Canucks economic spin off scores in Whistler 

Little Whistler print shop, Toad Hall Studios, breaks into Vancouver market

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Jorge Alvarez was on the chairlift, enjoying some afternoon spring skiing, when the Canucks called.

They needed 350 T-shirts in 24 hours. Could he do it, they asked.

Alvarez didn't hesitate with a resounding "Yes!" and immediately got on his "Blackberry" to his suppliers in the city.

The next day his eight-arm printing press was stamping Canucks logos onto black T-shirts in Toad Hall Studios in Function Junction and Alvarez was preparing to hand deliver the final product to GM Place that afternoon, right on time.

"To me, this is like winning the Oscars," said Alvarez.

This latest order is just a small part of the work Toad Hall Studios has been doing for the Canucks over the last year and a half.

But it's been getting busier in recent months, as the Canucks ramped up their game with a strong finish to the season and a sweep of the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

On any given game night at GM Place, more than 1,300 T-shirts fly off the shelves with logos that have been stamped onto the cotton in a little print shop in Function.

This is Whistler's taste of the economic spin off from playoff hockey.

"As soon as they started winning... suddenly it was all about the Canucks," he said.

To Alvarez, however, the contract is the culmination of years trying to prove that Whistler companies can deliver quality and value and remain competitive with the city, even if it means dropping everything to drive to Vancouver  and back and work double time to get the job done.

"The old stereotype... it's been shattered," he said.

"Our quality and prices are competitive."

Jill White, retail buyer/merchandise manager of Canucks Sports & Entertainment, knew Alvarez from her days at Whistler Blackcomb. That connection, and the level of customer service she knew she would get from Toad Hall Studios, made the decision to use them an "easy call."

"There may be a perception that Whistler is too expensive but if I were to be doing the same job down here in Vancouver with a local printer, it would be the same price if not more expensive and the turnaround time and customer service would not be the same," said White.

Five years ago Toad Hall took a huge risk, sinking $100,000 into a new printing press. The company thought they would be getting work from the big Whistler players - Whistler Blackcomb, the municipality, and from annual festivals like Crankworx.

But it didn't work out that way. Some of those contracts were going to Vancouver companies, others were cancelled as companies tightened their belts, and the orders simply were not pouring in.

"We had to think outside the valley," recalled Alvarez.

And it worked.

"I'm competing against Chilliwack, Abbotsford; it's the same," he said.

It will only get easier, he added, with the new highway upgrades.

Now with the cachet of the Canucks behind him, Alvarez is poised to reap even more benefits from city-based companies. He recently signed a deal with the Vancouver School Board.

Printing for the Canucks, he said, has given Toad Hall credibility.

Without the commitment from his staff who do the grunt work, or the faith from the North Shore Credit Union and his T-shirt suppliers, Budget T-Shirt and Technosport, Alvarez knows he wouldn't have been able to secure the Canucks.

And of course, there's the team behind the scenes at GM Place, led by Jill White, who put their faith in them too.

"It's been amazing," said Alvarez. "They've been instrumental in making us a success story in an economic climate where not many businesses have had a profitable year."



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