The amount of work that Joshua Earls does around Norman Wells might make observers wonder if the name of Rampart Rentals falls short of capturing everything his company is capable of.
And rentals have nothing to do with it. “We’re a grocery and hardware store mostly,” said Earls. “When the store originally started it was a VHS and games rental store and sold snacks and candy.”
Over the years, as video and game rental shops disappeared almost everywhere, Rampart gradually changed into its current format. Named after a fast-flowing stretch of the Mackenzie River near Fort Good Hope, Rampart is one of two grocery stores in the Sahtu town along with the Northern Store. It also supplies the Imperial Oil camp, the health centre, the Yamouri and Heritage hotels and outfitting companies with essential goods.
In the summer of 2008, Earls began the first of many visits from southern Ontario to Norman Wells where he worked for his uncle. After he graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. in 2014 with a business degree, he moved permanently to the oil town. He and his three brothers then started working as assistant managers at Rampart under the previous owner Peter Guther. The brothers saved up money for a down payment on the store and in 2016 purchased it from Guther. The trio expanded Rampart’s services in 2018 beyond retail to include transportation services.
“We started up our own transportation company so we could do barging in the summer and bring up our own goods during the winter road season. We order our goods in Edmonton and our trucks drive them from Edmonton to Fort Simpson. They get barged up the Mackenzie from there. We own six trucks. We send about eight loads per year on the winter road and six or seven barge loads.”
They expanded again in 2019 when they became agents for Buffalo Airways, helping with the unloading of cargo from flights.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the NWT, Rampart modified its services to offer deliveries to the many people self-isolating after returning from outside the territory. Residents emailed their grocery and other item orders and Rampart delivered them. “The fact we were able to deliver basic necessities to people made them so happy,” Earls said.
The main challenge Earls has faced in the last five years is the difference between the education of business and the reality of it on the ground. “You come out of university and you think you know what you’re doing and you realize that it’s a totally different ballgame when you start working in a business. The amount of hours you have to put in to keep things going. It’s a real-world thing. At the start it wasn’t easy because we had such big debt.”
On May 1 of this year, he bought out his brothers and became the sole owner, though the day-to-day functioning of the company mostly remains the same. He and his new staff of five full-time workers and seven part-timers handle the three business arms of Rampart. Expansion is on his mind again, this time towards cannabis.
“We’ve been granted the (tender) to become the cannabis retailer in the Sahtu under the Rampart Rentals name. We’re working on that. We expect it to get running in a year or two. It would be in the building beside us,” he said.
Almost six weeks into his new role as sole owner, Earls feels he’s finding his footing with Rampart. “It takes longer than you might think to get everything running the way you want to,” Earls said. “Since May 1 it’s just been more work and more training. I didn’t have the extra staff for the first six weeks. I was working 15-hour days with no days off. It’s been pretty hectic. This week I finally feel like I can breathe.”
Rampart Rentals is one of may businesses participating in the NWT Chamber of Commerce’s #shopNWT campaign to connect shoppers with local businesses.
Spend a minimum of $500 to be entered to win the grand prize: The Ultimate Staycation package from The Explorer Hotel, or one of six $1,000 gift certificates to be spent at a #shopNWT-participating business. For a full list of participating businesses across the territory, visit buynorth.nnsl.com/shopnwt.
Collect one point for every dollar spent at a participating NWT business until July 18. You can also upload your receipt at this link: qrco.de/bcCn5H. Prize draws are set for July 23 and will be announced on BuyNorth’s Facebook page.
Receipts from participating businesses from June 14 will be accepted. Go to buynorth.nnsl.com/shopnwt, call (867) 4447700 or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.