One is a competitive bodybuilder, the other a mother of one. What do they have in common? Both have a connection to Brock, and both have taken the plunge and started their own businesses. This is a leap that is tough at the best of times. It takes hard work, dedication, and an intense desire to be successful. Since the age of three, Michael Pytlik has been an athlete. From playing for the Toronto Redwings AAA hockey team to competitive bodybuilding, Pytlik has seen it all. Graduating from Brock in 1999 with an honours degree in health sciences, he knows what can help you whip yourself into shape.

His business, eliteBODY Performance Sport Nutrition Centres, is the result of years of seeing all the wrong things being done. Throughout his athletic career, he has seen and helped hundreds of athletes use the correct performance enhancers, and advised them against the incorrect ones. Starting with a small store in Beamsville, he has since moved his operations to Glendale Avenue, next to Southside Frankie’s in St. Catharines.

Pytlik offers a different kind of service to those that want to improve themselves. Frustrated with the way other “nutrition centres” have sold supplements, only selling the latest products whether they work or not, he decided to open a store that would cater to those that seriously wanted to improve their physiques.

Pytlik offers a high-end product, which he says is a rarity in St. Catharines. “It [St. Catharines] is the home of low-cost products. Nowhere else would bars use $1.50 beers as a main selling point. In Toronto, they’d laugh at you,” said Pytlik.

While offering high-end supplements, he does his best to keep the prices down. Ultimately though, in the land of performance enhancing, you get what you pay for. EliteBODY caters to those who know, “a $10 protein will get you a $10 body.”

In order to make sure he is only selling the best products, nothing in the store is sold without Pytlik himself having tried it at one time or another. Combining this with years of experience in the world of supplements, he is possibly the most knowledgeable person in the area when it comes to self-improvement.

As far as competition is concerned, his is the only high-end store of its kind in St. Catharines. The closest comparable outlet is Musclemag in Hamilton. However, the store is merely a place where the average person can buy supplements. The real business is in the advising and training of athletes and anyone else who wants to improve themselves.

It hasn’t been easy though. The largest hurdle to overcome when starting a new business is finding enough money to get it off the ground. Pytlik originally wanted to open a gym, but found that as a young man without a house, banks didn’t want to lend him the money.

“It’s tough to get money in Canada,” he says. “You have to prove that you don’t need the money to get the money.”

After applying for a $6000 small business loan through the Canadian government 5 1/2 months ago, he is still waiting to hear if he’s got it. Tired of waiting, he went through the Niagara Credit Union and was quickly approved for a loan. Even then, he was forced to finance the original business in Beamsville with his credit cards.

None of this has discouraged him though. Pytlik is still enthusiastic and willing to do what it takes to succeed. “I’m going to live and die by my reputation.”

On the other side of the city, a small store is trying to find its place in the downtown market. Found in the Market Square on King Street, White on White is housed in what was once a bakery. Owned and operated by Kelly Exelby, a former assistant general manager for a major hotel in Niagara Falls, and Cheri O’Reilly, a Brock graduate, the shop offers a wide range of unique gift ideas, greeting cards, antiques and home accessories.

O’Reilly and Exelby are long-time friends who for various reasons decided to create a store that interested them both.

“Cheri was offered a job in Vancouver, but didn’t want to move out there,” Exelby said. “She said if I wanted to start something, she’d stay.”

A mother of a newborn, Exelby was reluctant to go back to the hotel and its long hours.

The idea really started years ago when the pair began cutting pictures of interesting objects out of magazines. After being trapped in a snowstorm while in New York taking pictures, they noticed that all of the things they liked were white, cream, or beige.

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Location was important for them, as they wanted to be near their competition. Also, the renovation of the Market square was a big selling point. Mostly though, it was the bakery that was once housed in the building. “We always went here, and were always telling each other that it would be a perfect spot for a store” said Exelby.

Cheri O’Reilly is a graduate of the leisure studies program at Brock, and Kelly Exelby obtained her degree in hotel and food administration at Guelph University. Both decided to take the Niagara College business planning program, and are glad they did. Exelby said it told them everything they would need, even where to go for loans and merchandising. Unlike Pytlik, the two didn’t have any problems with any aspect of the business. Said Exelby: “Niagara College made everything easy to follow and understand. They even gave us a disk with all the forms we would need for just about everything.”

Exelby suggests going through Niagara College if for nothing more then being able to ask any questions you might have. “It was great being able to ask questions, because who else can you ask about things like that?”

The customers range from 25-65 years old, and with the holiday season rapidly approaching, more men are starting to trickle in. The two have an interesting system for males who don’t know what to shop for. “Their wives give us a list of what they want their husbands to get, then they send them to us so we can help” said Exelby.

Both agree that starting your own business is the way to go. “We’re having so much fun. We say we’re going to work and we bust out laughing. It’s like a big social.”

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