Gina Medhurst, a Kootenay Business Top 10 business person for 2016.
Gina Medhurst grew up helping out in her parent’s blacksmithing shop, Kootenay Forge, located in the artisan community of Crawford Bay, B.C. She left for university and started a program in music therapy, but it wasn’t long before Gina and her husband, Cory Medhurst, were approached about learning to manage the family business. She went back to school, taking retail marketing and some business administration courses, before returning home to the Kootenays. In 2008 the Medhursts purchased the company, which operates throughout the year. Their products are shipped to Japan and throughout North America. Kootenay Forge has experienced its ups and downs, but here Gina talks about the persistence and positivity that has helped her be named a Kootenay Business Top 10 business person for 2016.
What is the best compliment your business has ever been given?
The best compliment we get regularly is that our work can be passed down through the generations. It’s timeless and forever. That’s a big one and it’s what we strive to do.
What’s the main thing you think you are doing right?
Staying persistent and maintaining consistency. Those are probably the two big ones. Sticking with it and not giving up has been huge, because we’ve had a rough couple of years. So keeping the passion and remembering that the reason we’re here is for the passion and being able to live in this area.
What’s the best piece of advice someone gave you?
It’s okay to fail. Mistakes are often the stepping stones to success, really. To me if you make a mistake, you can learn from it.
How do you stay current?
I was just looking at the spring trends magazine that gets sent to me. I do as much as I can to stay current. But . . . our regular clients know that when they order . . . it’s going to be similar to what they’ve ordered in the past. So we like to come up with some new designs and new ideas every year, but people know that they can save up and they can work their way to getting something in, say, two years. So as much as I can I like to get new styles in, but when it comes to staying current I think our market is different from a lot of other home decor markets.
What lesson have you learned to help you thrive in a challenging economy?
Stay positive. That’s huge. Stay positive and remain passionate about keeping the company running. It’s been very challenging. There have been hard parts, but in pushing through the hard parts we’re already reaping the benefits this year. Our sales are up a crazy amount, so it’s wonderful to see.
What do you do for fun or in your downtime?
One of the things I enjoy is working out at home. We also have a local co-ed group who we play volleyball with once a week. And then I’m also an avid musician—I play in two different groups. I play in a large community band (that) averages about 16 band members and then also in a brass quintet as well. Also hanging out with my daughter and trying to get some downtime with my husband. I think what keeps me sane is doing my workouts, but when it comes to fun the volleyball and the music are big ones for me.
When you were six years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a horse trainer. I was really into horses. And then when I was 12 a friend of ours gave me a horse. Untrained, mind you. It was exciting.
Who is a business person that you admire?
I have so many. My parents, really. They’ve been a huge aspect in my life and I wouldn’t be here without them for sure . . . There were a couple more blacksmiths in the area when (my parents opened the shop) and what has transpired was that my dad started getting together with them once or twice a year and they started the Kootenay Blacksmiths’ Association. Now we get blacksmiths from the States and Alberta and the Okanagan coming to our biannual events, so that’s pretty cool.
What’s the biggest risk you ever took?
The biggest risk I took was in 2013. A large part of (Kootenay Forge) for so long was the wholesale business, and because of the economic crash and some personal stuff that was going on with me and just my dad working in the shop again, we dropped our wholesale pricing. We sold to stores at 25 per cent off the retail if they still wanted to buy. That was a huge risk. And that was scary because I knew we would lose a lot of our wholesale business, but I knew that if those stores did choose to stay I had a little bit of a higher profit margin coming in. We still were selling at the gift shop and then sending out to retail. That was basically something I had to do to keep the doors open. We’re back up to wholesale now, and some of those stores are coming back and some new stores are coming on, so it has grown since then. It was really scary, but it was the only way.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
I couldn’t be where we are today without (my husband) Cory. We’re both working all the time making sure everything works. He’s been a really good, solid commitment to Kootenay Forge. We stay busy around here, but he plays a very integral part of the company.