Gord Shaben started his original business in the Terrace area back in 1985. (Submitted photo/Peter Versteege Photography)

Gord Shaben started his original business in the Terrace area back in 1985. (Submitted photo/Peter Versteege Photography)

Skeena Voices | ‘You don’t always need to reinvent the wheel’

Gord Shaben is nearing retirement after years at the helm of a successful local business

Gord Shaben, 69, always wanted to work for himself.

But when he started his own business in 1985 after moving to Terrace from Calgary, he found himself with very little equipment, no customers, $1,500 in the bank and $15,000 in debt.

It was a rough beginning, and there would be more tough times to come. However, Shaben clawed his way forward and didn’t give up. Now he is at the point where he is eyeing retirement, having sold a chunk of his promotions and signs company.

Long before getting to that point, Shaben started his silkscreening business in Thornhill across from the dump. He started building a foundation, which would carry him through the ups and downs of the following decades.

“You just had to take every customer then, and just work work work,” he said.

“You do a good job for somebody and it’s pride, it’s an achievement, and it puts food on the table and you just keep going and I forgot how to quit. I didn’t know how to quit. So I went through many ups and downs, economic ups and downs.”

Shaben said that it was difficult to get his business off the ground, but he stuck with it went on to create a new company called Blue Ridge Ventures Ltd. by joining up three companies. But after four months, his partners triggered a shotgun clause in the contract. Shaben could either buy out his partners or lose the company.

“There was so much debt and I was under a lot of stress because of that debt, and all the horrible years prior, that I just I couldn’t do it. So I had to say, ‘I’m done.’ I had to walk away from my company after four months,” he said.

“It was devastating, heartbreaking, and a lesson learned, and so from that I learned that good partners are hard to find. They really are. But when you find a good partner, it’s gold.”

However, the foundation that Shaben had built through his hard work and customer service was strong. His customers wanted to do business with him.

That encouraged him to start over in 1995, and he formed Silvertip Promotions & Signs.

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out,” Shaben said.

During the early Silvertip days, he met Larry Jones at 16/37 Community Futures and Small Business Development, who ended up being a mentor and a friend. Shaben said that having quality people around is crucial in any business, and success is a team effort. His future wife Janice joined him as a business partner, and then in 2004 a huge opportunity presented itself.

Shaben had a chance to buy back Blue Ridge Ventures Ltd.

Together, Gord and Janice put their noses to the grindstone and combined enough resources to buy the company almost 10 years after he had lost it.

“I reclaimed in my company and put a sign above the Blue Ridge Ventures door that read ‘Under old management’ and that was really profound,” he said.

Shaben had his eyes on expansion and needed to buy much-needed equipment. The company was doing the promotions side of the business at a building on Greig Ave. and making signs out of a 900 square foot shop on Keith Ave.

It was 2009, and the immediate aftermath of the 2008 recession, but a perfect property on Kenney St. came up for sale and Shaben pulled the trigger, even though the company was in a difficult time.

“We just said, ‘okay, let’s do it.’ It’s something I call ‘yes energy.’ Say yes to the opportunity, and later, figure out how to do [it]. It’s not like the opportunity shows up and ‘I’m not ready yet, I don’t know, maybe I’ll fail, it might rain tomorrow.’ The opportunity just goes to the next door.”

Now, as retirement calls, Shaben recently sold the sign side of the business to local partners Adam Poole and Kate Lautens. Shaben is sticking around for now as a consultant and mentor to ensure that the transition goes smoothly and the foundation he has built stays intact.

“I would consult forever, they could phone me anytime. They really wanted to prove to us that they would be worthy of our legacy and to carry on our legacy,” he said.

“I wasn’t willing to sell to certain big companies because they know what they’re like, and they don’t really care about people, and our company is family. It’s always been a family.”

Shaben has many messages to pass along to the next generation of business owners and entrepreneurs, but one of extra importance is simple: Learn from the successes and mistakes of others.

“You don’t always need to reinvent the wheel. It’s round, [but] if you want to put new rubber on it, go for it.”