By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – A Morinville couple has gone from being helped by a local charity to turning helping others into a business. Room By Room, owned by Mark and Shelly Damon is a success story that reads like the road map for many businesses that have started as a sideline and grown into something much larger.
After running a logging company in New Brunswick and a restaurant in PEI, economics in Eastern Canada prompted welder/fitter Mark Damon to move to Alberta in search of work, returning for wife Shelly and their children seven months later. After working around town for a while, the couple found they needed a little help and turned to the Midstream Support Society. That support was returned by the couple when they began hauling the organization’s garbage to the dump in their old truck for a reasonable rate. A year later they became board members of the organization and began volunteering to a greater extent.
As board members, the couple recommended the society buy a trailer to replace the defunct one the society had. The Damons offered to insure the trailer with their truck and offered to haul the society’s garbage to the landfill at no cost. In return they would be allowed to use the trailer for any additional jobs they picked up along the way.
The Damons’ entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to help people with the small jobs few people like has blossomed their business enterprise into one that is keeping the couple busy.
“We both worked, and I was doing that [odd jobs] on the side on weeknights and weekends,” Mark said, adding adds placed on Kajiji created so much work it forced him to think about his full time employment. “It came to the point that we got busy enough that Shelly left her job. I got her going on the side. Then I left my job. We started with two driveways and two shovels and within two to three weeks we had 38 driveways. We went three months straight 14 to 16 hours a day trying to keep up with it.”
But after a winter of satisfying local home and business owners with their snow removal service, the appearance of spring added new elements to their business – lawn maintenance, renovations, fence painting – odd jobs their clients saw needed doing when the snows finally melted. For the couple business is good.
“Now we’re to the point where we don’t advertise any more – we’re scared,” Mark said, adding the company has a growing list of jobs and clients.
For partner Shelly, the growth in clients is no surprise because of Room By Room’s willingness to do any job any time, and under any condition. “We’ve done the smallest things,” Shelly said, noting this winter they received a call in the late afternoon to repair a garage door that went off the track. Temperatures were then minus 40. “We popped over. Fifteen minutes. 20 bucks. We don’t gouge people.”
But while offering their clients affordable rates for small jobs is a good business model to ensure the repeat business and referrals that is making Room By Room grow, there is a deeper philosophy at hand.
“When it comes to treating people with dignity and respect, that’s where we’re at,” Shelly said, adding they keep their rates affordable to help people, particularly seniors. “Seniors need help. Regular folk need help. People need help.” While doing work for seniors has become a large part of their business, the couple said their clients come from all age groups.
With their business reaching a level where they felt it was going to be a long-term success, the couple applied for a business licence with the Town of Morinville, a situation that ultimately put the couple behind the podium at a public hearing held during the June 14 meeting of Morinville Town Council.
Because the couple operate out of their rented home, they had to apply for a development permit. The Current Land Use Bylaw used to issue that permit denied them the ability to park their trailer in their driveway because it was deemed there were insufficient parking stalls on the property. Although no clients visit the residence and the company has no employees outside the couple themselves, the permit did not permit the storage of their 16-foot trailer in the driveway.
The couple learned Friday afternoon their permit had been reviewed and their property did meet the requirements to store the trailer. The couple were told a business licence would be immediately forthcoming.
Morinville’s Director of Planning and Development, Greg Hoffman, said with past and current revisions, Morinville is trying to make the process easier for home-based businesses. “We see that the current provisions are not making it easy,” Hoffman said, noting a current provision whereby a home-based business would be deemed a major home occupation if they stored anything business related in a garden shed. “That made it a major home occupation when really it’s a home office with no clients, no delivery, no anything. And you’re using half of a Canadian tire shed for storage.”
Hoffman said outside storage is one of the changes in the bylaw revisions currently before Morinville Town Council.
While not all businesses meet the major home occupation criteria, those who have clients visiting, employees working from the residence and deliveries to the residence might meet that classification and would require additional parking spaces. Additional spaces could apply to a range of businesses from a music teacher with several students a day to a business that uses a utility trailer on their property. The key is when those businesses are of a scale where they impact the neighbourhood.
Hoffman said he and his department are committed to making the bylaw less impactful on home-based businesses that have little to no impact on surrounding residences. “We want to make it so a home office … wouldn’t even require a permit,” Hoffman said. “We’re moving in that direction, either as part of this emergency repair amendment or certainly as part of the overall review of the Land Use Bylaw. Clearly we are making it simpler and friendlier to the people who want to use their place of residence for home occupations.”
Hoffman said the Damons’ input during the June 14 hearing was valuable to his department’s staff.