In the early 1980s, Canada was going through a financial struggle not seen since the Great Depression. Goldline Curling, a family-owned business, was running into the same issues that many small businesses were having: It couldn't secure funding to remain afloat and had an interest rate on its line of credit that was more than what most credit card rates are today.
So Doug Flowers, now 65, and his brother did everything they could to keep the business going and look out for their father, whose house was on the line.
"I had a good friend who I look back on now as our saviour," reflects Mr. Flowers. "I talked to a lot of banks and they basically just turned us down without even a sniff. This friend of mine, although he was probably a terrible banker, he was a nice guy. He gave us the financing we needed to keep going."
That financing freed up Mr. Flowers to pay off debts owned to the bank and keep his father's house – which doubled as the sales centre for Goldline's product in the late 1960s.
And now, Goldline approaches its 50th anniversary as one of the most recognizable curling brands in the world, despite having a small staff of only five full-time employees.
Although Mr. Flowers isn't quick to pinpoint any one factor as a turning point for the business teetering on the edge of receivership in the 1980s to a $4-million-a-year (gross sales) business, there are two key moments in the Goldline history books that helped the business for the better.
First, Mr. Flowers credits sourcing materials from Asia as a key driver of success.
"Back in the 1980s, all products were sourced in North America. In the late 90s we slowly started going over to Asia, but now 90 per cent of our product is sourced there," he explains.
It became more difficult to assemble product in the small Canadian warehouse, so they trained a team in China to do the work for them.
"It made a real difference in terms of our margins," Mr. Flowers says. "From 2002 to 2008, if there was a turning point in the success of our business, it would be that five-year transitional period from domestic sourcing to offshore sourcing."
Mr. Flowers also credits broadcasters, specifically TSN, for picking up on curling and putting it on television. It helped to change the entire marketing strategy for Goldline to be more athlete focused.
"I remember 25 years ago I would have given my right arm to promote the game on television," Mr. Flowers says. "Today, for the most part, curlers are attractive and exciting to watch. People are watching. When you have that many eyes on curlers, you want to make sure they're wearing your product."
According to a report by Yahoo in February, only the hockey finals clipped the curling finals at the Olympics in terms of viewership.
"I've watched curling go from incredibly uncool to just uncool," laughs Erin Flowers, Mr. Flowers's daughter. "I've seen curling become an Olympic sport in my lifetime, and seeing it evolve into a sport that's on the map as legitimate has been exciting."
Ms. Flowers is the director of public relations for Goldline, and Mr. Flowers credits much of his current success to his small but productive team.
"Once people get involved with it [the business], their heart and soul gets into it," he says. "Had I not been able to find these people, I wouldn't be anywhere close to where I am right now."
Ms. Flowers knows how important the business is to her family.
"I was always involved as a kid. Anyone that grows up in a small business environment has ties to the business," Ms. Flowers explains. "I didn't intend on getting into it, but from a relationship perspective and public relations and marketing, I knew I could work there."
The 35-year-old has a background in social work, and returned to Canada after spending a few years in the United States to take charge of Goldline's many sponsorship relationships.
The relationships for Goldline are, well, golden.
The company sponsors both of the reigning Olympic gold medal-winning curling teams, women and men, led by Canadians Jennifer Jones and Brad Jacobs.
Although Mr. Flowers says sponsoring curlers used to be a "Mickey Mouse" operation, Goldline recognized the need to professionalize it.
"We were the first company to sponsor a curler with cash. It used to be that some companies would give the curlers a couple of brushes and assume they would be loyal. We offered them equipment, but cash too, and had them sign formal agreements. We were the instigators of that," he says.
Despite the surging popularity of curling on television, it hasn't translated into more participants for the sport – a challenge that the industry still faces.
"The marketplace is not flowing," Mr. Flowers explains. "There's not a huge increase in participation, even though the interest is increasing. We want to grow 5 to 10 per cent per year, but we have to take market share from our competitors."
Mr. Flowers recognizes that unless Goldline broadens its product line into another sport, it would be hard to grow beyond sales of $5-million a year. But he's just fine with that.
Goldline Curling has come a long way from selling its product from a garage, and it appears to be "hurrying hard" toward a successful future.