Shannon Bennett – Jacob & Samuel Drilling Ltd. (Val Caron, ON)
Shannon Bennett talks about her mother not only being a strong woman but a strong role model. “She had five children,” recalls Bennett, “and she kept us all in line. I don’t remember one time when we were not at school or any extracurricular activity on time.” She adds with a chuckle, “I’ve never had to be stressed about being late for anything because there is no stress attached to getting somewhere on time.”
Respect was also an important lesson. “My mother taught me a lot of respect for other human beings, regardless of hierarchy,” says Bennett. “There’s no hierarchy for anything where respect is involved.”
Family is important, and she talks about her brothers who were also a very big influence on her. “I think for me I was the little sister trying to get three big brothers’ attention,” she laughs, “so it took me 40 years but buying a drilling business, you know, suddenly they all pay attention because they’re diamond drillers.” She adds proudly, “Now two of them work with me.”
Jacob & Samuel Drilling Ltd. does different types of extractions. “We say diamond drilling, but it’s because the drill bits we use contain diamond fragments,” explains Bennett. “We drill for all kinds of minerals and extract core for mining companies.”
Bennett describes the importance of extracting the best core samples for the companies while being cost-effective. “Every client has different needs,” she states. “Our job is to provide them with a specialized drill program that meets their respective needs. And we need to take into account their technical, regulatory and environmental requirements. It’s a big job, and a lot of that starts with our employees.”
The company is building a long-term training program for its employees, to retain good talent but also to improve safety and quality of life for everyone. “If you build respect and dignity into your team,” she states, “that spills over into day-to-day work. And it spills over into our relationships with our customers. So, ideally, you get customer satisfaction at every level.”
“And I find it rewarding to be able to give a person a job,” she adds. “That’s the biggest thing—giving back to the community. Of course I respect all the human resources I have, but my goal is to have Aboriginal people reaping those rewards.”
She talks about the support she had in building her business. “The Métis Voyager Development Fund was unbelievable. Steven Morse and Caroline Bertrand did so much work to help me. They set aside time to help us do business plans and promotional material. They did a lot of the heavy lifting. And Waubetek Business Development Corporation assisted me with grants for my backdrops and my promo stuff, which is really important for growth.”
“It’s a big thing to believe in yourself,” she says. “It’s tougher for a woman, and hopefully someday that goes away. It’s tougher for minorities, period.” She adds, “But it’s more than believing in yourself. You also have to pull from those old moments and use them, and say ‘look at me—nobody’s going to beat me down.’”
Kerianne Gray – Shades of Gray Indigenous Pet Treats (Roseneath, ON)
Through this company, Kerianne Gray manufactures and produces single-ingredient, all-meat, natural pet treats from various
proteins, such as beaver, bison, venison and rabbit. The pet treats company stemmed from her first business, the Shades of Gray Rabbitry Farm.
The original inspiration to farm rabbits was based on research that Gray conducted to address food allergies that her daughter had developed. “The more research we did, the more it became a really incredible animal to work with,” says Gray. “It was eco-friendly farming, and you could use every single piece of it, which as an Aboriginal person is really important.”
Through that research, she also saw a need in the pet industry for high-end protein products. Gray capitalizes on the rabbitry farm to get the protein for her treats. “We have a buyback program with our grocery stores,” explains Gray. “If they don’t sell [the rabbit] in the fourteen-day window, we repurchase it from them and use it for pet treats as long as they have frozen it before that fourteen-day period.”
While there is a synergy, Gray separated the two businesses. “People like to know that their pet food is coming from the same food that we would eat, but they don’t want to know that they’re eating the same food that their dogs would eat,” says Gray.
Gray immediately went to direct-to-customer online sales, allowing her to get a retail price without the store. Pivoting to online sales has also increased her marketing reach. She says this has been “huge for our business, and we’ve been able to put every little bit back into marketing and back into taking care of each customer.”
She has incorporated her respect for her customers into her business model. She says, “We really work hard to keep our customers happy.” Gray stays in regular contact with her customers to ensure that they are getting good service. For repeat customers, she will include something extra in the order for the pet parent (e.g., a sticker or fridge magnet). In addition, to build a strong relationship with her community and customers, she includes submitted pet photos in her marketing posters.
Marketing is critical. “I have a marketing team that is helping me and guiding me in where we should go and how we should do it, and then they are doing our major marketing stuff. But the everyday Facebook and Instagram, that’s us,” explains Gray.
For social media, TikTok has been invaluable. For example, a recent TikTok video of a pet enjoying her product, created by a happy customer (who Gray has since hired as an employee), has garnered over 100,000 views.
Gray’s biggest challenge is keeping up with demand. Due to the viral TikTok video and increased online sales, demand is growing exponentially; however, as a farmer, she is constrained by the timeline of how long it takes for her animals to be ready. To address this issue, she is considering expanding the facility.
Gray has been working with the Indian Agriculture Program of Ontario (IAPO) and has obtained funding. “It’s been fantastic,” she says. “I’ve spent the majority of the funding now this year on marketing because that’s really key for our business to succeed.”
She adds, “I love the people. I love getting the reviews, and I love the fact that I’m putting something out there on the market that I can stand behind, that is quality, that people are loving and seeing the results in their pets. In the end, I’m super proud of what I’ve achieved.”
Learn more about some of the Indigenous women entrepreneurs that the Aboriginal Financial Institution network has supported at nacca.ca.