill in our season. However, it was up to me to fill in the gaps, and ensure that those who fished with us and stayed at our retreat had a five-star experience. Our business line and e-mail was our primary method of getting inquiries for fishing trips, so my task was to make sure I could respond to these as fast as possible to have the best chance of booking new customers.
My first tasks included cleaning up the retreat, which involved organizing rooms, yard work, and several other small jobs to help make the place look its best. As I have lived at home most of my life, managing a household was something I did not have much experience with, but after this summer, it will have become almost second nature. During this time, I was also handling the front-end by taking phone calls and answering e-mails to lock in more business as people inquired about fishing trips. It takes a little while to get used to the way you’re supposed to sell these trips, but once you get the hang of it, selling fishing trips becomes quite seamless if you can get to the customer in time.
As the season got busier, my days became longer, and for any student wondering what their schedule may look like as a small business owner, this will give you a taste of that, and the extra lengths you must go in order to do the best job you can. Late nights, early mornings, and constant buzzing from your phone and e-mail will keep you on your toes while you do your best to take care of the guests staying with you. My time management and efficiency has become much better as a result of this position, and for a small business, being able to complete your task fast and well is huge.
It is important, however, to take time for yourself and get out to explore, otherwise you’ll burn out! I tried my hand at surfing at Chesterman Beach, and explored the hiking trails of Pacific Rim National Park. The multitude of restaurants and other small businesses means that any tastes can be met. Nights out at Jack’s Pub and Tofino Brewing Co. are also necessary to meet the locals and unwind.
WardoWest has been growing since it was founded, but this summer especially has been a catalyst for growth and has come with pains of its own. The addition of a general manager and myself gave Dave the flexibility to pursue other business ventures, but this also meant that we had to go through most of the summer without his guidance. This expansion will continue well into this year and next summer. I believe we exceeded Dave’s expectations for managing his company during the season and ensuring that guests leave with great memories of their stay. The next co-op student that gets hired in this role will be vital to running the company smoothly and hosting guests come May 2017. Whoever enters this role must be ready for another busy fishing season.
What I Took Away from this Position
Being a student employee for a small company has given me an appreciation for the hard work that is put into building up a business, and that maintaining a consistent standard of quality, even while big changes are occurring in the company and disrupting normal workflow, is crucial. I’ve learned the fundamentals to creating a business framework and the considerations needed to make sure you can last through the first five years of incorporation. Before undertaking this role, my business sense was still quite narrow, but it has now grown as I have begun to look at all parts of the business processes that make up a company. For students looking to gain inspiration for their own ventures and learn what it takes to do so, all while living in one of the most beautiful and exciting places in BC, this co-op position is perfect to give you the foundation to build a business of your own.
Beyond the Blog
If working in Tofino sounds like something you'd like to experience this summer, be sure to check for job postings from WardoWest!