Local entrepreneur wins big with her business for businesses

Katrina Russell is no paraskavedekatriaphobiac. In fact, this year Friday the 13th proved to be an auspicious date for the young Whitehorse business…

Katrina Russell is no paraskavedekatriaphobiac.

In fact, this year Friday the 13th proved to be an auspicious date for the young Whitehorse business owner.

It was the day she flew to Moncton, New Brunswick, where she was named the Yukon’s young entrepreneur of the year.

The award, presented annually by the Business Development Bank of Canada, recognizes the spirit and success of business owners between the ages of 19 and 35.

This year the bank chose Russell, who has run Whitehorse’s Mail Boxes Etc. store for four years.

It’s a one-stop shop for busy business people, said Russell on Tuesday, sitting in her Elliott Street shop.

Nearby, on the store’s front shelf, sat the hefty glass prize, while below a bouquet of congratulatory flowers sat beside another bunch of flowers offering birthday wishes — Russell turned 34 on Monday.

For three days in New Brunswick, Russell was wined and dined, building important contacts with winners from other provinces and territories.

“They were phenomenal people; it was just neat to be in the same room with them and see what they were doing and how they overcame their challenges,” said Russell.

“There are really smart business people out there and, through hard work and creative thinking, you can overcome challenges.”

And she learned how to think “outside the box,” she added (no pun intended.)

Although Mail Boxes Etc. is a chain of more than 5,600 locations internationally, Russell’s outfit is a Yukon-based business.

“That’s really important to know,” she said.

“It’s independently owned and operated; I am a Yukoner and my staff are all people from Whitehorse.

“Some big box stores are run from a corporate office — that is not the case here,” she added.

“It’s up to us to make it or break it.”

Although she gets a lot of advice and help from being tapped into a global network like Mail Boxes Etc., she faces some cumbersome challenges.

Like getting people to focus on the “etc.” part, rather than just the “mail boxes,” she said.

“Ironically, our No. 1 challenge has been our name.”

When the store opened, people thought it was simply a postal outlet, but the shop does much more than that.

“People would come in looking for stamps and they weren’t aware that we offer an array of other services,” she said, rattling off a long list that includes photocopying, faxing, couriering, printing, packing and notarizing.

Russell was undeterred by a lean first year; she went out into the community and met with people face-to-face to explain her business.

Four years later, she has a regular clientele composed of people of all occupations from lawyers to artists to other small-business owners.

Born and raised in Whitehorse, Russell got her start in business in a roundabout way.

After completing her BA work and earning a diploma in business, she found herself working as the general manager of a hotel in Newfoundland.

“I wasn’t very good at it and I didn’t like it,” she admitted with a smile. But that first failed foray into commerce whetted her appetite for business.

But, this time, she was determined to be her own boss.

“I thought, if I’m going to have to work very hard and be stressed out, I might as well work for myself and work at something for me and something that I enjoyed,” she said.

So she moved home from the Rock in search of new opportunities.

That was nearly five years ago, and it just happened to be about the same time that the Canada Post mailbox outlet on Wood Street closed its doors.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be great, open up a location where you can rent mailboxes and have other business services along with it?’” she said.

“It was a good fit, and I thought it would be a fun business to run.”

Today Russell employs two full-time and four part-time staff.

And she’s planning to expand into more services and extra mailboxes.

“I’d like to just keep growing and be part of the community,” she added.