Going local, one business at a time

By Jennifer Allford for REAP Business Association

For years, Connie O’Connor wanted to do her own laundry.   Mountains of it.

The co-founder of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts (CRMR) says every day, their hotels and restaurants in Calgary and Banff would go through piles of linens, send them back to the supplier and receive a fresh batch of linens. But CRMR is opening its own laundry in Bowness on the west side of Calgary to service their hotels and restaurants.  It uses eco-friendly products and is expected to cost about the same, maybe a little less, than renting linens.

“The business case for doing our own laundry is we can own our linens which immediately took the quality of our linens in our hotels up tenfold,” says O’Connor. “Rental linens have to have 50/50 content or they shred them in laundry. Now we can have beautiful cotton linens and we’re laundering them ourselves and they’re fantastic.”

This isn’t the first time CRMR started a business to service their hotels and restaurants.  Back in 1996 they started a ranch to grow their own game because they wanted to ensure quality meat for their restaurants.  Next came a bakery, which is moving to Bowness to keep transportation costs to the mountains down.

CRMR’s “cluster businesses” are part of a growing trend of local vertical integration according to Michael Shuman, author of The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition and Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age.

Shuman argues the key to prosperity in any community is a robust network of locally owned businesses that serve primarily local markets.  He says despite all the talk of globalization, small, local businesses are developing innovations and becoming increasingly competitive.  They’re sprouting up everywhere.

Calgary’s Community Natural Foods has been growing since the day it opened its doors in 1977.  Now with two retail locations and a thriving online business, it helped start the Kingsland Farmers’ Market and is about to open its own Bakery Commissary to support its stores.

At CRMR, O’Connor says the company didn’t set out to create a sustainable regional economy, it was just making sound business decisions. “It is labeled sustainability now, but we never labeled it, we just do it,” she explains.

“For the product we want to produce and the properties we want to develop, it makes sense for us to have control over what we’re providing.  And in that, you come out with a sustainable system.”

Dean Halstead is striving for a sustainable system in his mattress making operation in Calgary.  The craftsman and proprietor of The Mattress Maker buys Alberta raw wool to make his high quality, hand-made mattresses, but he’d like to increase his use of local components from about 20 per cent to 50 per cent by using more flax.

“I think there is a huge opportunity to process local fiber especially from up north, around Grand Prairie. Alberta has a huge flax industry and the thing about that is flax straw makes one of the best fibrous mats for (mattress) insulator decks in the world,” says Halstead. “You could turn agricultural waste into essential items required by the bedding industry.”

It just makes sense, he says. “Globalization was a big deal, but the natural efficiencies of regionalization make it a logical choice for people. Sustainability is so logical and so necessary for the species that I really feel it is probably going to be the default position.”

Halstead says going local is crucial for the survival of your business. “I think you are either going to have to become this way in the next  decade or your are going to die because people are going to figure out if you’re greenwashing or legitimate,” he says.


1. Support local retailers like Community Natural Foods (www.communitynaturalfoods.com) and The Mattress Maker (www.themattressmaker.ca)). Know where your dollars are going and the values of the organizations you do business with. REAP Member businesses (http://www.reapcalgary.com/webpage/1002096/1000445)are always a safe bet.

2. Eat out locally. Eat at CRMR (www.crmr.com) restaurants, at River Café (www.river-cafe) and its’ new property – Boxwood, in Central Memorial Park – to experience the finest in local, sustainable cuisine.

3. Play local. Support organizations with roots in the community and a rich history of contribution. The REAP event calendar (http://www.reapcalgary.com/blog/?cat=19)) has many suggestions for interesting sustainable events around town (and often they’re free).

4. Look for the REAP watering can at your favourite retailers and online to identify businesses that are locally owned and sustainably operated. Each of our members have a sustainability profile posted on our website so that you can see exactly how they demonstrate their commitment to social and environmental responsibility.

5. Visit Shuman’s website (http://small-mart.org/action-lists) for more information about the Small-Mart Revolution and ways that you can take action.

6. Track your actions (http://reapcalgary.simplychange.org/) the next time you eat or buy local to see the difference you are making.

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