If it weren’t for the global pandemic, there’s a good chance Lana Bakun would never have become an entrepreneur.
She has a background in retail and marketing but it wasn’t until she couldn’t find a fat bike to buy that she decided to hang out her own shingle.
An outdoors enthusiast, she never dreamed her passion for adventure would turn into a business.
"It all started because I wanted a fat bike," Bakun says. "I went on waiting list after waiting list after waiting list."
She couldn’t find a bike anywhere — the pandemic’s impact on factory shutdowns and equipment shortages meant access to equipment was limited. Little did Bakun know that her search for a fat bike would lead to Kendrick’s Outdoor Adventures, a new outdoor equipment rental company that launched two months ago at The Forks.
"The opportunity came when we saw the bikes that we ended up getting. (I thought), let’s buy a bunch and see if we can rent them, because the demand is likely there," she says. "We can probably get more people on these bikes if we just rent them."
She’s quick to realize she’s in a very distinct minority, as the pandemic has forced countless businesses to shutter their doors. She’s seizing on pent-up demand in the reshaped economy.
Kendrick’s rents both fat bikes and snowshoes, offering customers a new way to experience winter activities and get them exploring different trails in Winnipeg and across the province.
What sets the company apart is sheer volume. Kendrick’s has more than 40 fat bikes and 70 pairs of snowshoes available for rent. They also recently brought in fat bikes for kids.
"We went all-in knowing that we wouldn’t be able to get them again. We just went for it," she says. "With us, you can rent a lot of bikes. Come with a team or your family. It’s about affordable rentals but also getting people trying something new."
Two months in and the response has been positive — they’ve had renters come back three or four times. People have even asked how long they’ll be open and if there’s going to be an additional location.
"People have come back (from rides) and shared where they went, how many kilometres they rode, what they saw and ask us what we’re doing next," she says. "It’s driven us to think about ways to expand the business and offer more to the community."
Kendrick’s hopes to become a year-round operation. It will continue at The Forks until next month but plans are in the works for pop-up community events at Pineridge Hollow in the spring, summer and winter. She also hopes to be back at The Forks next winter.
"Based on community response, we’re looking at bringing in different types of equipment for the summer and other seasons," Bakun says. "We’re looking at creating a year-round option for people to get moving, get fresh air and get outside. Adventure doesn’t have a season."
Bakun says the bikes and snowshoes are all properly sanitized and Kendrick’s offers curb-side pickup.
"Had this been a normal year, would I have done this or thought about it? Maybe not."
People book their equipment and pay online and are then sent an electronic waiver. Everything is contactless, which was an integral part of the business plan.
"Curbside pickup was the only option for us. We couldn’t have people coming in and out of our small shop and have them physically distanced. We wanted to drive the experience online and make sure it was easy and fast," she says.
"That was something we had to figure out to make the business successful. We wanted to make sure that by the time someone books a bike, they’re ready to go when they get here and that it’s a quick turnaround."
Coming up with a name was the easiest part.
"Kendrick is my French bulldog and Boston terrier mix. He’s full of energy and loves being outside," Bakun says. "He’s the boss behind the brand. He does none of the work but he’s a ton of fun."
The COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed the saying that crisis breeds innovation and opportunity. We’ve seen this before. The Second World War resulted in the first digital computers as well as unexpected discoveries such as super glue. Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen a number of innovations, including scientific breakthroughs, new drugs and medical devices, improved health-care processes and manufacturing, and supply-chain advancement.
Tyler Sholikovski turned his passion into a business, too. An environmentalist, he started Envirodel Zero Emissions Courier, an electric-vehicle courier service, just a couple of months ago.
The explosion of online shopping has meant a corresponding need for delivery services. With many offices closed and people working from home, Sholikovski targeted those wanting to reduce their carbon footprint.
"We use only fully electric vehicles to courier documents, legal forms, samples, drawings and small packages same-day throughout the city," Sholikovski says. "That’s something we do without harming the environment."
His idea was conceived prior to the pandemic — he had been working on his business plan for more than a year. But once the lockdown hit, he thought about the business in a new way. So he sped up the process and opened up a year sooner than he had originally planned.
"Things are no longer normal. People don’t want to leave their homes and they’re less comfortable doing things they would normally do, especially with retail," he says. "I thought, ‘I can help deliver things that people can’t go pick up because stores and offices are closed.’"
He admits marketing and networking have been a challenge in the current environment.
"I don’t go anywhere that’s not absolutely necessary so I’m not shaking people’s hands or letting people see my face or who I am," he says. "Even a business card, with sanitization and touching, that’s touch and go."
He relies on email marketing, cold calling and social media — he’s on LinkedIn and expanding his presence on Instagram — all of which have been helpful.
"That’s how people are networking themselves because there are no trade shows or events," he says.
Sholikovski can travel approximately 360 kilometres on a single charge and averages between 200 km and 250 km on the road per day.
There are more than 5,000 public electric car-charging stations across Canada, including 47 in Manitoba, according to the Government of Canada. Fifteen of those are fast chargers, also known as DC Fast Charging, or Level 3 (600 volt), which can provide an 80 per cent charge in 30 to 60 minutes.
Manitoba’s Climate Action Team recently released Manitoba’s Road to Resilience report, a document that outlines the strategy and actions needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The report shows the transportation sector has been the largest source of climate pollution every year since official records started and that transportation accounted for 42 per cent of Manitoba’s total climate pollution in 2018.
"The largest contributor to emissions in the province of Manitoba is transportation. That’s the reason I started this," Sholikovski says. "Why not have an environmentally-friendly option when you drive around to deliver something? That technology exists."
Global automakers are planning investments totalling $300 billion on electric vehicle technology over the next five to 10 years. In fact, GM recently announced it hopes to eliminate all gas and diesel light-duty vehicles by 2035.
"Now I’m here to break down some barriers and get started on reducing carbon emissions in a big way," Sholikovski says.
In the future, he hopes to have a fleet with larger vehicles. His plan is to be carbon-negative and power his entire fleet with solar power.
"The goal is to have a facility that’s powered through solar energy to charge my fleet of vehicles," he says. "My vision is to be completely carbon-negative and the Prairies is the perfect place for that, because Manitoba and Saskatchewan have the most sunlight in the country."
The best innovations are often created in response to specific and, at times, urgent problems. In some ways, the pandemic has made our most dire problems and their potential solutions more obvious.
There’s an unspoken sense of community that exists in times like these. It’s a special bond between businesses and neighbours that can lead to unexpected support. For Bakun and Sholikovski, the pandemic presented an opportunity. It took a certain vision to think about services in a different way to navigate our "new normal." Plus a little creative thinking and plenty of hard work.
Sabrina Carnevale is a freelance writer and communications specialist, and former reporter and broadcaster who is a health enthusiast. She writes a twice-monthly column focusing on wellness and fitness.