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Hurrying hard

Arnold Asham's love of curling, and of life, produced successful family business

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On the wall in Arnold Asham's crowded, second-floor office, amid all the curling trophies and business awards, are three words in big, bold, black letters:

Dream, Enjoy, Indulge.

"They're inspiration," the former professional curler and founder of one of Manitoba's most successful Métis-owned businesses -- Asham Curling Supplies -- explains during a recent interview.

Asham is a big believer in the power of positive thinking, and those three words help to keep him in a positive frame of mind. They also rather nicely sum up his approach to life: Dream big, be passionate about what you do and don't be afraid to indulge a little.

"I've really worked hard (over the years) on my attitude," the 62-year-old father, grandfather, entrepreneur, curling and baseball coach, motivational speaker and Métis role model explains.

"Maintaining a positive attitude is so important. I'm been so successful because I'm positive."

Asham seems to be in a good place these days. He looks fit, says he feels great, and he's doing something he's passionate about (aside from curling and his family). That's managing and performing with the Asham Stompers, a Métis dance troupe he founded a decade ago that performs at about 100 events and festivals a year in Canada and the United States.

That includes the Asham Stomperfest, a three-day dance and music festival held each September on the former Asham family farm at Reedy Creek, on the west side of Lake Manitoba.

"I'm living proof you can do anything you want if you're passionate about it," Asham says. "I'm 62 years old, and I dance for a living. I shouldn't be able to do that at 62 years old, but I do."

Asham figures he's dropped about 40 pounds since he began jigging and square dancing in earnest in 2002.

"I've probably added 15 to 20 years to my life doing this dancing. And I'm going to continue to do it until I'm 75. No doubt in my mind."

To enable him to devote most of his time to his dance troupe and to organizing Stomperfest, Asham handed over the reins of Asham Curling Supplies to his three children -- Amanda, 36, Nathan, 35, and Kaitlyn, 24.

That doesn't mean he's completely walked away from the business he launched 35 years ago from the living room of his Burrows Avenue home and built into one of the world's leading suppliers of curling equipment.

He still spends at least an hour a day on business-related matters, and in providing guidance and advice to his children. On the day of the recent interview, for example, he had to break away for about five minutes for a quick business meeting.

"We just bought another building," he explained upon his return. "We have a seasonal business here, so every year we buy a building and spend the off-season fixing it up. Then we sell it."

He estimates the company has refurbished 25 to 30 buildings over the years, including single-family homes, apartment blocks and commercial/residential buildings. Most of them have been in Winnipeg's North End, and while most were later sold, the company did keep a few of them. That includes the 8,000-square-foot building at 700 McPhillips St., which houses the Asham Curling Supplies store and a factory where the company produces its own line of curling shoes and other curling-related products, including sliders, grippers and brushes.

That drive to be innovative and to blaze his own trail helped garner a host of business awards for Asham over the years, including a Manitoba Aboriginal Entrepreneur of the Year award from the University of Manitoba's Asper School of Business in 2006.

The farmer's son has also left his mark in world curling circles. In addition to being a professional curler for many years, he also founded the World Curling Players Association in 1989 and co-founded the World Curling Tour a year later.

Asham said the fact he was so immersed in curling is part of the reason why his curling supplies business was so successful.

"Because I was out there curling all the time, I knew what every player liked and disliked," he said. And being able to design and manufacture some of his own products and test them himself on the ice also gave him a huge advantage over other curling equipment manufacturers.

"It would take them three or four years to develop a product, and we could have a prototype in three or four days."

Asham said the family business has seen its sales fall off a bit in the last four or five years, to about $2 million from a peak of $2.5 million. He attributes that to a decline in the number of curlers in Canada. But weaker sales here have been partially offset by an increase in export sales to countries such as the United States, Scotland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Russia, China, Japan and Korea.

Asham believes he and Asham Curling Supplies have plenty of good years ahead of them. And he certainly has no intention of slowing down.

"(When the end comes) I want them to be able to say he was a good dad, and he lived a full life. He went hard -- and skidded into the grave sideways."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2012 0


Updated on Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 12:20 PM CST: replaces photo

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