This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We ask readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories.
Introducing Julia Gagnon, vice-president of sales at Attraction, an apparel manufacturer and decorator based in Lac-Drolet, Québec.
Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
Attraction was founded in 1980 by two of my uncles in the small town of Lac-Drolet, Québec, and my dad joined them soon afterwards. Attraction began as a local sports store, but grew into a Canadian manufacturer and decorator of casual apparel. We make and customize promotional clothing for businesses, associations, and other organizations. Our new 'made in Canada' Ethica line of t-shirts, designed, manufactured and decorated completely under our one roof, is a key part of this.
What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
My interest in the apparel business started when I was a little girl seeing my dad working at Attraction. As a student I worked in the summer at the plant in almost every position available. Later on, I started a job in sales at a big pharma company and, while it was rewarding to grow someone else's business, it was clear in my mind that one day I wanted to build and grow my own business. Attraction and Ethica are a very exciting step on that road – let's see where it brings me in the future. I really love creating things.
My other 'lifestyle' business is writing children's books about the values needed to become an entrepreneur. I think these values are crucial and I was looking for books that captured this for my young boys and couldn't find any, so I wrote some and the reception was really great. They sell in all major bookstores in Quebec and French language bookstores across Canada.
Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
We're growing very fast in the promotional apparel business. We're also very present in the resort and souvenir markets across Canada – it makes so much sense that visitors to Canada would buy and bring home a true Canadian gift that's actually made here. We've seen a huge increase of interest in our Ethica t-shirts precisely because of the Canadian origin.
What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
With 75 employees and located in a little town of 1,000 people, Attraction is one of the largest employers in the region. That is an honour and a responsibility too! My role is to bring new energy to the strong growth of Attraction – and the Ethica brand – to the promotional products industry. Being a second-generation business has its challenges. There's a little more pressure to succeed and drive results. Not to mention, the Canadian textile industry has had many challenges over the last decade, and many companies were unable to get past it. Attraction, however, is again focusing on manufacturing apparel in Canada and growing the Ethica brand. We've had to make some pretty big changes to our process and our mindset. It's my task to bring that change about and to make sure that everyone is a part of that change and contributes new ideas and new energy. I'm also heavily involved in the sales and product development; it's crucial to our success that we stay really closely involved with the clients.
What do you consider the key element of your success?
I think there are many factors to our success. First of all, diversifying our product offering was crucial. The 'made in Canada' Ethica line of apparel is growing due to increased demand so we've had to shift our focus a little. Also, the new management team has brought a renewed level of energy, innovation and across-the-board improvements in every aspect of the business. Speed is another part of our success; when we don't have the t-shirts in inventory, we can still now respond and manufacture and ship them very fast, typically within two weeks, which is a huge advantage compared to the more typical four-to-six month lag for imported apparel. I also believe that we have some of the most creative and best-executed decorations in the apparel market – screen prints, laser cut appliqués, embroideries – you name it! And all of this under one roof – the client gets really focused, personalized service all through their project. There's also something to be said about family businesses. I think it really pushes me to make sure I'm doing the best I can. It's about working closely with our clients on a very personal level and providing them with solutions to their needs.