Smithers keeps it quiet, says Lawry Lund, but this mountain town is home to some wildly out-of-the-box entrepreneurs.
And he says it so calmly you’d never suspect that he’s completely off the page himself.
Maybe you saw Lund in season three of Dragon’s Den, the straight talker standing alongside “Mensa smart” businessman Terry Bigsby as the two plied the dragons for a stake in a $15-million idea with a wooden spoon.
The dragons’ “no” was so fiery, Lund says, that CBC nearly didn’t air the show.
But the idea—compostable wood cutlery engineered so it slices right through its plastic competitors—has legs.
On May 17, Aspenware will start up version two of its Vernon plant, its first real bite into a disposable cutlery industry that serves up more than 100 billion plastic forks, knives and spoons a year.
Marketing dragon Arlene Dickinson pitched Aspenware a different offer after the CBC show, and the company is seriously considering a second plant in Burns Lake.
“It’s a lot of work,” Lund says. “We’re not getting rich. We’ll probably make some money at some point, but it’s more about the journey, who you meet, the networks that form.”
A proud Smithereen since 1966, Lund got his start very close to home.
“One of the first jobs I ever had was folding the Interior News on Saturdays, by hand,” he said.
His mom handled production at the paper, he said, and his dad was a foreman at the West Fraser mill.
But outside their 9 to 5 jobs, Lund remembers his parents working hard to buy and resell several fixer-upper homes.
Lund quickly followed their lead.
At 17, he was hired by Dan Young to work at All-West Glass—a summer job that turned into a 20-year business career.
“It was the best experience I’ve ever had,” he said.
Unlike traditional small business owners, he said, Young thought big and made it easy for his staff to get in on the ground floor.
But such chances don’t come without risk.
Just two years in, Lund was offered a chance to invest his own money in a small Houston glass shop.
“I always ran things by my parents—pretty smart folks,” Lund said.
On that first business venture, he said, “They knew Dan, and that was enough.”
It wasn’t long before Lund was called back to manage the Smithers shop as Young continued to expand All-West Glass to 24 retail shops and a distribution network that reaches as far as Ottawa.
While he was there, Lund found time to patent a window frame with built-in emergency lever and a roll-down ladder for escaping house fires.
“When you have skin in the game, it’s a totally different picture,” Lund says, noting that people with a stake in their work tend to come up with more specific, long-term goals.
But by 1996, Lund was ready to retire from All-West and start on a totally different angle—opening a sport fishing lodge with some friends on the tip of Calvert Island, about 100 km southwest of Bella Coola.
For three months at a time, Lund, his wife and kids all lived at the Hakai Pass lodge and guided fisherman to the area’s abundant coho, chinook, and halibut.
“We ran a great show,” he said, adding that it was a great learning experience for his kids.
But tourism can be a tough business.
“Most operators are in it for the lifestyle,” Lund says, and the lodge wasn’t profitable enough to pay the bills for his young family.
So Lund sold his stake in the lodge.
And it was around that time he was called to a meeting with Terry Bigsby, who threw some “very, very rudimentary” wood cutlery on the table and said, “Here’s the next one.”
Lund followed Bigsby to see Aspenware in its humble beginning—a giant waffle iron retooled by three Vernon school teachers.
Fitted with an aluminum mould, it could crank out one place setting every 10 minutes.
Years later, Aspenware is still a small venture, but moving up a notch with its re-engineered facility in Vernon. Lund says the teachers’ idea is just one in a pile of great ideas out there waiting for someone to take up.
“All business is just about finding a problem to solve for people.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story mistook the amount of investment dollars Aspenware has received to date. The Interior News regrets the error.