If bad news is junk food for the despairing soul, then Albertans are overstuffed. But a steady diet of bitter doom and gloom can give us a terminal case of economic indigestion. Once in a while, we need a serving of something sweeter.
Lost in the noise are dozens of happier stories about ingenious young entrepreneurs in this province who have found ways to thrive through the disruption. One of them is John Evans.
Evans runs a company called EverLine Coatings & Parking Lot Maintenance in Calgary. You’ll have a chance to see him and his company on Thursday on CBC, when Evans makes his case on the two-hour season finale of Dragons’ Den. EverLine is using a new type of paint for traffic lines that’s reputed to be two to four times more durable than traditional line paint.
Started just four years ago, Evans’s company has landed some big local contracts – like the Stampede grounds, CF Chinook shopping centre, and Calgary International Airport. With seven franchises already across the country, he’s on target for revenues of $4.5 million by the end of this year.
There are two things that set his company apart from some of the enterprises you see popping up in Alberta:
- it’s a simple yet novel idea;
- it has no relationship to the boom-and-bust resource industry that has this province on its heels.
“We’re a Calgary company that’s not related to the fortunes of oil and gas,” says Evans.
Evans moved from Ontario to study at the University of Calgary. While there, he found time to operate a College Pro painting franchise and turned it into a top performer.
“I never knew I would end up in the contracting world,” he chuckles.
In fact, he expected to move back to Ontario after graduating from U of C. But he met an Alberta girl and discovered he loved the entrepreneurial spirit in Alberta … and, well, you’ve probably heard a few stories like this before. Now 31, he and his wife have one daughter.
Evans’s journey on Dragons’ Den started back in March, when he decided to go to an audition in Calgary. He said thousands of people were there and he had just five minutes to make an impression. He was delighted to learn in April that he was invited to go to the show’s taping in Toronto.
The experience was not what he expected.
“When I walked down those Dragons’ Den stairs, I was prepared for a business meeting,” he said.
“But they (the dragons) are acting, too.”
Evans said he learned that producers want pitches that are entertaining.
“You could have the best business in the world (and not be chosen). What they’re looking for is the ‘show.’ They want something fun.”
Viewers typically see segments of eight minutes or less. But Evans spent a “totally intense” hour being grilled by the dragons.
“It was rapid fire,” he said. He’d be answering one question even as another dragon would throw in another from a completely different direction. “When they say it was facing the fire, that’s what it’s like.”
One of the unexpected rewards of being on the show is meeting with other entrepreneurs who are preparing to make their pitch. Evans said he connected with a group from Medicine Hat that he’s keeping in touch with.
Evans is not allowed to disclose the outcome of the segment, but the fact that he’s willing to talk about it might suggest it wasn’t a bad experience.
Of the six dragons, he found three in particular inspiring: Calgary’s own Manjit Minhas of Minhas Breweries and Distillery; Michele Romanow, one of Canada’s leading tech entrepreneurs; and Jim Treliving, best know for his Boston Pizza restaurants. He was Evans’s favourite.
“I like Jim’s pragmatic approach,” said Evans. “He’s a Prairie boy, right out of Manitoba.”
Evans says the real value of appearing on the Den is the publicity a business can receive. He says he’s been warned to prepare for a flood of inquiries, which can be difficult for a growing company to manage.
EverLine may be small potatoes compared to some of the large oil and gas firms that have left this province, but his success sheds a light of hope that hardworking and risk-taking Albertans can innovate their way out of our economic doldrums.
If government can help shape an environment that rewards risk-taking, there will be dozens – maybe even hundreds – of companies that will give this province a more diversified future.
“We can pick ourselves up by the bootstraps,” says Evans, sounding very much like an Albertan rather than a kid from Ontario. His company is but one encouraging example of how that can be done.
Veteran political commentator Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Troy Media.