Merging creative passion into an inspirational business
What does it take to create an inspiring place and atmosphere? It starts with creative people with a passion and a vision.
Meet Maureen Newton and Louise Vernal, sisters, born and raised in Medicine Hat. Maureen is the sole-proprietor of Inspire Studio & Gallery and co-owners of Inspire Café. Together they have created a beautiful business idea: Inspire Studio, Gallery & Café, located in sunny Medicine Hat, right at the busy corner of 2nd Street S.E. I describe it as a delight to the senses: look, feel, taste, smell and even sound are all available when you visit here.
Maureen started planning the business in January 2008 and officially opened the doors of Inspire Studio & Gallery in July of that same year. She made the decision to also partner with her sister Louise to create an extension of the business and together they created Inspire Café. This extension to the business was finalized three years later and the café was open for business in February 2011.
Maureen worked in the art industry for her entire adult life and after returning to Medicine Hat, she decided that a studio and gallery would be a great business concept for Medicine Hat. “There was really nothing like this in Medicine Hat”, she says, and she was sure that it was a concept that would make their business unique and attractive in our community. “This is exactly the type of place I enjoyed visiting when I travelled and visited other cities”.
Maureen enrolled in the Community Futures Entre-Corp Self-Employment training program in 2008. Maureen describes what she found to be most valuable, “the training program was great for breaking down the process of how to begin a business and what the overall process of running a business would entail. The program played a vital part in helping us make connections to mentors and advisors who helped us along the way. The program also helped me to develop a solid business plan”. Soon after, Maureen participated in the Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge through Community Futures Entre-Corp and took home the first prize of $15,000. “These funds helped us build Inspire Studio.” Maureen was also able to access a renovation grant/loan program and start-up financing from Community Futures Entre-Corp which were used to renovate the shop and start the build-out of the café.
The self-employment thread runs through this family. Their father had a home painting business, their eldest brother had a charter fishing business and each of her nephews are currently in the process of starting up their own businesses. With a vision to bring life to Medicine Hat's downtown core, they are using their entrepreneurial talent to make this happen. Inspire Studio, Gallery & Café also satisfies their need for great food, music programs, and creative art pieces. They enjoy a regular local customer base and also appeal to visitors to the community who want to experience something unique. The pair have worked diligently to partner with other businesses and groups in our community such as the Esplanade, Medalta, The Monarch Theatre, Medicine Hat JazzFest and the Medicine Hat Folk Music Club. They are also part of the Downtown Medicine Hat Art Walk and participate in all of the City Centre Development Agency (CCDA) events. These partnerships and community activities bring vitality and vibrant business activity to the downtown core. Inspire Studio, Gallery & Café continues to attract a variety of customers who love culture, our community and its history.
Inspire Cafe has one full-time and 8 part-time employees. Their days are long. Preparation starts in the early hours so that the kitchen is ready to serve at opening time. Louise does all of the scheduling, shopping and planning for Inspire Cafe, as well as most of the cooking while Maureen manages the social media and marketing aspects of the business, and teaching art classes. Art classes run throughout the day, in the evenings and also on Saturdays. Inspire Studio, Gallery & Café is a busy family business. They are open 6 days a week and closed on Sundays and holidays giving them a much needed full day of rest.
Three pieces of advice that Maureen and Louise would give to entrepreneurs starting a business today are:
1. Have a solid business plan and take the time to research your business idea.
2. Always give yourself time to rest and recuperate. Take care of yourself because if you are not in top form, neither is your business.
3. Expect the unexpected. It is like playing a video game. As challenges and obstacles arise, you have to figure out how to go around them, go over them or blow them up.
You can visit their website at: http://www.inspireart.ca/inspire-cafe
This story was written by Elizabeth Blair. Elizabeth is the regional innovation network (RIN) coordinator at Community Futures Entre-Corp and works to oversee activities with APEX. APEX is a Regional Innovation Network that supports the growth of innovative and technologically-oriented businesses in Southeast Alberta.
APEX is a collaborative initiative between three core service providers: Community Futures Entre-Corp Business Development, Medicine Hat College; and Alberta Innovates. APEX strives to support local entrepreneurs and small to medium-sized enterprises to develop and adopt new technologies, commercialize innovative new products, improve productivity, and get connected to Alberta’s Innovation System.