Mixing it up
Entrepreneurs keep customers guessing about what's next

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit ( May 29/00) - Two women and a man sit and sip cappuccino and herbal tea as they munch on toasted bagels and carrot cake.

A fourth person joins them, smelling faintly of coffee-flavoured suntan oil.

One of the women, on her way to seek warmth in the tanning bed from the seemingly never-ending January arctic winter, stops and peruses the wall of tanning products available to customers.

Coffee accessories and teapots festoon the opposite wall.

You have arrived at Fantasy Palace, just one of the growing number of Iqaluit businesses that offers a huge diversity of products to its customers.

"I don't think by just selling coffee we'd make that much money," said Isabelle Benoit, owner of the popular coffee shop/tanning salon/retail outlet/snack bar/ice cream store.

"You have to have more," she said. "Down south, you don't see this because there are more people so people can specialize in one thing. They can just sell bagels. I don't think that would work up here. People have multiple things because with just one, it wouldn't make sufficient money."

Benoit, open for almost three years, started off with just coffee and bagels. Ice cream and tanning followed shortly thereafter.

"Even though it may sound odd, this is the perfect waiting room. People come in groups and have coffee while they're waiting to tan."

But Benoit's business menagerie isn't the only place in Nunavut's capital where one can go to bronze one's skin. At the Baffin Hair and Tanning Studio one can also soak up ultraviolet rays.

They can also have their hair cut, permed or dyed, their legs waxed, purchase jewelry and hair accessories, get a shiatsu massage, have their ears pierced and receive acupuncture treatment for nagging aches and pains and/or other ailments. And until recently, customers could purchase plants, fresh-cut flowers and sundry gift items.

"It all goes together," said Suzanne Laliberte, the owner of the spa-like collection of services for the last six years. "You're selling feelings. Hair is about feelings. With flowers, there are a lot of feelings. You buy them when you're happy or sad. Hair is the same. People have massages when they want to relax and tanning is like that too," said Laliberte.

"It's all joined by feelings."

That, and the need to stretch a dollar as far as it can go in Nunavut. With commercial space at a premium, Laliberte said she wouldn't be able to pay her bills if she wasn't as imaginative as she is with the services she offers Nunavummiut.

Growing her business slowly and constantly since purchasing it, Laliberte actually had to sell off the flower portion of the group of services last May because she found herself too busy for too many hours a week.

All too happy to lend her assistance, Elaine McBain purchased the business and so was born the Baffin Flower Studio. But it's so much more than just flowers.

"There's not much I don't have," said McBain.

"I have children's clothing, toys, all kinds of gift products, bath products, dishes, candles, wooden products, Northern gifts," she said.

Pushed into carrying such a variety of items by customer demand, McBain said she often felt overwhelmed by the number of products in her store.

"People said why don't you have this and why don't you have that. I try to please the customers," she said.