Published on April 3rd, 2016 | by Susan Baka


Getting a New Business Off the Ground….or Water

By Susan Baka and Lorraine Leslie

Lauren Matthews takes her job seriously….  Born July 25th 1989 in Port Dover she was raised in a marine environment – which was also part of her family heritage.  Her father David Matthews owned a marina and worked for forty years building and repairing boats.  At the age of ten Lauren accompanied her Dad on a boat trip to Sault St. Marie which was a pivotal point in her life.  “We would tour around for two weeks at a time and stay in different provincial parks while making our way to tug boat shows and races.”

“Growing up with a lot of steel and mechanics around me since I was born, it wasn’t unusual for me in my late teens become a certified diver.  I loved working on the dive boats; taking other divers down into the deep to see the wrecks anchored off the Grotto Caves near Tobermory.  I worked as a deck hand for Nomada Charters in Port Dover and eventually became a first mate.”

HuronicLauren’s was interested in business and kinesiology but when she graduated from high school she went of to Brock University but soon discovered her calling… “Being near or on the water was missing in my life so my focus turned three hundred and sixty degrees and as a result I joined the Coast Guard in 2010.

The requirements to join the Coast Guard are very strict.  The rules and regulations are set for a good reason the process was going to take some time so I joined as a Stuart and self studied for my Captains papers. To get Coast Guard papers you must pass a written test and practical exam in Marine Emergency Training, STCS Basic Safety; Survival Craft training with simulated marine courses.  I also had to work with at minimum 60 ton boat and work up to a 150 ton boat – this gave me my Master Mariner deep sea certification.  Anyone applying to work and or be a captain needs previous background and experience in boating in order to take the training.  In 2009 I received my papers through Transport Canada.

Lauren wanted to do something that requires work hard to accomplish her goals – and so the journey began…

If you’re just launching your business – or remember the days when you started yours – you’ll know that one of the biggest challenges for any new business owner is finding the most effective ways to let the world know your shingle is out.

Before the dream became a reality Dad and I went shopping for a boat which we found in Port Dover.  We named her the Huronic.  It took us up to sixty hours to bring her through the water system into the Collingwood harbour.  She (all boats are referred to as she), is a sixty foot vessel which is inspected by Transport Canada annually for the proper working fire systems along with the regulatory life rafts, and life jackets.

In order for me to launch the Huronic Tour Boat out of Collingwood Harbour there was a lot of research involved through the Town of Collingwood.  “We went to every bank for start up funds – I wrote a business plan, had to show my assets and make a first good impression.  My Dad was my main Captain in 2015 – in 2016 I’ll have a year of experience running the business.  The weather wasn’t that cooperative so we had a cold and late start to the season.  I also became an event planner and would take out groups of people rain or shine.  The Huronic can handle waves up to eight feet in height.  For the safe of everyone we don’t go out is the waves are over one metre.”

I am fortunate to have a lot of family support in selling tickets for guided tours around Georgian Bay.  I am now the Caption on my own boat and have a full certified crew.

My business plan showed sightseeing tours and sunset dinner cruises to local wine tastings and weddings aboard the Huronic.  Although only twenty six years of age with Lauren’s impressive marine background – her captain’s licence to operate the vessel, five years in the Coast Guard (where she met her fiancé, local apple grower Greg Ardiel) serving as a deck hand and quarter master, and a youth spent aboard boats in the Port Dover her vision became a reality.

She fell in love with the natural beauty of the Southern Georgian Bay area after moving here and identifying the cruise gap.  What followed was a hectic year of research, studying tourism stats and talking to local hotels about what their guests look for in the area.  Developing a business a plan to secure both financing and town approval, buying and refurbishing the vessel, applying for all the necessary licences through Transport Canada, hiring crew and caterers, and of course marketing her new Collingwood Charters.

Although she had her own savings and skin in the game, “You’re a fool if you think you can do it all yourself,” she maintains.  “Having the support of family and friends is so important.”  Even her mother and future mother-in- law serve stints at the ticket booth that stands at the entrance of the harbour.

Lauren learned to market her new venture by:

Tapping into nostalgia.  She named her vessel The Huronic after the first steel hull launched in Collingwood Harbour to carry passengers and freight.  Including references to this in her marketing materials to reflect the history of the Collingwood Shipyards resonates within the community.  Her ticket booth attracts interest and walk-on passengers. “I’ve been happily surprised at the many locals who take the cruises, many of whom have never seen the Escarpment from the water. “

Launched a website. This allows for online bookings.

Established partnerships.  Lauren cross promotes with local caterers, a winery and brewery, and serves their offerings on board. “This has been good for marketing, plus visitors really like local options.”

Joined relevant organization.  Taking out a membership in the Georgian Triangle Tourist Association gets her brochures distributed throughout the area.

Tested different marketing vehicles.  From advertising in local publications and participating in as much social media as possible, and doing PR through news releases, a grand opening to christen the vessel, and FAM tours for activity centres, Lauren is trying out different types of marketing.

“In 2016 I will know which works best.”

Lauren understands the importance of listening to her customers and tweaking her operations and marketing accordingly.  That’s why she has her father at the wheel in her inaugural year.  “It gives me the chance to mingle and talk with passengers and identify any changes and enhancements,”she says.  Lauren also knows she can still learn from him.  “His boat handling is incredible,” she emphasizes.  “I’ve already learned so much about that from him –and the importance of knowing everything on the boat inside out. He can do anything from refurbishing machinery to welding.  I admire that and aspire to have the same skill level.”

All of which speaks to the value of having a mentor and good support when starting a business.  Susan BakaAnd when it comes to marketing a new venture, you can follow most of Lauren’s steps. They can be applied to getting any new business off the ground – or water, in her case!

Susan Baka,

President, Bay Communications & Marketing Inc.


About the Author

Susan Baka

A business content expert, Susan Baka, President of Bay Communications & Marketing Inc., specializes in marketing strategies and in launching, writing and producing newsletters and web sites that showcase her clients' expertise. Her firm is one of the first to be certified by corporate-led WEConnect Canada that opens doors for women entrepreneurs into the supply chains of companies and government.

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