Manjeet Singh Atthwal’s South Asian and West Indian business guide is a four-year labour of love.

Perhaps you’d like to buy a sari or find a restaurant that specializes in Punjabi fare. You might want to book a trip to India or find a DVD of a favourite Bollywood film. Then again, you might be looking for a dentist who speaks Urdu.You can satisfy all of these needs by consulting SAWID, a business directory created by Manjeet Singh Atthwal that lists businesses and professional offices owned by members of the South Asian and West Indian community and which is about to go into its second edition.

“I wanted to bring together people from these communities to market themselves, not only to their own community but to the larger community, too,” said Singh Atthwal, who immigrated to Canada in 2000.The directory was a four-year labour of love for Singh Atthwal, who realized after arriving in Quebec that the first thing he’d need to do was to sharpen his linguistic skills in French and English.”I then started picking up computer skills,” he said.”All the while, I worked in part-time jobs at this and that and did volunteer work at a Sikh temple.

“He had the idea for an ethnic business directory while attending courses at Shadd Business Centre, where he learned to write a business plan.”The program at Shadd gave me a platform for what I wanted to do and it helped me organize myself,” he said. “I did some market research and came up with the idea of the business directory.”While the businesses he was targeting were already advertising in local ethnic newspapers, Singh Atthwal wanted to create a “one-stop shopping” booklet that would unite businesses owned by people in a broad spectrum of cultures, languages and religions.The South Asian community includes immigrants from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, the Maldives and Mauritius.He also targeted the ethnic South Asian communities that originate in Trinidad, Tobago, the Seychelles and the Antilles.”We have Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians,” he said. “And there are many different languages.

“There is no common platform for businesses from these communities. There are six or seven South Asian newspapers, but no directory. And the marketing avenues open to small businesses in the mainstream media tend to be very expensive. I’m offering a back route to that.”Statistics Canada’s 2001 census estimates the population of the South Asian community in the greater Montreal area at 80,000. About 20,000 of its members live in Park Extension, 4,000 in Dollard des Ormeaux, 3,000 in LaSalle and 3,000 on the South Shore.Singh Atthwal estimates there are at least 400 South Asian-owned businesses in Montreal.”Quebec has not really explored and utilized this community to tap into local businesses so that it can foster business overseas,” he said.

The first edition of his directory was produced a year ago and the second is due to be published in January.”Last year, we listed 70 businesses and this year, we’ll have 100,” he said.While it has been a challenge to unite all the disparate communities under one banner, he says, many businesses want to become visible in the larger Quebec community.”I’m acting as a catalyst for that,” said Singh Atthwal.He said he plans to begin holding seminars that will unite members of the ethnic business community with its larger Quebec counterpart.Last year, he distributed 10,000 copies of the directory through various religious establishments in the community.

Amarjit (Lucky) Singh, a real-estate agent with Groupe Sutton-Royal Inc. in Dollard des Ormeaux, says advertising in the SAWID (South Asian and West Indian Business Directory) has been good for his business.”I figured that even if I get one client from the directory, it will have paid for itself. But in the past year, I’ve had five clients from it and those have led to more through word of mouth,” he said.

Ajay Bhargav, the owner of Sky Lawn Travel in Montreal, says his business, which has $20 million in annual sales, was healthy when Singh Atthwal approached him about being listed in it.”But we wanted to help the directory get going,” he said. “It’s a good idea. We can promote our businesses and the community can know where we are.

“Singh Atthwal also persuaded businesses that are not owned by South Asians to advertise.”A lot of businesses, like the TD Bank, are in our directory because they serve the South Asian community and they have South Asians working for them,” he said.

David Chalk, a Montreal immigration lawyer with Blanshay Chalk, says that while the directory does not directly drive clients his way, it keeps his services on the radar screens of South Asians.”We get our business through word of mouth,” he said. “We use the directory to keep our visibility in that particular community. It reinforces our message in the community.”

CREDIT: MARIE-FRANCE COALLIER, THE GAZETTE © The Gazette (Montreal) 2005