Tundra Transfer in its infancy may have started on April Fool’s Day in 1996, but the work ethic of founder and long time employee Annette Althouse is no joke.
With just a few jugs of water and boxes of coffee in her garage and an unreliable Toyota, Annette set out with her then partner Peter to do “something big” to get the rent paid.
“It was a combination of being new in love and starving and it was exciting, but all these factors came together and it was like the planets aligned,” said Annette.
From the humble beginnings of selling six bottles of water a week that were trucked up from Edmonton, Annette and her partners’ tenacity put them on the path to becoming one of the largest water and coffee suppliers in Yellowknife.
“In the beginning, it was a costly enterprise,” said Annette. “About 40 bottles would come in every six weeks from Edmonton and there would always be a certain amount of damaged or leaking product.”
Tundra Transfer quickly picked up steam, getting water delivery orders and eventually landing contracts to supply coffee with aviation companies like Air Tindi. They were doing all of this while also delivering cargo for bus coach lines and airlines.
It wasn’t until 2000 when Tundra Transfer got it’s first small scale water bottling plant, when the company was in it’s third location near A&A Technical services.
“That was a big step forward for the company,” Annette said.
“We met a salesman from Edmonton who was selling coffee machines up here and we thought, he’s not even from Yellowknife, why should he be getting these contracts?’” said Annette. “We ended up buying all 30 pieces of his coffee equipment, getting hooked up with Nestle and started bringing in coffee.”
For several years, Tundra Transfer was a two-man operation, with Annette in her Toyota delivering coffee and servicing coffee stations with her partner at the time delivering freight and water.
In 2002, Tundra Transfer moved to their current headquarters at 325 Old Airport road and continued expanding their services and products offered.
“After we moved in here, we got a show room and started selling products out the front to justify getting a receptionist,” said Annette. “I was on the road and doing the books and getting swamped with extra work.”
Around this time, Tundra Transfers also landed one of it’s biggest contracts, Diavik diamond mine.
“They’ve been a great customer of ours for years and we have between six and eight hundreds pieces of equipment there,” said Annette.
Although co-ordinating hundreds of thousands of dollars worth or product to be shipped up the winter road is a logistic challenge for Tundra Transfer, knowing the North and servicing mines and work camps is the experience that put them above the rest.
“Its one of a few things you get to know how to do well working in the North,” said Dennis Althouse, vice president of sales, marketing and operations.
“We know the challenges of delivering services with such a low population spread out over such an immense area. We know how to deliver to and from small air transit companies, we service exploration and work camps, we have technicians standing by to assist in repairs of equipment over the phone and we’re ready to ship replacement equipment out in a moment’s notice.”
“Being problem solvers is something we take a lot of pride in.”
Although water still takes up about 60 per cent of revenue for the company, Tundra Transfer has expanded in multiple areas in the past several years, especially since hiring Dennis four years ago.
The company was already selling restaurant accessories such as napkins, plastic utensils and Styrofoam, but Dennis began exploring the niche of compostable goods.
“We’re trying to find our niche in the market. It seems like Yellowknife has a pretty good environmental conscience, and people are willing to (buy) compostable even though it costs twice as much as non-compostable. It seems that the customers are demanding street-side as well and that’s interesting,”
Dennis, who was formally trained in engineering, has also gotten the company involved in their own C02 canister services for Soda Stream refills, selling and distributing bagged juices, creating reverse osmosis ice (or diamond ice), cleaning residential treated water tanks and developing new cargo routes down to Fort Providence.
“We never say no to good business opportunities,” said Dennis. “Impossible just costs more.”
Now Dennis and Annette will keep their focus on expanding their cargo delivery services down into Alberta.
“Since Greyhound left western Canada, there’s a large void in shipping fright,” said Annette. “We would be stepping into their footprints they left in the sand.”
Developing those cargo routes and exploring delivering goods for online shopping would not be a huge source of business according to Dennis, but the pair will continue to do what Tundra Transfer has always done, exploring new businesses avenues.