Focused! Conversations with Canadian WBEs

WBE Certification connects Canadian women-owned enterprises to corporate and government supply chains. How you, as a certified diverse supplier, succeed in gaining entry to the supply chain depends on how well you are prepared, how knowledgeable you are about a potential buyer, how strategic you are in navigating the multitude of paths open to you, how focused you are so that your value as a supplier is clearly identified and impossible to ignore. And of course, there’s patience, because it doesn’t happen overnight.

WBEs who have been successful as Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers have an incredible amount of experience when it comes to sharing their stories and solid advice for taking that leap to landing large contracts. We talked with six WBEs who have that experience and who were happy to share their tips, recommendations and inspiration for other women-owned businesses looking to grow and succeed.

Carol de Ville MAS

The Branding Company “Leave your MARK”

WBE Canada: As a promotional products business, what are the biggest challenges your business has faced in the past year? And how did you overcome the disruptions you faced?

Carol: The Branding Company’s biggest challenge, as a global promotional solutions provider, was to creatively provide results driven client solutions while maintaining our entire workforce with limited in-office and remote based team members. We successfully navigated these challenges by incorporating video meetings, enhanced cloud-based e-solutions and created direct to home promotional incentive swag kits for client recognition and team building purposes.

WBE Canada: What is your most valuable piece of advice to other women entrepreneurs who are looking to supply large corporate or government organizations?

Carol: Don’t be afraid – Find your Unique Selling Propositions (USP) and identify what your company represents and how your company can be a solutions provider to large corporations and/or government organizations. Never oversell your capabilities. Believe in what you stand for as an organization, develop and strengthen your relationships with your supplier channel so that you can be the right solution for your customers. Always look for ways to improve and enhance your client relationships as they are your ambassadors. Because of these guiding principles, The Branding Company has strong relationships with global Fortune 1000 companies, mid-size companies, small firms along with governments organizations, cities, and schools.

Lyse Moreau

President & CEO
International Sew-Right

WBE Canada: Since taking over International Sew-Right in 2001, you have expanded the business into an internationally recognized provider of safety clothing. What are the biggest differences you face when bidding for contracts with major buyers in Canada and those internationally and what have been your biggest takeaways?

Lyse: The biggest difference I find when bidding for a contract with major buyers is the cost to manufacture. The buyers are aware of what we pay in wages to manufacture and they are well educated in purchasing at a cost savings for their employer.
I follow three rules:
A; I am always honest with the buyer,
B; Have a Capability Statement that identifies our products for them to keep on file
C; Research the company to have knowledge and to become familiar with their process

WBE Canada: What keeps you going? What is your biggest motivation?

Lyse: I Love what I do!

Kathy Cheng

President, WS & Co.
Founder, Redwood Classics Apparel

WBE Canada: What advice would you give to women business owners trying to find their place in the supply chain?

Kathy: Focus on building relationships within the supply chain. It demonstrates your ability to compete for business and to integrate successful partnerships as part of your company’s long-term diversity strategies. But be realistic when you target corporate or government buyers: from governance to financial backing, it’s not just about GETTING the business, it’s about your ability to SERVICE the business. Look for opportunities to be part of a corporation’s supply chain as a Tier 2 or beyond for manageable and sustainable growth that demonstrates your commitment as a trusted partner.

Further, participating in WBE Canada development programs and networking opportunities is crucial to your success. Many WBE’s are in industries that are still dominated by the “Old Boy’s Club”, and by participating in these events you’ll be getting an invitation to the party. Don’t sit on the sidelines! Leverage your WBE Certification and make the most of it. The supply chain needs you and your expertise.

WBE Canada: What message would you like to send to corporate and government buyers? How can they help women-owned businesses succeed?

Kathy: I like to think of this question in a different way – how can corporate and government buyers SUPPORT women-owned businesses? The answer is simple: Development. Development. Development.
I believe that women-owned businesses should compete for the business just as much as their competitors would. That’s why it’s important for corporate and government buyers to ensure they are helping to develop suppliers within their chain. Give us a hand up, not a handout.

