The Covid pandemic has pushed YK Gold and Silver to innovate for its business survival by examining rocks that are much older than gold.
In fact, it’s the oldest rocks on Earth that the Yellowknife company is trying to leverage into its new business strategy.
Acasta Gneiss, which has been radio carbon dated as 4.03 billion years old and is among the oldest type of rock ever discovered, has been mined on an island in the Acasta River about 300 km north of Yellowknife, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
YK Gold is working on an online sales project centred on these rocks as part of its business pivot amid the pandemic.
“It’s just a really interesting geological rarity that we have in the NWT,” said owner Jake Olson. “We’re going to be creating a really interesting kind of product that’s mainly focused on e-commerce to be able to export outside of the NWT to raise awareness of the rock, but also of where it comes from.”
Olson was left with little choice but to find other business avenues after the pandemic basically wiped out tourism in the NWT, which had been his main source of revenue. His business model was built around retailers who sold his products to tourists, such as gold-infused maple syrup and soap; vials of gold from the Yukon and B.C and quartz crystals mined in Yellowknife; and 24-karat gold roses.
“For the past couple years we usually just dealt directly with retailers. They would buy 100 units of this or a couple hundred units of that and we haven’t focused much on the selling directly to the consumer. I’m used to fulfilling big orders to retailers. But now it’s definitely not the same.”
When the tourists stopped coming in March, and the pandemic border restrictions cut tourism down to almost nothing, Olson’s sales fell by at least 75 per cent.
He had to rethink his business model as one that relies less on income from the tourism business chain and look inside the territory and region for the “intrinsic, interesting nature of what the Arctic is” and how it could help him.
His new focus on geological curiosities also includes selling small pieces of 50 million-year-old petrified wood, found near the Diavik Diamond Mine, 300 km northeast of Yellowknife.
“Yellowknife used to be a tropical paradise 50 million years ago. There used to be tons of foliage here, it was this tropical paradise, and now it’s a wasteland. We want to provide a cool story, but the products also provide unique minerals,” he said.
While the old wood and the old rocks are fascinating and attention-grabbing for customers, at about $25 for a small piece of Acasta Gneiss, and $100 for a larger one, it won’t be a golden goose. A large, football-size chunk of the rock that he keeps in his shop is just for display, but could sell for thousands of dollars.
Olson’s actual business life preserver over the past month was much closer to home.
“People actually have quite a bit of wealth just sitting in their drawers at home,” he said. “If anybody has old golden chains or silver, investment quality gold or silver, they can come in and we pay in the best prices in Canada. And so we really wanted to create more of an awareness of that service that we provide.
“We don’t only just buy, we also are able to sell people financial instruments of gold and silver for financial well-being and investing for themselves.”
It helped that during the Covid pandemic the price of gold has risen, particularly in the second quarter, and on Tuesday went up to over $2,000 USD an ounce, according to a report from Reuters.
Olson has taken on the challenge of crafting a new approach to business, but he admits the speed at which he was forced to change was tough.
“You put a lot of effort into the thinking of what you want to do the next year, and then basically all that gets scrapped in a matter of weeks. So I think that’s probably the most difficult thing, just repositioning and figuring out a better avenue where you can still sustain yourself,” he said.
The abrupt transition made him realize how fragile the world can be and how it took a pandemic crisis to make the Yellowknife community stronger.
“As soon as you start losing your normal way of going about things you start realizing what things are actually more important in your life. It’s just a wake up call for some people.”