Most of us celebrate and reflect on major milestones. As with life, in business it’s helpful to know who you are—where you’ve been and where you’re going.
Tormaigh and Jenelle Van Slyke of VAULTmedia officially filed business papers with the province in June of 2011, and it was its own challenge to get enough capital to start.
By 2013—the year they published the first edition of Move Up—they had burned through their $95,000 business loan and were close to defaulting.
Although the word “bankruptcy” was said aloud, they didn’t stop there. They gradually managed to borrow another $50,000 or so from family to keep their home office rented and food in the fridge. It was “do or die.”
Now, they’re celebrating 10 years of Move Up Magazine. This is their story.
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Tormaigh: It began December 14, 2010.
We were exploring our options during the 18-hour drive home after finishing university in Victoria.
As Media and Communications graduates, we were facing our immediate future. We needed to fulfill our bursary obligations of living in Northern Alberta and working in our field for at least one year.
We drove and considered our options. The conversation kept circling to the same sentiment, which was, “Why are we not more excited?”
Jenelle: I might have cried a little.
Tormaigh: We knew the landscape we were returning to. It was the unique culture that shaped us. Jenelle was raised in Meander River, High Level, Peace River and Dixonville, and I was born and raised in Dixonville. Northwestern Alberta is who we are.
We dug deeper as we inched closer. We finally realized we were anxious to return to a place that felt less whole, less aware of itself and its worth. Growing up in Dixonville in the ‘90s left us with a wary sense of cultural isolation.
(1) On behalf of Move Up, EDOs Jennifer Moore and Eleanor Miclette accept a Marketing Canada Award for a Publication Series at the 2015 Economic Developers of Canada Conference, (2) Jeremy Johnson of Can-Tech Electric installing Move Up's backlit sign on the historic Crown Building in Peace RIver (3) Jenelle manning the Move Up/Mighty Peace Tourism booth at the High Level Trade Show in 2016.
We knew most of the right puzzle pieces were there, but we felt something intangible was falling short. We felt we had just moved past that in our lives, and here we were driving right back into the mouth of the dragon.
Our solution? theVAULTmagazine, a free alternative newspaper that reflected the culture of the Peace Region—why it’s cool to embrace living in the North.
We wanted to create that helpful older sibling who turns you on to what’s cool and fun—in newspaper form. That was the idea. That was our solution.
How did your business start?
Jenelle: When we arrived home, Tormaigh was telling everyone we were starting a revolution.
We were somehow going to single-handedly unite the region and connect everyone, so we could all be on the same page and individually feel like we each own the richness Northwestern Alberta has to offer.
We spent 90% of the next six months trying to get a start-up loan from Community Futures Peace Country (CFPC), working side jobs as needed. We can attest that it’s very difficult to get start up capital with little more than a university degree and an idea.
CFPC’s small business consultant, Deb Kalyn, made us jump through hoop after hoop before we were handed a cheque. We were young and so eager to begin, and we thought we were ready.
I’m glad it worked out the way it did. We spent hundreds of hours making it happen, but the truth was we didn’t know what we were getting into.
In September of 2011, we published the first issue of our newspaper, theVAULTmagazine.
The 54th issue, our last, would be published in December of 2013.
What were some early challenges?
Tormaigh: We’d run out of the money we’d borrowed somewhere around the end of 2012.
It was a make it or break it moment, and I was getting even more scrappy than before when it came to sales. I was trying to broker annual advertising deals. I was as earnest as I’ve ever been.
I laid it all on the line for my home county’s economic development officer (EDO). Her name is Eleanor Miclette. She’s no longer in that role, but at the time, she saw something in us as entrepreneurs.
Eleanor suggested we attend a meeting with a group of EDOs she was already working with to discuss creating a new publication.
We started to wrap our minds around the idea for Move Up, a promotional magazine focused on local business and lifestyle.
One meeting turned into over a dozen, and the inaugural issue of Move Up was published in late April of 2013 and not a moment too soon.
Jenelle: Back then, it was hard to separate our work from our personal lives. We worked out of our home for more than two years before moving into historic Crown Building in downtown Peace River, which has since burned down.
