Touring in Prince Edward Island, Mark Li enjoys a different type of sightseeing.
“When I drive the car on the street, I find a lot of signs that are made by SignCut,” explains the entrepreneur. “So I’m very happy.”
Li says seeing his signs gives him a sense of achievement that he and his family have contributed to the province they now call home.
“When we come to P.E.I., I think the people are very nice, and they gave our family a lot of help. We enjoy the fresh air, the safe food,” he says. “So I think we will do something for the society.”
Li, his wife, and two young daughters moved to the Island in 2015. During previous visits to Canada, Li had appreciated the fresh air and friendly people. He came to P.E.I. under the provincial nominee program and started SignCut the year he moved.
“In China, I have many experience about sign-making,” he explains, noting he owned a similar business in his home country for more than a decade.
He brought his know-how to his new venture in Stratford. SignCut produces signs and gift/promotional items from materials including metal, wood, acrylic, and corrugated plastic board. But the larger proportion of the company’s sales comes from sign-making machines, such as CNC routers, and laser cutters, marking machines and engravers.
Li says that about 80 per cent of his signs have gone to Island customers, while the majority of sign-making machines get sent to clients in other provinces.
His storefront in the Stratford Business Park stays open from April through December, with the business employing one to three people, depending on the season.
What are his biggest business challenges?
“The big problem is shipping,” Li says, detailing the expense of transporting products to P.E.I. For example, he notes that shipping a machine here involves a boat shipment from China to Halifax and then a truck haul to P.E.I. He marvels that the trucking from Halifax to Charlottetown costs about half as much as the ocean voyage from China to Halifax.
He also says that in a small province it’s challenging to find employees with the specialized skills he needs. “Nobody knows how to run the high-technology machine,” he says, describing laser technology as new to the sign-cutting industry here.
Li says PEI Connectors has supported his business efforts – helping him to secure a visa for a technician who provided critical training and offering opportunities to network with other newcomers. “So we can discuss our business and we can learn from each other,” he says.
His advice for aspiring newcomer entrepreneurs is to live on P.E.I. for a year before launching a business. “So they can know more about the business rules here and know more about the culture.”
With his own business in operation, Li is now focussed on increasing sales. His marketing includes social media and trade shows, including upcoming events in Montreal and the United States.
He describes a simple path to success.
“Step by step,” he says.