Tara Cochrane
Shawna Pereira

Co-Founders and Creative Directors,


WBE Canada: As a relatively new company in the promotional products field, you had the advantage of already being an on-line business when the pandemic hit in 2020. What advice would you give to other WBEs who operate virtually and are looking to grow their business in order to secure larger contracts?

Tara & Shawna: We are always looking for an open opportunity. How can we adapt to make a large contract possible? Tara and I are constantly asking “Do large companies know who we are, what we do and how we can help them?” Reaching out and making genuine contact with decision makers has helped us enormously . The “Silver Lining” of Covid is that people are happy to make the time to get to know more about you and the services you offer. In terms of moral (which can be tough when the phone doesn’t ring for a while…) Keep the faith and continue to believe in yourself and your business. Stand by what you have built. IT IS NOT EASY…but you can, and ARE doing what you set out to do by starting your own business.

WBE Canada: What is next in store for your business?

Tara & Shawna: Wonderkind is really excited to be on-boarding 15 new Makers from across Canada to our Women Who Wonder Maker Community. We have been working hard behind the scenes on Holiday21 with a special focus on Corporate Holiday Gift Guides. We are especially proud of bringing eco friendly, Made in Canada options to our corporate clients who want to give gifts that people will both use and appreciate. **Wonderkind also fits nicely under many corporate Diversity and Inclusion mandates which is a bonus! Looking ahead to 2022….you will just have to sit tight and join our adventure….It’s going to be quite the ride in the Canadian Gifting World! #spreadwonderkind #giftingwithpurpose

Kim Thiara

President and CEO

WBE Canada: Even though you worked in the family business for more than 22 years and made a name for yourself, what were some of the challenges you faced as a female owner after you purchased the company in 2008 and how did you overcome them?

Kim: Finding ways to be accountable to myself, the company, as well as my employees. As well as ensuring that the company always moved the envelope forward. I joined a business owners group, that enabled me to stay on top of my To Do List and held me accountable for whatever task/project I had implemented. In addition to that, being involved in our industry and keeping abreast of what was new and how, as a company, we could continue to remain relevant and a valuable resource to our customer base.

WBE Canada: What is your most valuable piece of advice to other women entrepreneurs who are looking to supply large corporate or government organizations?

Kim: Being honest about your capabilities and which customer you are best suited for…arge OEM’s or perhaps Tier 1 or Tier 2? Underestimating and overachieving leave a positive and memorable mark on your company, versus the other way around. Tier 1 and Tier 2 companies are also more flexible, and in some instances, easier to work with especially when it comes to their Payment Terms.

Nimi Nanji – Simard

Founder & Chief Scarf Lover
NimiNimi Designs

WBE Canada: After starting out as a small entrepreneur, you are now selling your products in a large retail environment. What lessons have you learned along the way that would be helpful to other women-owned businesses looking to get their products on store shelves?

Nimi: Lessons are daily and plentiful! Apart from website matters and technical support, I remain a one woman show, which means that the buck always stops with me!

In terms of large retail, the landscape has really changed. It is no longer brick and mortar locations but the overall success of retailers’ online platforms that dictates demand. The risk and inventory remains that of the vendor. That being said, it does provide the much needed exposure and validation that small brands like mine need. My best advice is that there is no magic bullet and one needs several avenue streams and new leads in the pipeline. Self employment is a labour of love!

WBE Canada: What keeps you going? What is your biggest motivation?

Nimi: I am passionate about scarves, designing them, telling stories about issues that affect us all. The luxury market is a difficult one so I must persevere daily.

WBE Certification helps Canadian Women Business Enterprises (WBEs) get access to corporate and government supplier diversity leaders and buyers in organizations in Canada, the USA and beyond. Certified WBEs belong to a powerful business network and gain a market edge, allowing them to accelerate the growth of their firms.

There are many benefits to becoming a certified WBE, including access to corporate and government purchasing programs, opportunities to network and build partnerships with buyers and supplier diversity professionals; tools and resources to grow your business including training and education to help you leverage your certification and increase your business capacity and more.

If you would like to find out more about WBE Canada Certification and if this is the right move for you, visit our website for more information.