The Business Factory: highlights from 25 years of serving Slave Lake

Submitted by Joyce Robinson

I started as administrator for the Area D Oil Spill Co-op in 1989, through Karin’s Office Services. I had very little administrative experience and virtually no computer experience. It was definitely a steep learning curve.
I moved over with New Age Computers, located in the front of Potpourri Mall, in 1991 and helped sell office supplies and personal computer systems, which were just getting popular and affordable.
I was pregnant with my daughter at the end of 1991 and had decided to do my administration work from home on maternity leave. At the time, Kim Brownlie was offering bookkeeping services and was looking for office space. She asked if we could open an office together.
Finding a name
We rented the space at the back of the Potpourri Mall from Roy Evans and started looking into business names. I was leafing through the yellow pages (because that was our search engine at the time) and I saw the ‘Paper Factory,’ which we tweaked to ‘The Business Factory.’
We opened on Feb 1, 1992. My daughter was born Feb 10th. I stayed home for about 6 weeks and then started bringing her to the office and rocked her chair with my foot under my desk while she napped and I typed.
We started by offering business services, photocopying (black & white only) and faxing (on thermal fax paper). We did a lot of word processing (resumes, letters, safety manuals), typing directly onto forms on a typewriter (thank goodness for correction tape!) Our work was saved on 5 1/4” floppy disks, then 3.5” floppy disks, to zip drives, then external hard drives and now to cloud-based storage.
(I don’t remember the exact year), Jim Daubert, the Purolator driver stopped into our office and said he was looking for a Drop Centre location and asked if we’d be interested. We said sure. Shortly after, he hired a young kid named Billy Bremner as a driver.
First colour!
A few years later, we were so excited to have our first colour photocopier – It did eight copies per minute! But oh, the colour was so worth the wait! (The V80 copier we have now does 80 color copies a minute and our black & white machine does 120/minute).
We had also been excited to get a plain-paper fax machine which could pre-program faxes instead of having to wait one at a time. We went through the phone book and made a list of company fax numbers and then offered a new service of mass fax-out of flyers/notices. We used to spend hours in front of the fax machine, programming in the numbers which now takes a minute to email an entire group.
We used to take home thousands of flyers to hand-fold for mailing while watching TV at night before investing in a friction feed folding machine. We also had an on-going project for the college, printing and laminating material for their cloth trade-show display boards. We had to hand-trim the shapes and manually stick on hundreds of pieces of Velcro so they would stick to the cloth displays. I was not upset when they changed to digital display signs!
Printing added
Our Xerox rep introduced us to a couple from Westlock who had a small company called ‘Harmony Printers.’ We began offering third- party printing services. We would do the artwork and email in the orders. They would print in Westlock and drive up the orders each week. When they decided to move to BC, we used Swarm Printing in Edmonton for several years.
Major changes
In 2002, we made a couple of major changes to our business. My 10-year business partner, Kim, decided to move away and asked me to buy out her half of the business. My husband Doug needed a career change due to worn-out wrists from his painting business. A local print shop wanted to sell their equipment. We purchased the print shop and Doug trained with the printing press operator part-time over the next year before taking it over full-time.
We operated the print shop from its original location (in the back of the SL Dental building). Doug used to drive down the back alley to drop off the printing orders to our office (still at the back of the Potpourri Mall).
Into a new space
We soon realized we were growing out of office space and a wonderful opportunity came along to purchase a building on Main Street. Doug worked from months renovating our new space and we moved in Feb 2006 to our current location.
With the extra space, we were able to begin selling promotional products and eventually, we purchased heat press equipment to offer garment decorations with vinyl.
We added website design services in 2015 after our employee (and son) Tyler Robinson became a certified web designer.
Personalized gift items
In 2016 we also purchased sublimation supplies from Krysta Kreations to be able to personalize gift items and sublimate photos onto metal.
We have been very fortunate to have incredible staff over the years. Starting with Carolann Porterfield, who has been with us over 15 years and has been invaluable to us. Vanessa Bjornson was our long-time graphic designer before choosing to be a stay-at-home mom. Our son Tyler Robinson moved back to Slave Lake and joined us full-time in 2009 and is our web designer. Our daughter Jodie has worked for us part-time since she was a teenager and does most of the jobs none of the rest of us want to do. Julie Karpa was always willing to help us out with large projects. Kendall Raycraft’s print-shop training and experience in Ontario brought us a wealth of new knowledge. Stephanie Sarty was hired to cover a maternity leave, but she was such a great asset we had to keep her. Our latest employee, Chelsea Saluk, brings some wonderful, new, creative ideas.
We’re running an anniversary sale for the month of April, titled, ‘We couldn’t have made it without you.’ It’s a sale as a ‘thank you’ to our long-time customers, some who have been with us the whole 25 years. We would not still be here without their support and for that, we are very appreciative. We have developed many wonderful working-friendships which make us love our work even more.

Pictured are the front-office ladies from The Business Factory today (l. to r.) Owner Joyce Robinson, Chelsea Saluk, Stephanie Sarty, Kendall Raycraft and Carolann Porterfield. Missing are Doug, Tyler and Jodie Robinson.

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