Tony Marinaro was thrilled when he heard his company had won an award, but he didn’t realize its prestige until attending the annual Northern Ontario Business Awards last week in Thunder Bay.
“It was really amazing,” enthused Marinaro, director of operations of Kish-Gon-Dug Canada, which is located at Naicatchewenin First Nation north of Devlin.
The six-year-old cedar furniture manufacturing company took home the First Nations Business Award of Excellence.
“We were up there with companies that do DNA sampling, like CSI stuff,” Marinaro chuckled. “And it was [NOBA’s] 20th anniversary, too, so it was a big deal.
“They had the minister of finance there to speak, different politicians, people from FedNor and Industry Canada.
“It was great to part of it and recognized for all our efforts—it was quite an honour to be there,” he added.
Marinaro said the award acknowledged all the hard work put in by the crew, the leaders, and the community.
“It’s all been done through community consultations and it’s a community effort—it’s not me,” he stressed, adding it’s also nice to be acknowledged by their peers, especially in the business world.
“For us to become an international business is a big step—not everybody is doing it,” he noted. “If you look around the district, not many businesses are international.
“It’s pretty amazing for a First Nation community with our location and small population to be achieving these goals. And to be acknowledged is a very humbling experience,” Marinaro continued.
“The community has worked hard to achieve this and I’m just really glad to be part of it.”
But earning the business award is just one of the achievements Kish-Gon-Dug has seen recently.
The company just received an order for 200 swings from its distributor in Kansas City. And a few months ago, it signed an agreement with a company from Ireland, which distributes throughout England, Wales, and Ireland.
In addition, Kish-Gon-Dug signed an agreement with “Finn-tastic Sauna and Gifts” in Thunder Bay this spring to build cedar saunas for them, which will be distributed across North America.
“And we’re presently looking at running a new line for them,” Marinaro said. “It’s very exciting—there’s a lot of new stuff going on.”
He noted they have eight people working now, but have employed anywhere up to 16.
“We’re looking at having to double the shifts in the near future with the contracts coming in because demands keep increasing and increasing,” he enthused.
But even though Marinaro knew the company would quickly expand, he didn’t expect it to happen like this.
“It has happened a little at a time, but it seems everything is paying off now,” he remarked. “It’s exciting, but there is a lot of demand on us right now and we have to be able to meet that need.
“That’s the scary part right now is being able to do that,” he admitted. “I think we will, it’s just a matter of co-ordination.”
Marinaro said many things have contributed to Kish-Gon-Dug’s success, citing years of hard work, consistency, as well as promotion and marketing.
“And also our ability to meet the needs of independent buyers because they often look for prototypes of other products,” he explained. “For example, this company in the States came to us and asked us to build swings.
“They gave us an idea of what they wanted and we built some prototypes. Then we drove them to Kansas City, presented them, and they were accepted.”
He said the spin-offs come from there, with the first order being very crucial to the whole business arrangement. If the company is content with the product, it could open doors for other products.
“It’s things like this that keep us going,” Marinaro remarked. “We’re able to fill in the dry spells, so between the saunas, the U.S., and Ireland, it’s all we can do to keep going and meet the needs.
“And if the demand requires it, we will expand even more,” he added. “The whole idea of creating this factory and this company was to create employment for the community, and I think we’re meeting that need.
“We’re very happy—we’re reaping the benefits of all the hard work over the past six years,” Marinaro said. “Everything is just so positive right now and a lot of people have made this happen.
“Now we just have to keep on going.”
CTV stations throughout the north will broadcast a special half-hour documentary highlighting all of this year’s NOBA award recipients this Sunday (Oct. 15) at 6:30 p.m. on Bell ExpressVu Channel 221 and Starchoice Channel 356.