Navigating Through COVID-19 in Riding Mountain National Park

CPAs can be found in every industry, being experts at more than numbers – and they’re great with those, too.

Every month, CPA Manitoba spotlights the diverse and dedicated professionals that prove CPA is more than a designation. 

Never give up. Have patience and keep following your dreams. Nothing comes easy, the journey is worth way more than you can ever imagine.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all one way or another. Whether it’s not being able to see our loved ones who live far away or new rules and regulations in our everyday lives, we have had to make changes. For Wendy Zinkowski, CPA, CGA, Owner of Clear Lake Trading Post, this meant dealing with new government protocols for owning a business in a national park, as well as adapting the business to succeed during a global pandemic.

“COVID-19 has definitely been challenging. We had a late start to our season because of government regulations to close national parks across Canada. We didn’t open until mid-June when we would usually open beginning of May,” said Zinkowski.

To mitigate the financial impact, Zinkowski improvised – adapting Clear Lake Trading Post’s business model. She implemented online orders and curbside pickup for the grocery inventory, launched their own clothing brand -- Deep Bay Clothing Company and changed health policies and procedures.

“Our online store helped us because we were able to generate some sales while the store was still closed. It has been our most challenging year in business as there are a lot of things out of our control, but we are doing our best to prepare for the risks while keeping customers and staff safe,” explained Zinkowski.

To understand how she was able to effectively pivot her business and adapt during the pandemic, we need to go back and learn how she came to be an owner of such a unique business.

Her journey started in the early 2000’s when she joined the Business Administration program at Red River College.

“At the time, I felt the program was a great steppingstone to achieving all of my career goals,” Zinkowski said.

Her first job after college was at Investors Group as a data entry clerk for fund processing. After a year, she took an office manager position at Stephenson Equipment.

“It was a great working environment with a smaller company that allowed me to get more exposure with full day-to-day accounting,” she described.

Next, Zinkowski decided to try something new and completed her financial advisor certification through Freedom 55 Financial. After a year of working under a financial planner, she knew it wasn’t the right career path for her.

“I enjoyed meeting new people and hearing their stories however, I just didn’t like relying on people’s financial investments in order to pay my commission,” explained Zinkowski.

Undeterred, she enrolled in the legacy CGA program while working towards her commerce degree at Laurentian University. This helped her obtain an accounting position with StandardAero where she would stay for the next six years, eventually taking on the role of assistant controller. During this time, Zinkowski also met her husband and they had their first child.

As many parents will tell you, having a child changes your life and it did for Zinkowski too. She decided to take some time away from work to adapt to life as a first-time mom while completing her degree and accounting designation. When she was ready to return to the workforce, she joined Number TEN Architectural Group as an accounting manager.

“I relished the family-based work environment they offered and the flexibility to enjoy leisure time in the evenings with family and friends. I also found working with architectural design accounts very interesting,” Zinkowski said.

She left the company after the birth of her second child, and with her career experience and knowledge she gained obtaining her accounting designation, decided she was ready to fulfill a lifelong dream – becoming a business owner.

“I wanted to pursue my goal of owning a business and still be there to take my children to soccer and dance practices,” she explained. “That’s when the opportunity to purchase the Clear Lake Trading Post came up and we took a leap of faith to become business owners. Four years later, we are living at the lake, homeschooling our kids and taking on new adventures.”

Clear Lake Trading Post is located in Riding Mountain National Park, about a three-hour drive from Winnipeg. The store is situated right on the shores of Clear Lake, offering a waterfront view for customers and staff and features groceries, takeout food, camping supplies and clothing. Like many entrepreneurs, Zinkowski takes on several roles at the business.

“My main duties include budgeting, accounting, sales analysis, ordering products, employee training, social media and marketing, stocking shelves and baking pies,” she detailed. “I enjoy the fast-paced environment, the variety of work and effort involved. Even though it’s very busy, it feels great. At the end of the day, I’m doing all of it for my family and this community and that’s a very rewarding feeling.”

Although the store shuts down in the winter, the offseason is just as busy.

“When we are closed for the season, we do all of our year end books since we are our own accountants and come up with a grocery plan for the following year. Now that we’ve launched our own clothing brand, we’ll be working on that too. In a typical year, we would also spend some time travelling, learning about other cultures and ways of life, but that won’t be possible this winter, so we’ll just have to adapt,” she says.

When asked about the importance of her CPA designation and why it stood out, Zinkowski made it clear that she knew it would help her achieve her goals.

“I saw the potential for advancement opportunities with the CPA designation. Not only for jobs, but for self-advancement too. I always liked problem solving, being challenged and I saw where my peers were headed with their designation and I wanted to be part of that,” she explained.

Her CPA designation combined with her experience as a business owner has allowed her to continue to evaluate new ideas and ventures even during these uncertain times.

“We’re always assessing business opportunities, but one of our goals is to keep expanding our Deep Bay clothing brand. We also want to adapt our store to accommodate our ever-changing customer needs and requests, especially now with COVID-19. Who knows, if the opportunity presents itself, maybe we purchase another store or even a rental property,” she said.

Zinkowski also shared some advice for those considering the CPA designation and a career in accounting.

“Never give up. Have patience and keep following your dreams. Nothing comes easy, the journey is worth way more than you can ever imagine,” she shared.

One last question, are there any bad days at the lake?

“Our store is right across from the lake, so I can’t complain. When you have a rough or busy day and you look outside, you think to yourself ‘you know what? It’s still a pretty good day,’” Zinkowski chuckled.