First Nations Business Award of Excellence

By KELLY LOUISEIZE

Tony Marinaro’s motto is to let people do what they do best.

Tony Marinaro, Director of Operations
Kish-Gon-Dug Canada

As operating director of Kish-Gon-Dug (KGD) Canada, he says one of the main reasons for their community’s success is due to the leadership, namely Naicatchewenin First Nation Chief Wayne Smith, who has been re-elected for another term, making his tenure of eight years the cornerstone of economic development and political direction.

Smith is determined to bring new jobs and more of a diversified economy into his remote, northwestern Ontario community.

To do this, one has to be creative, flexible and adhere to strict marketing campaigns; otherwise, “you’re jumping all over the map and extending your resources,” Marinaro says.

In the Ojibway culture, the name Kish-Gon-Dug translates into the word cedar. The wood holds a sacred value to the people, as does the continuous solid leadership in the community. Building the company is not just about money, Marinaro says.

“Return on investment at KGD is low, but what is important to us is the investment in the community.”

This 100 per cent wholly owned First Nation business manufactured its first piece of garden furniture in 2002. Since then, it has made an international mark as a garden furniture and cedar sauna manufacturer.

KGD began as an idea from the Chief and council who were determined to pursue manufacturing as a means of self-sufficiency for their community.
Garden furniture in Europe and the Netherlands is as important as living room furniture, since land is at a premium. They take pride in their backyards and are willing to purchase high-end lawn furniture to bring out their backyard’s beauty.

With connections from the Netherlands, the community designed a knockdown outdoor furniture product to be easily fabricated by consumers. This form of production allows more furniture pieces to be easily shipped in smaller containers, thereby reducing transportation costs.

The slat and dowel design produces a more weather resistant line where rainwater cannot settle.

Quality control is important in any manufacturing operation and customers have to be assured the pictures on the outside packaging mirror what is inside.

“We make sure customers are 100 per cent satisfied,” Marinaro says. If for some reason they are not, another item is given with no questions asked.

Equally important is the due diligence aspect when partnering with another company. Unbeknownst to KGD, Marinaro sent samples to a Canadian company that, later, had fallen on hard times. The samples were to be part of a showcase at Toronto’s International Home and Garden Show, but days before the event was to begin the company went into receivership. It was a lesson well learned for Marinaro.

So too, was the logistics aspect of the business. Complicated is not the word to describe transporting goods to the Netherlands when the manufacturing plant sending the product is a half-hour southeast of Fort Frances. Marinaro eventually found distributors who took care of the transportation needs for customers in the Netherlands, but it wasn’t easy.

To further secure market share for their quality products, KGD built a new product line consisting of benches and swings and premanufactured cedar saunas to be distributed by Thunder Bay-based wholesaler and retailer, Finn-Tastic Sauna.

KGD makes an average of one sauna per month for clients in Thunder Bay, the Muskokas, southern Ontario, California and Florida.

Torontonian Michael McClelland, owner of Backwoods International, has taken a liking to the garden furniture and has purchased two boxes to highlight in Ireland’s Autumn Furniture Fare trade show. He has also constructed a warehouse for easy distribution in Ireland, Scotland, England and Whales.

KGD employs one to 15 employees depending on the number of orders it receives. Marinaro expects to expand the business when the larger orders do begin filtering in.

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