The Branscombes – Michelle and Gerald, with son Joshua – believe their business, Ascension Pet Needs and More, should be about more than making money. They actively work to help young people in the community and also to offer Canadian products, many of which are produced locally.
BY LINDA SUTTON: YARMOUTH AND AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE FEATURE
YARMOUTH – Gerald and Michelle Branscombe aimed high when they opened Ascension Pet Needs & More in Yarmouth four years ago. Of course they hoped they would have a successful business, but they also wanted to do something to help those in the community who needed a chance to get some employment experience. This included their son, Joshua, 21, who is autistic.
Gerald had experience in purchasing and inventory and was working at Shur-Gain in Dayton when that business closed down. So they decided to launch their own family business – daughter Stacie also works at Ascension.
They also provide an eight-week training course – four hours a week – for other young men and women who need skills training.
“We teach them everything from cleaning floors to bagging. By the time they’re done, they even learn to use the debit machines,” Gerald says, pointing out that Michelle, who home-schooled their children, was instrumental in designing the program.
“A lot of them have special needs,” he says.
Some have been referred by psychiatrists and others by West Nova Inclusive Employment Society, a community-based organization that provides specialized employment services for persons with disabilities.
“That’s the heart of our business. And that’s behind the name ‘Ascension’ too. It means to ascend above,” he says. “So we want to ascend above what’s expected of us, to help the community, to raise the standards a little bit.”
When the business opened on Burton Street, just off Starrs Road, it was devoted to the needs of dogs and cats. The business keeps on growing. It’s expanded twice in the past four years and now stocks supplies for farm animals, heritage gardening and even beehive kits.
“We’ve built it up from our customers,” Gerald says. “Because we’re independent, we’re able to carry local and Canadian foods, natural health products. We do a lot of research from third party sites before we bring anything in.”
On a tour of the store, Gerald proudly points to a large variety of items that are handmade locally – colourful collars and bandanas, cozy dog coats, home-baked treats and catnip toys. A local farmer supplies timothy hay for rabbits and other small critters such as guinea pigs. They bag it themselves, he says, and therefore are able to keep the price down and the size manageable. They also wholesale items such as birdseed to other local businesses.
This approach is has three advantages, he says: it sources locally, it keeps the price down, and it provides employment for their young helpers.
The tour winds up at a door labeled Josh’s Office. The sign was a gift from the man who made the signs for the business. The conversation turns back to training.
“It’s because of Josh,” Gerald says. “We thought, let’s open this up to other people who have the same needs. It’s more for their parents than it is for them, because their parents need to know their child is getting some skills. That’s really what we focus on.”