As the Pacific Regional Manager for the In.Business program I get to live and work on the west coast of Canada. Part of my job involves sharing information on business topics with students in the program. This month I thought I would share a story about my friend Teri as she and her family have just purchased an existing business on Cortes Island, BC, and I believe learning from other entrepreneurs’ experiences can be very valuable for anyone interested in starting their own business. Recently, while on vacation, I had the chance to visit Teri and her family on Cortes Island and see how their new business venture was working out.
Cortes is part of the Discovery Islands and is fairly remote; it takes two ferries to get there from Vancouver Island, so you can imagine how isolated it is. The total population sits at around a thousand permanent residents, with more in the summer during tourist season. Teri, along with her husband Curt and in-laws Magdala and Greg, purchased the Squirrel Cove Trading Company in a lovely area of the Island known as Squirrel Cove, which is frequented by tourists, locals, and boaters. The store is more than a store, it is considered a destination on Cortes Island, as the island, although a pristine and beautiful place has very few amenities. The general store is ninety years old and, needless to say is in need of some upgrades, but it provides many services to the community at large. At first, I thought they were foolish for buying an old building on a remote island, but now I think they may be on to something. They just bought their retirement nest egg, which could turn out be a golden nest egg in the long-run. It takes a lot of “guts” to be an entrepreneur and purchase a business you know nothing about.
The first thing purchasing the store did was eliminate their need for housing, as there are living quarters above the store. Moreover, there is enough room to eventually rent rooms out to tourists. The store also has more than one revenue stream. Aside from being a grocery store, it also sells gasoline for vehicles and boats, operates as a post office, liquor store and hardware store. The purchase also came with a boat ramp, craft store, a year-round garden centre, a campsite site, a laundromat and showers for campers and boaters alike, and a high-end restaurant and fast-food kiosk, which both operate during the summer months when tourist traffic is high. It all sounded like one big money-making operation, but of course right now everyone is focusing on learning the business.
While there, I could tell Teri and Curt and their partners were on a steep learning curve. It isn’t easy learning all aspects of a new business in the month since they moved there. What makes this arrangement work is that everyone has complementary talents. Curt has a background in construction and business and can take care of maintenance and upgrades to buildings and infrastructure, as well as business planning. Magdala has a background in bookkeeping and has taken on that role, as well as payroll and business banking. Teri has a background in interior design and administration and will eventually get to add her design flair to the buildings, as well as help manage staff. Greg is mechanically inclined and will also be looking after maintenance and assist in day-to-day business operations. I sat down with Teri and asked some questions about their new venture.
KB: What do you like about the store?
Teri: I love the history of the store and the fact that it provides services for the community. I also love the nostalgic feel of the store. We definitely want to keep that feeling as we renovate the store so that it looks like one of those old-time general stores from years’ past with large jars of candy, fresh baked goods, local handmade products and goods stacked neatly on custom-made wooden shelves.
KB: What have you learned since purchasing the business?
Teri: There are many aspects of business that you need to learn. Basically, you have to be a multi-tasker and you need to be able to delegate tasks to staff. We are currently learning how to market the business, pricing products, reviewing inventory, figuring out what needs to be repaired and assessing store procedures.
KB: Have there been any pleasant surprises?
Teri: Yes, there are three things. First, I am ecstatic how easily the four of us work together as a team. I had no idea when we started this venture whether we would work well together. The second thing would be how valuable our employees have been in teaching us the ins and outs of the business as well as introducing us to the community on Cortes Island. It has been a God send having the employees stay on when the business was sold to us. They are also helping introduce us to community members that frequent the store. Thirdly, the people on Cortes have been incredible in welcoming us to their community.
KB: What aspects of business are you learning?
Teri: Well, we quickly learned that store inventory was done manually, which can be really slow and can inaccurate. We have decided to put in an electronic “point of sale” system, which will help us track inventory and manage sales better.
KB: Can you elaborate on what a “point of sale” system is?
Teri: Yes, a point of sale is a system that can scan the barcode of products when they are purchased and placed on the shelf, this way we can track what is sold daily, weekly, monthly or annually. This will give us better insight into what are items selling and not selling. This has a few benefits; namely, we can track inventory, and know what items are on the shelf at any given time. This will let us know which items are about to expire so we can put them on sale and it also it gives us a better idea on what items sell quickly so that we can order high-volume items ahead of time before they run out.
It will be exciting to see what improvements Teri and her partners will make to the business in the next year as they settle into being business owners. Here is a link to the Squirrel Cove Trading Company website http://squirrelcove.com/.
Pacific Regional Manager, In.Business
Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies
Cape Breton University (in partnership with Vancouver Island University to deliver the In.Business Program in British Columbia and Alberta)