You wouldn’t think a funeral home and mechanical services company would have that much in common, but they do. Both are owned and operated by innovative women who attended College of the North Atlantic (CNA), and they also had their businesses recognized at the Exploits Regional Chamber of Commerce Annual Business Excellence Awards & Hall of Fame Induction this year.
Megan Hoskins, of Hoskins Funeral Home, accepted the Business Growth Award for her family business’s expansion to offer crematorium services, while Charlene Combdon, the owner of Rock Solid Diesel won the Business Woman of the Year Award.
Although she is a Business Administration (Human Resources Management) graduate, Hoskins never intended to work in her family’s business, but eventually realized it was her calling and is now being groomed to take over from her parents.
After completing three years at CNA, the Bishop’s Falls native went on to Cape Breton University to obtain her degree. She’s putting that degree to good use, helping with the expansion of the family business to include a crematorium.
“Newfoundlanders are, of course, very traditional and deeply seated in their religious backgrounds. Traditional burials were dominating here and very few people were getting cremated,” Hoskins said, adding that this quickly changed. “We woke up one day and realized this is something people really wanted. People are curious about it and want to know what it entails. All of a sudden there became a need for it and we started doing more cremations as opposed to mostly traditional services.”
The only crematorium for central Newfoundland was located in Gander, which was inconvenient, not only for their business but for the families they serve. Her father felt it was time to branch out to offer the cremation service, which meant a significant investment for the company. However, by meeting this new demand they would be able to cut down on other costs and eliminate travel time delays to Gander. After much discussion, the family knew it was the right step and made their decision.
“When you get nominated, you never think you will win but there is such a sense of pride,” Hoskins said. “Installing the crematorium was hard and it was very stressful because it is a new business venture. You have to iron out all of the bumps before you’re up and running and that took time. When we finally opened and everything was in place, it was just a relief and a sense of accomplishment. It’s raising the bar in funeral service and we’re so proud of that, but at the same time we didn’t expect to win. To win was an absolute honour and all of us; mom, dad, and the rest of the team are super proud, especially after all the work that was put into it.”
Combdon, who is originally from Jackson’s Arm, is familiar with that sense of satisfaction.
“I’m a female in a male dominated industry. I’ve been involved in the transportation industry for many, many years now. It’s where my knowledge base is,” Combden said.
Combdon started her business four years ago when her position as a line dispatcher for Day & Ross Freight came to an end.
“I found out I had six months to prepare for my future because my job was becoming redundant. I wanted to work locally and during my time with Day & Ross I noticed a gap in the industry; there was a lack of after-hour services for truck workers.”
She knew if a truck began experiencing issues after hours, often a customer wouldn’t receive their product on time.
“I saw the gap and decided to capitalize on it. I used that six months to do market research using the transport truck drivers coming in and discovered there was a demand for it. I’m not a mechanic but that didn’t stop me. I found a mechanic and started with just a truck and trailer mobile unit. I started strategically placing the mobile unit where trucks were stopping, like at the Bishop Falls Irving. And it worked!”
Combden put the skills she learned in CNA’s Business Administration (Marketing) program to convince people to give her a chance. While customers were reluctant to change in the beginning, they eventually started using her service.
“I used my marketing skills to utilize my truck drivers as my marketing plan. Truck drivers talk and pass information on, so I started doing small mechanical repairs and asked the driver in return to pass on my name. It was working, but not to capacity I wanted it to work.”
Combden developed a business plan and called on all of the contacts she had developed to help spread the word.
“I tell you, I must have emailed every company in Atlantic Canada 10 times. Finally my name got out there and people started calling. It happened so fast. I went to bed and then the next day I had people calling.”
Rock Solid Diesel provides mobile mechanical servicing including repairs and preventative maintenance, as well as 24-hour emergency call out service from Baie Verte to Terra Nova National Park.
Combdon soon realized she was missing another huge market commercial vehicle inspections. So, she leased a garage space and took the plunge to become a fully certified commercial vehicle inspection station which, in turn, allowed her to approach larger corporations. This led to yet another expansion with help from the Research & Development Corporation (RDC).
“I had a 10-year plan, but everything started happening so quickly. I hadn’t realized that there was another gap in the market. Then I needed computer diagnostics, so it was time for me to grow again. I approached RDC and told them I need to buy a computer valued at $10,000. I didn’t have the money so they helped. That computer saves so much time and energy for everybody, but I’m always looking for ways to grow my company and achieve the next level. I don’t want to sit idle.”
Combden is nearing the four-year anniversary of her business, and considering the amount of effort she’s put into it she doesn’t have any regrets; if anything it’s quite the opposite!
“It’s never easy. I could sit here and say being an entrepreneur is hard work, but anybody who is an entrepreneur understands the hours you have to put in. I don’t get up in the morning and go to an office, sit back and relax or have a social around the water cooler. My day never ends. I offer 24/7 mobile service. People often say, ‘You have to be so happy you can work whenever you want and take time off when you want,’ but I have worked every day since August 2013. I haven’t taken one vacation, so it’s hard work!”
For more information about business programs at CNA, visit www.cna.nl.ca
Public Relations Specialist
College of the North Atlantic