After 30 years, a major labour strike, a pandemic, and more than one supply chain crisis, Borealis Kennels is still standing firmly on four paws.

The Yellowknife pet supplier celebrated 30 years in business this past month. But as founder and owner Jo-Ann Cooper explains, the journey hasn’t been without its roadblocks.

Cooper, who has lived in Yellowknife since 1964, first opened the store on April 27, 1992. “This was actually a double wide trailer that we gutted and remodeled inside, and then attached a warehouse on one side, and a boarding dog kennel on the other side,” she says.

Little did she know that almost immediately after opening, Yellowknife would be rocked by the Giant Mine labour strike and its resulting violence. “So there was a lot of turmoil in the city at that time,” says Cooper.

“So it was kinda like, well, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Despite the turmoil, the store survived, and Cooper was able to open a second location downtown in 1997. Cooper says this store caters more to smaller animals, like hamsters and rabbits, while the Kam Lake location still primarily serves cats and dogs.

More recently, Borealis has been challenged by the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly the resulting supply chain crisis. When it comes to stocking products pet owners depend on, “I can’t get it because the distributor can’t get it. And the distributor can’t get it because the manufacturer can’t make it, because the manufacturer can’t get the raw materials to make it.”

Last year’s wildfires in B.C. caused their own supply chain disruption as well. “They have all these fish over here. But there’s no way to get from B.C. to Alberta, because all the highways are closed. So like I said, it’s cause and effect, and everything, basically, has a problem down the line.”

Not every milestone has been negative, however: Cooper still remembers the days before the inauguration of the Deh Cho Bridge, when the supply chain would be down for weeks during both the freezing and thawing of the Mackenzie River, when neither the ferry nor trucks could safely pass.

Beyond the major disasters of the past three decades, keeping up with the changing retail landscape can be a challenge as well: Cooper says pet owners are more conscientious about what they feed their animals now than they were 30 years ago, and demand newer, luxury products like freeze-dried ice cream. Cooper also has to compete with — or rather, avoid competing with — big box stores like Walmart and Canadian Tire. If a product is sold at a major outlet, there’s little point in trying to sell it at Borealis.

To mark 30 years in the business, Cooper says she has some a few things planned, including a customer appreciation day coming up in July. “We’re just finalizing the details for that. And then I’m talking to all of my distributors and getting products and stuff from them. And then we’re gonna have some freebies here as well. And we’re gonna do a big barbecue on a Saturday, we just haven’t figured out which Saturday we’re going to do it.”

“I mean, our customers have always been number one,” says Cooper. “And I try my hardest.”

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