From Potash to Profits

North Rim Exploration Ltd. rides diversification to unprecedented growth

With its geological and engineering expertise, North Rim’s staff occupies a key niche in the industry.

When Tabetha Stirrett was a young girl growing up in central Canada, her grandmother used to quip that she had “rocks in her pockets.” It was a way of saying the active girl, who loved the outdoors, just couldn’t sit still when it came to nature.

Little did Tabetha know then that her love of nature—in particular, the earth’s makeup—would help her guide the growth of North Rim Exploration, one of the most successful geology firms in Saskatchewan.

Stirrett, manager of business development, and Karri Howlett, president and CEO, are drilling their way to success for North Rim, which provides geological and engineering support to companies, as well as a way to calculate the amount of potash beneath an exploration company’s land holdings. It’s a critical skill in Saskatchewan, as the province has the largest potash reserves in the world.

“We’re greatly positioned, as we are the only geological-based consulting firm in Saskatchewan,” Stirrett says.

Since 2007, North Rim has more than tripled its staff. Stirrett and Howlett insist that the recipe for their firm’s success isn’t earth-shattering. When the duo and six other employees bought out the company’s former owner two years ago, they employed the usual marketing strategies. They rebranded the website, changed the logo, and presented the products and services at trade shows, to spur growth. Moreover, Stirrett and Howlett also developed targeted hiring practices that were focused on service diversification, and boosted their commitment to client service to help prompt North Rim’s success. Still, the firm’s future was built on the foundation of its past.

“We were fortunate to buy a firm that had a great reputation,” says Stirrett of taking over North Rim, which was founded in 1984 by Steve Halabura, who still serves as the company’s chairman of the board. “We really wanted to balance our growth while maintaining the stellar reputation North Rim had built.”

Reputation is everything in the geology industry. Companies, most of which are publicly traded, succeed or fail based upon the information gathered by their exploration efforts. Once North Rim developed its business infrastructure—an HR department, safety policies, etc.—and handled some client projects, it was smooth sailing for the young firm, whose average employee age is 30.

Now, with the potash-exploration industry booming, someone working on sales exclusively, and a purposeful plan to explore avenues beyond potash and into gold, uranium, and other minerals, North Rim is poised to continue its exceptional growth.

“Originally, the majority of our clients were small, junior companies working in Saskatchewan,” Stirrett says. “When we decided we wanted to work in other areas beyond potash, we started to hire geologists with diverse experience … We have four to five geologists who have significant experience in uranium, gold, and other areas.”

North Rim has also secured strategic relationships with other firms and key people at the University of Saskatchewan to provide mentorship to up-and-coming geologists and engineers. The company is also looking toward the future to ensure its success, even during bear-market conditions, thanks in part to an innovative approach to clients.

“We do not want our clients to view us as their consultant,” Stirrett says. “We try to be part of their technical team. If they consider us as a team member, we will have better long-term relationships with our clients.”

Today, North Rim’s contracts average between three and six months, and a big challenge for the firm is maintaining a consistent workflow. However, by acting as its clients’ advocate and acting as an extension of the client’s technical team, the firm is positioning itself to stay with its clients from the exploration phase to advanced stages, in order to face any challenges that may arise.

With international expansion, including work in Arizona, Brazil, Laos, the United Kingdom, and Australia, North Rim is well on its way to reaching its ultimate goal of being an internationally known geosciences firm.

“We have a thorough understanding of Saskatchewan geology, and we hope to use that knowledge to build a reputation that is known throughout the world,” Stirrett says.