Kanata Pet Foods: a CYBF Success Story:
Shortly after I volunteered as a mentor with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, I was introduced to Karla Briones and Shawn Hoey, and to their daughter, Nayeli, who, at that time, was less than a year old. As new entrepreneurs, they were already well prepared. Karla came from a marketing and public relations background. Shawn came equipped with real-world experience in accounting and business management. They had already secured most of their financing, signed a franchisee’s agreement, found a location, negotiated a lease and developed a highly detailed business plan.
Karla and Shawn were opening a Global Pet Foods franchise in Kanata, Ontario. Their emphasis would be on wholesome, organic products and outstanding customer service. By the time I came on board, much of the heavy lifting had already been done. Global Pet Foods has a system for store design, inventory, merchandising, point-of-sale data capture and many of the details a new retail business owner must cope with in getting a store up and running. Even with a master system in place, there is a learning curve and part of the process is dealing with delays, disappointment and exhaustion.
Karla and Shawn attacked their new venture with energy and enthusiasm. Karla, in particular, is an energizer bunny, with a major talent for marketing and promotion. In the pre-opening period, she cajoled free print, radio and television coverage and generally made a lot of noise in Kanata.
We spent a good part of our meeting time, in the early going, thinking about staff; defining our selection criteria, identifying qualified candidates, training and motivating our recruits. Personnel would prove to be one of the greatest challenges. Part of the process in any small business is getting the people pieces to fit and this does not always happen on the first try. Over the next two years, we would discuss the subject of personnel again, and again.
Another recurring theme was the delicate balancing of the demands of business and family. Many new businesses are launched by people in the 24 to 32 age group. This is also the age window when many get married and start families. Energy is unlimited, perceived risk is low or non-existent and worlds can be conquered, all before quitting time. Family demands are serious enough, but when Mom and Pop are also business partners, a whole new dimension enters the marriage. Perfectly compatible couples who share a seemingly ideal marriage have been known to have bitter disagreements over business issues. This type of management structure requires strong people in a strong marriage, where perspective is everything. After one of our meetings, I wrote a short piece for the Financial Post, on this subject, which is reproduced on this site.
Their official opening in June of that year was a grand affair. They pitched a tent canopy outside the store, served barbecue and generally let the neighbourhood know they were there. Through that first year, their sales numbers were consistently ahead of target and, as the months went by, their growing maturity as retailers became evident. They were working within a system and they were making the system work for them.
Early in 2010, a late-evening phone call brought the news that they had won “Best New Business” in the Kanata Chamber of Commerce Peoples’ Choice Awards. It was appropriate recognition for their hard work in getting the business up and running, cultivating a happy customer base and Karla’s skill in marketing and keeping the business in the spotlight. By now, their web site was fully functional, with a social media presence on Facebook and Karla had found a following on Twitter.
As they rolled through their first anniversary, Karla had become a member of the Global Pet Foods’ franchisee committee. Her youth, her enthusiasm and “can-do” approach was now being felt at “Head Office”. Her involvement, at this level, developed a new business perspective, beyond the local store, leading to a re-focusing of business objectives and a raising of the sights.
“We’re thinking of another store” was my first clue that, little more than a year following their official opening, they were expanding. Based on experience, I laid out all of the risks in reaching too far, too soon: stretching human and capital resources and taking the focus off a new business scarcely more than a year old.
Hintonburg, in the west end of Ottawa is an old, blue-collar neighbourhood undergoing renewal; new condo apartments, new retail businesses, younger, better educated citizens with new ideas about urban living. For the moment, retail rents are lower here than in other parts of the city. A good lease deal negotiated now, would pay dividends as the community evolved. There would never be a better time to stake a claim for Global Pet Foods.
It is the mentor’s duty, once all of the risks have been laid out and analyzed and the entrepreneur’s decision is made, to get on side and out front in the parade. Certainly, the recent experience of establishing one store informed the opening of the second location. By this time, there were some experienced key employees who could be deployed in the two locations to contribute to the training of new recruits. Inventory could be moved between locations, as the two distinctively different customer markets voted with their purchases.
Through it all, Karla and Shawn worked as a team, each contributing their unique skills; her boundless energy, passion and marketing savvy and his grasp of numbers, empathy for customers and employees and profound will to succeed.
This was my first experience as a CYBF mentor. I could not have imagined a more interesting, challenging and satisfying volunteer experience. Over the two years, I saw two entrepreneurs take their first steps in their own business and progress, in a very short time, to knowledgeable, competent retailers. This is a success story for the entrepreneurs, for the CYBF and for this volunteer mentor.
I hope this narrative will encourage other experienced business people to become involved in the CYBF mentor program. I’m definitely looking forward to my next assignment.
CYBF Volunteer Mentor