A pair of homegrown Whistler companies will vie for top honours at this month's BC Small Business Awards after being named as a Top 5 finalist in two separate categories.
Kahuna Paddleboards, Canada's largest stand-up paddleboard manufacturer and distributor, is one of five businesses up for an international trade award, while The Oracle, which offers unique handmade gifts and spiritual and holistic services, is competing for best workplace. The Oracle was also named a semi-finalist in the Best International Trade and Best Employer categories in December, but did not make it to the final round of selections.
Owned by founder and local realtor Steve Legge, Kahuna produces and sells hundreds of boards annually in an industry that has exploded in the last two years. Kahuna will compete for the Best International Trade Award recognizing the top company with a viable trade business that contributes to B.C.'s economy.
"I was very humbled," said Legge. "I was pretty shocked (at being named a finalist), especially since I beat out (Vancouver snowboarding company) Endeavor and The Oracle."
Legge's company has been a leader in the paddleboarding industry since production began in 2010, using innovative epoxy sandwich construction methods cemented after extensive research to create a more stabilized board. The state-of-the-art manufacturing methods have even caught the eye of the Discovery Channel, which is planning to film a segment showing Kahuna's production process for a segment that will be featured in an August episode of the television show, How It's Made, Legge said.
Kahuna boards are produced at reputable Chinese factories that Legge can oversee using Skype then shipped by boat to Vancouver before being sent across Canada via truck or train. It was Legge's connections, forged through his real estate career, that helped Kahuna develop into an industry leader, he said.
"Basically you find yourself someone that can deal with customs, currency, trucking, shipping and tracking from China, and that's the hardest thing," he said. "Through the real estate business I was able to find out who to connect with, and it was strictly my network that helped me make the business grow."
Importing boards from China has resulted in a 180 per cent manufacturing growth for the company. Kahuna made and sold 120 boards in 2011, 180 in 2012, and 510 last year, according to Legge. Some 900 boards have been ordered for 2014.
"The quick growth is definitely because it's a new sport, and (standup paddleboarding) is following the curve that snowboarding did when it first started," said Legge, a former ski and snowboard industry rep. "I'm just happy that it's grown as fast as it has and that has a lot to do with my sales reps."
Legge will now go in front of a panel of judges for a 10-minute presentation to determine the overall winner ahead of the BC Small Business Awards ceremony on Feb. 27 at Pan Pacific Vancouver. The prize includes $1,500 and one year of business mentorship from customs brokerage service provider Livingston International.
The Oracle is up for the Best Workplace award, which honours businesses that provide a happy and healthy work environment for staff.
The Oracle operates a store in Sechelt as well as in Whistler, although the village location is temporarily closed following a December fire that significantly damaged the Tyndall Stone Lodge. Owner Kelly Oswald said previously that she's been told the store could be up and running again by June.
The Oracle regularly gives back to the community through fundraisers, and works directly with the artisans that handcraft the store's products in Mexico and Indonesia. The business also donates raised funds and a portion of profits to two social programs in those countries that support women and children in need.
Oswald could not be reached for comment by press time.
Visit www.sbbcawards.ca for more information.