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Couple goes big on small business dream with DIY Craft Bar

Sheri and Clifton Doyle had successful careers in investment banking and fashion, but while those were financially sound jobs, they couldn’t compete with the strong allure of owning their own business.

“I’ve always had the drive to be an entrepreneur,” said Sheri Doyle.

After seeing a concept in the U.S. combining crafts with a bar-like atmosphere, they started the process of opening their business, DIY Craft Bar on Sargent Avenue. It offers multiple do-it-yourself crafts — with instructions — that people can create, along with some finger foods, craft beer or wine.

They may get a little boost from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. This weekend, the business advocacy group is promoting Shop Small Business Saturday, which encourages more people to go out and shop local.

For Sheri, who always loved arts and crafts, the decision didn’t come without a lot of thought of what she was giving up.

“It was a huge step. Having a career in fashion for 15 years and saying goodbye was extremely difficult.”

For her husband, Clifton, it was an easier decision.

According to Canadian government statistics, DIY Craft Bar is one of 1.1 million small to medium businesses across Canada. 55 per cent of those businesses have fewer than four employees, and on average they help to create 100,000 jobs every year. (Warren Kay/CBC)

He studied computer animation in school, but when he struggled to find a job, Clifton turned to work in the banking industry, and worked for 13 years at two major Canadian institutions.

“Investment banking was great, I met a lot of great people, but in the end, it was just not my calling. I thought, it’s just time to do something different, and you only live so long,” said Clifton.

“We’ve always wanted to get into business together and one day Sheri just said to me, we should do this.”

Small business survival

The Doyles, who have a daughter and twin boys age nine to 11, put a lot on the line. They took out $190,000 in savings and loans to pursue the big dream for their small business.

It is a high-risk dream.

Survival rates of businesses from 2001-15 were tracked in a 2019 Government of Canada report. About 36 per cent of new businesses won’t survive past five years, the report says.

On Tuesday, BDC — a bank that specializes in financing and advice for entrepreneurs — released a study stating 44,700 Canadians started a business in 2018, the highest number of new businesses in Canada in the past 10 years.

The same study also noted fewer than one in two ventures are still open after 10 years.

The DIY Craft Bar has been open since August and the feedback from customers has been positive, the owners said. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Jonathan Alward from Canadian Federation of Independent Business says his business advocacy group is still seeing a positive trend.

“We have been looking at data for the last decade or better, and if you look at small businesses, there are more businesses being created than are exiting, which is exciting,” said Alward.

In 2016, CFIB says 4,950 Manitoba businesses entered the market, while 4,310 left.

Crowds test the concept

The DIY Craft Bar has been open since August, and on a Friday night in September it drew a group of eight women looking for something to do together.

“Tonight we thought we would take a break from all the analytical thinking at work and high stress environment, and use a different part of our brain to do something creative and fun,” said Gina Scaramuzzi, who was working on a rustic sign for fall.

Others put their creative efforts into making coasters, cement pots for succulents and string art.

“The wine helps, so it’s been great,” said Scaramuzzi, laughing.

The Doyles are relieved that people are enjoying the concept. For now, they say they’re making enough profit to pay their bills and keep their small business dream alive.

“I do worry about the future, but I’ve seen other models like this succeed in other places, so that’s what keeps me going. I know it’s possible,” said Sheri.

“Now we’re ramping up toward Christmas and Halloween and we’re meeting our targets, so we’re pretty happy.”

Sheri and Clifton Doyle left the investment banking and fashion industries to open DIY Craft Bar. 2:27