In the nearly two years since he started Elmira Door & Trim, Mike Woroch has picked up more than a few insights about running his own business.
“I’ve learned it takes a lot more than I initially expected to run a business. I’ve learned that you have to put yourself outside your comfort zone, and kind of leave that safety net to take some risks and do things that ideally will pay off for the best,” he said from his Union Street location, surrounded by doors, casings, mouldings, baseboards and hardware that are the mainstay of the operation.
“I’ve learned that you need to be grateful for the employees you have and treat them with a little bit more respect. It’s far easier to keep an employee than to try to replace or hire a new employee over this process. Those have been kind of my big takeaways.”
Woroch has worked in the industry for around 20 years, however the opportunity arose to venture on his own in April 2021.
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“I had a couple of customers kind of give me the push and the nudge to run my own shop. I reviewed my options – it wasn’t really the right time pandemic-wise, but business-wise it was an opportunity that needed to be taken. I guess that’s the way I ended up viewing it in the end,” Woroch explained, adding that doesn’t make him a risk-taker, per se.
“I had been fairly conservative. It was just the right place, the opportunity presented itself –‘let’s give it a shot and see what happens.’ And here we are.”
The last 20 months haven’t been without challenges, however. As a business that focuses on distribution, the issues with getting supplies have been a big hurdle.
“It’s been quite the process… supply chains have been difficult or were difficult in the initial stages, it’s kind of gotten better. As a new, growing business, it was tough for us to really forecast where our sales were going to go, and how quickly our business would expand. So to make sure we had a product here to sell was kind of difficult to plan ahead and judge,” Woroch noted.
“We had allocation issues with product, long lead times. I know one of my vendors had glass shortages. So special [orders] were typically a three- to five-week lead time, and they were all the way up to eight to 12 weeks,” he explained.
Keeping open communication with customers has been key, he said of the process since opening his doors.
“They realize that it’s happening all around – there’s really nothing that can be done to prevent it,” he said of the pandemic-related challenges. “So let’s just live with it and stay on top of it as best we can and keep the chains of communication open.”
Like other business owners, Woroch has also had challenges attracting and retaining employees.
“We’ve found a couple of good ones. And then it just kind of seems to cycle through that we’ll hire a guy who will work two to four weeks and then move on. And it just seems like it’s been a bit of an ongoing struggle just to kind of get us up to speed,” he explained.
“It just doesn’t seem like anybody wants to work, whether it’s they don’t want to take the risk on working for a relatively new company, and we’d like to choose a more established company.”
Elmira Door & Trim recently received its certification from Ontario Living Wage Network, meaning it pays more than the provincially mandated minimum wage.
“I feel you have to invest in the talent and labour you have. I think it is fair that employees are paid a wage that is needed to live off of. The minimum wage set up by the government is a good baseline, but it doesn’t provide the geographical necessities for these employees. To realize what the living wage is, and have a benchmark to go off of, I think is a great asset and helps the employees realize that they are validated for what they’re doing,” Woroch said.
“There was hope that the validation through being living-wage certified might help with the hiring process. So that people realize, ‘hey, this is an industry where there are good wages being paid and it’s not an entry level minimum wage job.’ We are compensating our staff accordingly,” he added.
Going forward Woroch and his team is “always open to have conversations about what the future might hold for the business.”
“We haven’t ruled anything out. We’ve kept everything on the table, whether it’s expansion into a second location, whether it’s continued growth through what we have, whether it’s bringing in new product lines,” he explained.
“A lot of these staffing limitations have kind of kept us back from potentially realizing our full potential. But it’s also allowed us to be kind of grateful for what we have, grateful for what we can do, and appreciate the staff working here.”
For those thinking about starting their own business, Woroch would tell them to “just live in the moment, give it everything you got.”
“When I was debating the decision to start, I had a conversation with my wife, and I said, ‘I don’t want to live my life with any regrets.’ And if I were to turn this opportunity down, I think looking back, I would always wonder what could have been. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, you have time to kind of reset and re-establish yourself and move on with the rest of your life,” he said.
“Worst case, if it doesn’t work out, you have one hell of a story in the end.”