Canadian success story

Mark Biezrzycki had no idea what to expect when he left his native Poland in 1989 to join his mother in Ontario, Canada. He was just 25, and his country was in turmoil. When he got a chance to leave, he took it, not knowing what the future there was going to be. His mother had left during the Solidarity movement nine years earlier and this was a chance for Biezrzycki to be reunited with her. He took a leave of absence from his studies as a fourth-year student in civil engineering at the University of Warsaw and left behind a job, relatives and friends.

Skills that fit

Biezrzycki was able to find work almost immediately in the home improvement business in Canada, but could not continue his degree because it was too expensive. In 1990, he started his own home improvement business making retractable awnings and building sunrooms and glass porch enclosures. His engineering training taught him how to design and build, so it was easy, he says, to make whatever customers wanted.

When he expanded into welded and fixed awnings with aluminum frames and fabric, it was growing so well that he eventually phased out sunrooms to focus only on awnings. Today, Omnimark Awnings in Mississauga, Ont., is thriving as a manufacturer of custom designed stationery and retractable awnings and canopies for commercial and residential projects. The company employs five full-time workers and several part-time workers.

“I enjoy it, I like to try different things,” says Biezrzycki. “I like the idea of having customers from the start to finish when you can sell, design, manufacture, weld and install it.”

As people become more aware of the need for saving energy and to have protection from sun and heat, Biezrzycki says the company is seeing greater demand for awnings and exterior vertical shades. And there is plenty of room for growth and expansion.

Sailing into new business

While Biezrzycki likes to stay busy, he also takes time for recreation—in particular, sailing on Lake Ontario as he did in Poland where the lakes and weather were similar. He started sailing at the age of 16 and had his own boat. During January and February when things are slower, he heads to Florida where his mother is now retired, to sail and scuba dive—a new sport he tried last year. Her home in Fort Lauderdale is also home to a large Polish community. Biezrzycki rents a sailboat there and sails often on his own or with friends.

“I like to sail with my camera. I just enjoy the experience and the scenery,” he says. He gets a lot of requests to fabricate new awnings from friends and acquaintances in Florida, leading him to speculate on the possibility of starting a second business there. Sailing is also related to fabric, he notes, and he sometimes makes boat covers. And then there is that growing passion for scuba diving, which also involves fabric.

Reconnecting with Poland

With the advent of new technologies and social media, Biezrzycki is able to talk to his aunts, uncles and cousins over the Internet, and on Facebook he’s reconnected with friends he thought he had lost. Not long ago he went back to Poland to visit them and explore his former hometown. Not much was familiar to him, however.

“It’s part of the European Union and is so similar to Western Europe now with subdivisions and shopping malls. Everything is modern now,” he says. “I was looking for something from the 60s and 70s and there’s nothing left from that era. It’s hard to find relics from the Communist time.”

While he once thought about retiring in Poland, Canada is his home now, he says, but the warm weather of Florida may have a place in his future.

By Barb Ernster