Who helped you along the way?
Jenelle: The original EDOs we met with were from the County of Northern Lights, Northern Sunrise County, Lac Cardinal Regional Economic Development, the Town of Peace River and Smoky River Regional Economic Development.
Community Futures Peace Country hosted us and a representative often attended discussions.
Tormaigh: We soon found advertisers were able and willing to pay a higher price for a more professional product, as compared to a bi-weekly newspaper with features about hipsters, robots and concert reviews.
Revenue from Move Up helped pay for the last issues of theVAULT, but the writing was already on the wall. We cut the newspaper loose and moved onward with Move Up, publishing four times per year starting in 2015.
Jenelle: Our families helped us out financially and supported us along the way. And, we have some hardcore advertisers, who have hired our services in every publication we’ve put out. When we say we couldn’t do it without you, we mean it. You make Move Up’s existence possible.
When the first issue came out in April 2013, we picked up a box and didn’t even open it right away. We drove it straight to Community Futures, and we looked through the very first issue with Randy Hodgkinson, the general manager there.
We were so proud of it, and we wanted to share the moment with someone who really knew how hard we worked to get to this moment.
What was your business like in the beginning?
Jenelle: We didn’t do direct mail distribution in the first few years. We relied on our municipal partners to distribute the magazine in their respective regions. And, we drove around the region to every restaurant, doctor’s office, gas station, visitor info centre, etc. that would take us.
Our distribution from then to now is night and day. Today, our printers prepare it for mail and deliver it to Canada Post in Calgary. A couple days later, a magazine arrives in every single mailbox in our distribution area. We also send hundreds of copies to subscribers outside of our distribution area, which now covers 21% of Alberta.
Tell us about your team?
Jenelle: In the first year of Move Up, our team was Tormaigh, myself, editor Chris Zwick, graphic designer Aimie Williams, a handful of freelance writers, and a couple advertising sales people.
We hired Christine Taylor to help with the design of the first edition, and up until recently, Tormaigh and I did all the magazine’s layout design.
Our writing team has changed throughout the years as has our roster of photographers and ad sales people. We’ve been very fortunate to work with extremely talented people, who have all had their stamp on the magazine. It’s important to work with people who are passionate and enthusiastic. It shines through.
Tormaigh: Shout out to Vanessa Burns for being the second half of our current sales team.
In what ways has the business changed?
Tormaigh: When a business is small and unique like ours, change breezes by like the wind.
Smoky River Regional Economic Development left the partnership, and the following members came onboard: the Town of Fairview, the MD of Fairview, Clear Hill County, MD of Peace and the Town of Grimshaw.
We formed a strong working relationship with Mighty Peace Tourism in 2015, which led to a three-year campaign with them and Travel Alberta.
The Town of High Level partnered from 2015-2022, which kicked off our expansion to the NWT border, which came into fruition in 2019.
Forming strong partnerships with Mackenzie Frontier Tourism, REDI and Mackenzie County was a major turning point for us, which is great because it’s where Jenelle grew up.
On a personal note, we moved our home office to Victoria, BC in 2017.
Jenelle: The biggest thing for us lately is we’ve been forced into a major growth spurt, which has been unfolding over the past 12 months. Our printers of nine years increased our price by 35%. We were unable to negotiate any significant reduction, so we made the tough decision to change printers.
We’re still paying more than we had been for our printing, but we’re happy with the product and turn-around time. Move Up is now printed in Alberta rather than Manitoba.
To cover new costs, we had to increase our page count by 40% to accommodate more advertising. And, we expanded our sales team from just Tormaigh. We’re grateful it’s been working—shout out to our new advertisers.
What does the future hold?
Tormaigh: With 10 years of Move Up to look back upon, we are still learning and still experiencing growing pains.
As we improve our product, new challenges present themselves. However, there’s no denying we’ve all grown on this journey.
Northwestern Alberta is in our bones. We’ve been following our hearts since that fateful, two-day drive in 2010. We’re contributing in the best way we know—by connecting and building our region and the unique culture that shaped us.
By Tormaigh and Jenelle Van Slyke | Naomi Maya Photography