TCIG's branding capitalized on the aboriginal communities’ pride of ownership. Its logo features a soaring eagle and an iconic Indian wigwam complete with traditional markings. The "Our Vision" section of its website explains its intentions simply: "To contribute to First Nations' SELF-SUFFICIENCY by generating WEALTH and being a major player in Canadian and international economies." Establishing its brand has been instrumental in connecting with the hearts and minds of the local Indian populations. Through heritage and shared identity, the brand is building an auspicious future.
Arctic's sales of Pepsi products, which had historically run neck-and-neck with those of Coca-Cola, tipped heavily in Pepsi’s favor. Fast forward to today and TCIG has amassed an eight-figure portfolio with investments in a wide variety of sectors, including financial services, hotels, gasoline, trucking, health care, golf courses, retail, a professional hockey team, and a regional airline. In fact, its portfolio of investments is now worth more than CAD$ 50 million.
Sam Anderson, TCIG’s vice president of community relations, says the company started making investments—usually in the neighborhood of 20 percent—in companies that its people could support with their patronage. Slowly but surely, bolstered by local loyalty and growing brand recognition, TCIG evolved from a niche player into a mainstream force.
Anderson says the transformation of the brand was done with wise and strategic investments.
“We’ve marketed ourselves well and had strong backing from our communities. That’s been the push behind us. Whenever you have ownership, you tend to use (its products) more. Instead of the red can, our people bought the blue can. We’ve proven we can take over a mainstream business and make it viable,” he says.
“When we began we were just a bunch of Indians trying to start something. I’m glad somebody took a chance on that. I’m glad we went beyond what people think of First Nations people. I think we’ve proven we can fit into any world and we’ve broken ground so that when a new aboriginal business starts up, people can take chances on it, too.”
Robert Warren, director of the Asper Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Manitoba, says TCIG’s initial challenge was to convince the business community that it knew what it was doing when it came to investments. Then it had to overcome all the negative stereotypes associated with aboriginal people, such as alcoholism, high unemployment, high crime rates, and financial dependence on the federal government.
The success of Arctic Beverages was the first step towards gaining widespread acceptance and pushing those stereotypes to the background, he says.
“That was a great example of a business that really flourished in the aboriginal-dominated sector of the province. They showed they could get a consistent return on it and that gave people confidence that they understood investments and business development. They then went out and brought in more people with experience in investments and that said, ‘we understand the process and all the things we have to consider,’” he says.