Cheeky Umbrella founder Jen Zurowski loves rainy days
Rain always brings a smile to Jen Zurowski's face, because unlike so many Vancouverites who see only cold, wet water, Zurowski sees something else: opportunity.
When she learned Vancouver would host the 2010 Winter Olympics, Zurowski teamed up with a designer and founded Cheeky Umbrellas, tackling what she considered a major gap in the umbrella market.
"People coming from international locations to the Winter Olympics would think that it was going to be snowy here, but February in Vancouver was going to mean rain," Zurowski said.
"We realized that everyone was going to need umbrellas and no one was going to be prepared."
Zurowski and her partner bid to become an official supplier of Olympic licensed and branded umbrellas, a victory that kicked off a frantic three-year period in her life, culminating in a successful Olympics and a company that now sells to over 100 stores across the country.
"I wanted to have something beyond the Olympics, Cheeky Umbrella was born out of that. I was still in my early twenties and had tried looking for fun, cute umbrellas, but I just couldn't find anything," she said.
"I thought 'if Vancouver is such a rainy city, why isn't there more selection here?'"
Zurowski -- whose creativity was forged in no small part through her past jobs in marketing and as a freelance writer -- transformed a clever idea into a money making endeavour, a transformation that can be incredibly demanding, according to small business expert Ian Marshall of Vancouver Consultants.
"People that have a lot of creativity, that have a lot of drive and motivation are more likely to find that opportunity," Marshall said. "What I've found is that an idea and a business idea are two different things. I've also found that people have a very good understanding of what their product or product idea is, but they have very little idea of how to make it into a business, so its a matter of joining those two things."
Bridging that gap is where the true entrepreneur emerges and where real creativity is needed, Marshal said. "Many of us can have a great idea, but can we make it a great business idea?”
Marshall elaborated by comparing two businesses in the same industry. While one company is reliant on the skills and equipment of an owner operator, the other is reliant on the ability to bid on and secure large contracts by managing operating systems, computers, relationships and a team of skilled labourers. The latter company has a much higher chance of establishing a sustainable business model.
This structure is the differentiator between a novel business idea and a potentially great business, said Marhsal. "Often we ask [our clients] 'if we took the product away from you, would you still have a business?'" This difficult question helps direct the creative entrepreneur by forcing them to focus on the core of their business plan.
"They need to know what business they are in, not what they are selling," added Marhsall. "For example, if you ask people what business they think Micheal Dell is in, most people will say he's in computers, but he's not. His business is actually logistics, because he must deliver computers to your house in 48 hours like he's promised or else he's out of business."
While Zurowski seems to have found an early command of these concepts, she will continue to refine and shape her business as it grows, guided by a mission to change the way people feel about rainy days in Vancouver.
"I definitely would like to change people's perception of the rain. It shouldn't stop you from doing what you want to do each day, and I certainly wouldn't let it stop me."