When Nancy Stibbard purchased North Vancouver‘s Capilano Suspension Bridge from her father in 1983, there were six employees. The business has now expanded into the Capilano Group, employing more than 450 people in retail, hospitality and tourism-based businesses in British Columbia and Alberta. More than half work at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.
Stibbard, a former social worker, turned Capilano Suspension Bridge Park into one of Vancouver’s premiere tourist attractions, increasing to nearly one million visitors each year. She added Treetops Adventure in 2004 and Cliffwalk in 2011, engineering feats that allow guests to enjoy the natural surroundings without damage to the rainforest environment. The park also includes nature trails, award-winning gardens and North America’s largest private collection of First Nations totem poles.
In the early years, Stibbard expanded the park’s store, the Trading Post, into a beautifully themed space with unusual gifts and high-quality items. After the Trading Post garnered a reputation as one of the best gift stores in Western Canada, Stibbard opened stores in Victoria, Banff and at Moraine Lake Lodge near Lake Louise. The Capilano Group has grown to include two lodges in the Canadian Rockies – Moraine Lake Lodge and Cathedral Mountain Lodge, as well as the Stanley Park Pavilion, Stanley’s Bar & Grill and Prospect Point Cafe and Gift Shop in Stanley Park, Vancouver.
Despite her success, Stibbard says her biggest obstacle in starting a business was herself. “I had no business experience. I couldn’t afford to make any mistakes; I was paying back a multi-million dollar loan at double-digit interest rates. So I made friends in the industry and asked a lot of questions. I surrounded myself with good professionals whenever possible and started to assemble a team of good employees. I also listened to my guests – every idea started from them.”
Advice to anyone thinking of starting a business? “I strongly believe in taking baby steps. Start from the premise that you know nothing! Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It always surprises me how much wisdom people are willing to share. And then I listen!”