Camrose Energy-Local Powerhouse

The wife, mother of two teens, and business owner thought long and hard about the type of service she could offer from her home at Camrose. Running a home-based business is not for the faint-of-heart.

First, you need to find your passion; Denise Hawkins is an Albertan who discovered hers early in life. It’s part of the reason she won the 2015 Award for Home Based Business from the Camrose Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber presents this award to an individual, “who excels, stands out and whose contributions to our community distinguishes it from its peers.” And she has done just that with her local energy marketing business Camrose Energy.

The 2015 winner was announced Thursday, October 20th at the Annual Small Business Awards Banquet, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”.

Camrose Energy supplies the Camrose area with stable and affordable electricity and natural gas. The company was born from Denise’s desire to run a home-based business that gave back to the community in which her family had deep roots. It gave her opportunities to do what she could for the environment and support her desire to buy locally.

“There are so many benefits of buying from local companies rather than large global organizations,” said Denise. “Take the Camrose downtown core, for example, where we have some amazing shops and farmers markets. Vegetables from a box store just cannot compare to locally grown fresh veggies.”

Dealing with a local energy provider is no exception because it means customer support is never far away. Denise loves sitting with her customers, at their kitchen table, and educating them on their electricity bills. “The look on their face when they finally understand it is priceless,” says Denise.

The model for Camrose Energy enabled Denise to team up with UTILITYnet, founders of Green Alberta Energy. This partnership meant that her smaller company joined a larger organization that could leverage the bulk buying power of electricity, natural gas, and green energy. The approach gave Camrose Energy the ability to compete on a bigger stage with the largest retail players in the industry. More importantly, they were able to help consumers green their energy at an affordable price – and serve Denise’s concern for the environment.

The unique system adopted by Camrose allows a customer to green what they can afford - as much or little of their energy usage as they want. If a consumer only wanted to green 5% of their usage? No problem. 100%? Even better.

Additional criteria for the Home-Based Business Award focuses on sustainability (at least, three years, financial performance), involvement in community activities and giving back to the community.

Raised with a strong sense of family and community, Denise has never lost her civic grounding. She and husband, Russell, have been active in the Camrose community, raising funds for the Sifton Playground as well as setting up and raising funds for an Augustana University endowment - The Val Wolski Memorial Award. This award is in memory of a friend who lost her life while on the job, helping others.

These experiences were major influences on how Denise wanted to run her business. She’d seen firsthand how hard it is for non-profits to generate new fundraising ideas, and how hard it is to maintain funding. From this, the Community Partners Program was born. This program donates 10% of Camrose Energy’s profits to a number of diverse organizations, and customers can decide which organization receives the 10% profit from their bill.

“My Community Partners Program has to be my passion of the business,” says Denise. “These organizations are part of what makes Camrose an amazing place to live and play.”

What are the personal challenges of a home-based business?

Work is always present. Many employees appreciate the escape from responsibilities and routines from home life. On the other side, going home from work allows them to leave the pressures of work behind.

Camrose Chamber President Tanya Fox, herself an accomplished entrepreneur running three businesses, says one-third of their membership is home-based.

“It’s indicative of the way things are going,” said Tanya when asked to explain the high propensity for working from the home. “We have a lot of direct marketers, personal assistants, and bookkeepers.”

Always Working. This habit is one from which many home-based operators suffer. Experienced solopreneurs recommend a timer to remind them it’s time to switch tasks or go for a walk. If not, relationships with family and friends might suffer. Think burnout.

How does Denise overcome that temptation? Gardening.

“The garden is my happy spot. I love the conversations that arise when someone passes by and asks about what I am growing.”

Family support and finances. No kidding. Does your family really understand how much time and energy go into starting up? It’s a good idea to save up enough money to last during the start-up years. Owning a home-based business will require an investment from your own pocket to cover overheads and sustain waiting time for receivables to arrive. Entrepreneurs also sometimes forget how much advance marketing is required to gain traction for their business.

Denise is well acquainted with these lessons. A comprehensive business plan informed her that financial results would emerge in year three.

Running a home-based business has provided Denise with many positive opportunities, and she loves the flexibility that the life of an entrepreneur has given her.

“My kids pop into my office just to talk during the summer and after school,” said Denise. “There are many benefits that my children obtain from me being an entrepreneur who works from home. They are learning about how to do business. They hear the marketing ideas, talk of maintaining a webpage, branding and, of course, pricing and day-to-day operations. This is making their world bigger also.”

Nick Clark | October 18, 2016