How Winnipeg’s Accurate Fire & Safety cares for their community
Jim Memka went to school to become a firefighter – and while his career path took him in a slightly different direction, his business, Accurate Fire & Safety, has been keeping Canadian communities fire-safe for nearly 30 years. Since opening their doors in 1994, Jim and his business partner, Kevin Woloshyn, have provided Manitoba and northwestern Ontario with fire safety and first aid services. Over the years, the duo has expanded into beverage grade CO2 and, more recently, offered COVID-19 testing and supplies. We connected with Jim to learn about what inspired the team to launch their business, as well as the secret to their long-standing success.
Rogers Business: Tell us a little bit about your business.
Jim: My partner and I started the business in 1994 and have been in business for 28 years. We have 18 employees and an 11,000 ft² warehouse. We’re located in central Winnipeg, just off Nairn Avenue, so it’s easy to access for our clientele and brings in decent walk-in traffic as well. Our main body of work is fire safety, which entails inspections of fire extinguishers, fire hoses, and fire suppression systems in kitchens, industrial booths, off-road vehicles, and computer rooms. Plus, we sell first aid products and provide first aid and CPR training. We also have certified beverage-grade CO2 and we fill cylinders for anyone who makes beer or soda drinks. We work with a lot of local brewers and that area of the business has really grown in the last few years.
Rogers Business: Where did the idea for your small business come from?
Jim: I originally went to school to become a firefighter. I went to college in Brandon and got my full firefighting accompaniment of courses between the three levels of firefighter, first responder, fire investigation and so forth. I didn’t get a job as a firefighter right away, so I decided to get into the fire safety industry and started working for a company alongside my business partner. We said to each other, “the people we’re working for are great, but we think we can do this better,” so at 26 years old, we started the business. We rented a location, got a couple of service vehicles, and away we went.
Rogers Business: Is there someone or something that inspired you to start this business?
Jim: Entrepreneurism runs in our family. My grandparents owned a hotel and bar; my mom had her own hair salon. They inspired me to do it, and my wife was really encouraging and told me to go for it. It was a bit difficult at the time because we’d just started a family. We had one child and one on the way, but she was super supportive of the idea. My parents were also very supportive and helped us get going. My dad is still our accountant to this day and takes care of the books for us at 80 years old.
Rogers Business: What made you choose your current location?
Jim: We found a building by chance that a customer of mine was selling. We decided that it would be a great fit – and cost-effective for us to renovate. We’re located just six minutes from downtown and we’re very central to the entire city. We also travel throughout the entire province and into northwestern Ontario. We moved here about 15 years into launching our business because we’d outgrown our original location and needed more space.
Rogers Business: How did you or do you get the word out about your business?
Jim: Originally, a lot of it was by word of mouth. People in the industry talk to each other and ask each other who’s good. I truly believe our guys are the best in the industry when it comes to taking care of our customers. Without that, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Back in the day, we didn’t have the social media and advertising avenues that we have now. Today, we have a presence on Facebook and Instagram, and our website is an area where we get a lot of exposure. In the summer of 2020, it was a really bad fire season in Manitoba, and so we did some advertising on the radio which produced a lot of sales for fire pumps, portable fire pumps and cottage protection kits. We’ve also done radio for our beverage offerings and increased our business exponentially from there. Radio is probably one of the best advertising avenues that we’ve used.
Rogers Business: What is your best-selling product or service?
Jim: Fire extinguishers are the biggest portion of our business. Whether it’s supplying new fire extinguishers, inspecting extinguishers in commercial locations or servicing those fire extinguishers, that’s the main body of our work. We’ve got roughly 8,000 customers that we visit either on an annual or semi-annual basis. We also work with other companies that handle fire alarm and sprinkler services so that we can offer a one-stop shop. It’s created a really good relationship with a lot of other fire safety companies that don’t offer our area of the business. Together, we can take care of everything in a facility, from fire alarms and sprinkler systems to fire extinguishers and fire hoses. We can also do all of their training and first aid supplies. We can take care of everything for them.
Rogers Business: What advice would you give to someone else looking to get started?
Jim: Be prepared. Be prepared to work hard. I think that’s a huge part of it. When you’re in business, I think it’s important that you treat everybody the way you’d like to be treated. That’s one of the ways I built my clientele – it was them knowing that I actually care. I’ll talk to the guys and say, “You have to treat your customer like they’re your best friend that you haven’t seen in five years.”
Rogers Business: What is the biggest challenge you faced as a small business owner and how did you overcome it?
Jim: COVID-19 was a big challenge. Certain parts of our business were non-existent because of closures, while other parts of our business increased because of them. For example, we do the entrance for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers; they walk through a fog of CO2 and fireworks when they come onto the field. We also supply products for concerts and movies. All of those completely dropped off during the pandemic; there were no events, so we decided to pivot and became certified testers for COVID. We were able to give people letters for travel, and we also sold home testing kits, masks and hand sanitizers. With the other areas of our business struggling, we were able to reinvent ourselves by bringing in other products that were in demand at the moment. In business, it’s important to be able to pivot and take things in another direction.
Rogers Business: What is the greatest reward you've gotten as a small business owner?
Jim: I think it’s what we’ve done over the years, having the staff we have, and knowing that we are providing employment and careers to a lot of really good people. Our philosophy is that the better the company does, the better the employees do. We have profit-sharing, benefits and pension plans for everybody. That’s one of the most rewarding things: knowing that I’m helping other people with their livelihoods.
Rogers Business: Where can we find your business online?
Facebook: Accurate Fire & Safety Ltd.