By Azzo Rezori - Special to TC Media—St. John’s
For some, the name Newfoundland Canvas might be a tad misleading. My own reaction was to imagine a place where they make sails.
Twenty-eight-year-old owner Adam Kavanagh laughs and assures me I’m not alone. He’s had a number of calls from people who made the same mistake.
“For us, canvas really has to do with a platform for you to create and tell your story.”
“For us” refers to Kavanagh and six employees applying the latest technologies for printing anything from family photos to greeting cards, banners, folios, etc. The wall to the left as you enter the shop on the eastern-most block of Elizabeth Avenue is covered with racks displaying frame samples of all shapes, shades and textures imported from Italy. There’s no formal reception area. You enter and feel instantly at home in what is essentially a workshop with the cool atmosphere of a design studio. What serves as a very casual reception desk is also the workstation of Kit Sora, who was busy, when I walked in, lining up photo prints for the next day’s production.
Behind a dividing wall of bold Norwegian wood, the other employees were doing their thing — Nicholas face-mounting a print on acrylic, Richard custom-framing a painting by a local artist, Chad stretching a canvas print, Drew cutting frames, Courtney sorting current orders on a computer.
The small and independent business’s specialty, Kavanagh says, is quality in an age dominated by cheap quantity.
“That’s really what lets us survive in this world where we have large box stores which offer similar services at lower prices. Here we have seven professionals who have expertise in several fields and worked themselves in photography.”
Kavanagh grew up in Calvert on the Southern Shore. His interest in photography goes back to his high school days. He started a small printing operation while still at Memorial University completing a degree in math and physics. Within weeks of graduating, he opened Newfoundland Canvas on Cathedral Street in downtown St. John’s.
“I was the only person who worked there. Seven days a week. I would get excited when somebody would walk down the sidewalk, and hope that they would come in through the door.”
Parking was not much of an issue because even then much of the business came to him as it does more and more often these days — online.
It was on Cathedral Street that he also developed another service — becoming the printer, even the agent in some cases, for dozens of local professional photographers and artists.
“It lets the artist focus on creating work and not on the logistics of delivering a print to the customer.”
And so the business grew, “organically” as Kavanagh puts it.
After two years on Cathedral Street, he moved to larger premises on Cashin Avenue. By that time he’d already hired one employee. He added two more during his three years on Cashin Avenue. Since his move to Elizabeth Avenue one year ago, four more employees have come on board.
“We’re bringing in people with new talents. And this is a really exciting time for us now.”
Exciting on several fronts. More talents and heads come with more ideas. More ideas also challenge Kavanagh to keep rethinking what it means to be the boss in today’s workplace.
“Many things that we do here, there are 15 different ways that they could be done. I would identify the way that I would do it. One of the others will take a look at it, size it up, and say, well, this is the way I think it would work better. Then we conference back and forth, and through that process things will likely come to a solution that will work better than what I suggested.”
That may slow things down in the short run, but it seems to work for the longer haul. According to Kavanagh, Newfoundland Canvas is growing while companies that have been around for years are failing across the country.
His original mission was simply “to do really cool prints that were of high quality.” It still is, but with so much more added on, as new technologies keep opening new opportunities.
“Month to month it’s almost a different business with the amount that we’ve grown, and the people that we’ve added, and the way that we’ve changed our business.”
Kavanagh says the very technology after which he named his company is a relative newcomer: printing on canvas became a commercial option only about 10 years ago. It’s established itself since as a versatile and increasingly popular alternative to other printing technologies that involve heavier and more cumbersome materials. Even big companies come knocking. Newfoundland Canvas’s largest commercial contract so far called for 1,200 printed canvases celebrating an important milestone in one local corporation’s history.
With so small a beginning and so much on the go six years along, Kavanagh admits the future is anybody’s guess. These are times of head-spinning change, even in the world of small business, where stability counts.
Still, for all the new technologies constantly changing the game, what stands out most in Kavanagh’s shop is the quality and beauty of the images he produces. And that, he makes clear, is not negotiable.