You likely won’t see Sharon Van Noort promoting her business in a community event like the Santa Claus parade.
It just doesn’t seem “appropriate,” said the owner of Pets at Peace, which offers pet cremation and memorial services.
That’s why events like Wednesday’s Orillia Business Women’s Association (OBWA) business showcase are so important to the small-business owner, who has been offering her services in the region for three years, after doing it in Toronto.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get out there and be recognized,” said Van Noort. “Here, I get to showcase what I do.”
She recognizes the bond people have with their pets, and she meets with pet owners to learn about their “fur children” and arrange for cremation. She also offers products such as pendants and clay memorial paw prints.
Van Noort joined the OBWA shortly after bringing the business to town and is now a member of its executive.
“The women are all wonderful. They welcome you with a hug when you walk through the door. Everyone’s so friendly,” she said. “When you have a business that deals with death, some people don’t know what to say, but everyone here is welcoming and wants to talk.”
Carey Frantz, too, felt welcome when she became an OBWA member about four years ago. The manager of Impression House joined the group for networking opportunities.
“Somebody starting up a new business might be overwhelmed and not know where to go for support,” she said, adding there is a wide range of experience among OBWA members.
The annual business showcase, held at the Best Western Plus Mariposa Inn and Conference Centre, is invaluable to Impression House, which offers a variety of printing and design services for personal and business use.
“It’s hard for me to tell everybody everything we do,” Frantz said. “People here can see the variety. They can touch and feel it. It’s important to be able to offer that.”
Not all businesses have storefronts. For them, visibility and promotion can be harder to achieve. To that end, the OBWA has helped Diane Beaumont, a sales representative with Clara Clark bedding products and a consultant with Do You Bake?
“Not only have I met a lot of people; I’ve learned a lot of things,” Beaumont said, noting she wasn’t aware of many of the local businesses before joining the association a few years ago. “Now I feel like this is my family.”
The OBWA’s impact on the community is greater than some might realize. Just ask Leah Cavanaugh, a sales rep with Century 21 B.J. Roth Realty. When she organizes fundraisers for various causes, her fellow OBWA members are quick to help, providing donations and offering items for raffles and silent auctions.
“This group is all about everybody working with each other,” she said.
More people seem to be recognizing the benefits of joining. The OBWA, which was formed in 1987, has 58 paid members, with three having signed up in the past week alone.
“The growth is there, and growth means that we must be doing something right,” said OBWA president Shelle Hossack. “We’ve seen a steady increase in the membership for the past eight to 10 months. It indicates that there is a need for an organization like this.”
Despite the association’s name, members need not be business owners. Any woman is welcome to join.
“In this day and age, we’re not going to exclude any women,” Hossack said. “This is a very safe and welcoming place for women. Everybody goes through stuff. We try to make this a fun place to get together.”
The OBWA holds its business showcase every January. It also hosts the annual Woman of the Year and Young Woman of the Year gala.
The association meets the second Wednesday of every month, except July and August, at the Mariposa Inn.