Capital Iron’s bankruptcy was a shocker when the news hit late last year. A fixture in Rock Bay for almost 90 years, along with more recent store openings in Sidney and Langford, the family-owned business appeared to be bulletproof.
But COVID-19 delivered a loaded gun. Whether it was MIA shoppers, supply chain challenges, wage and benefit pressures, staffing issues, competition from online shopping or its ambitious expansion, Capital Iron’s demise caught the attention of one successful entrepreneur.
“Capital Iron was a destination store,” says Fred Aram, owner of West Coast Appliance Gallery. “When the news of the bankruptcy came out, it created a void and a demand.” So, with cash in hand and a desire to add outdoor cooking appliances, patio furniture and hot tubs to West Coast’s product lines, Aram bought the “Capital Iron” name, website and social media channels.
“I’d always thought of setting up something separate like ʻWest Coast Outdoor Furniture,ʼ but I’d be up against Capital Iron,” says Aram, who has worked in the appliance business for over 23 years. As well, West Coast’s current location, already full of merchandise, wouldn’t have had room for outdoor kitchens, big tables and fire pits. “I didn’t want to get into it halfway,” he says.
But Aram appears to have solved the space problem. “I have an accepted lease offer on the original Capital Iron building downtown, 1900 Store Street,” he says. So the Capital Iron name and location will live on.
Aram plans to focus on items that Capital Iron excelled at: outdoor appliances and furniture. He won’t be taking the “general store” route by offering a wide variety of products, like crab traps or marine antiques. As well, he has put out a call for former Capital Iron employees to join his endeavour. He predicts there will be about two dozen jobs at the store.
“Put money into advertising to draw customers,” Aram says. A lot of businesses spend less on advertising when times are tough but “you have to draw more customers. You can’t afford to have customers go to businesses that advertise.”
And doing business in Victoria is different than in larger cities like Vancouver or Calgary. Local prices are comparable to big box stores, and area shoppers are loyal to Greater Victoria businesses. The personal touch also plays a role and Aram prides himself on being available to customers. Although with two locations, he may need a doppelgänger.