So how did the store come about in the first place?
My father-in-law had a building on Richmond, and I was looking for something to get away from Lindenberg Seeds.
You just weren’t a seed guy, or what?
Well, there just wasn’t enough space and I wanted to be my own boss. And I was excited about the opportunities about going into business for myself with my wife. So we hatched the idea of a convenience/video store.
Why a convenience/video store?
Because everyone has to buy milk and bread and everyone likes magazines and everyone needs gum. So it was a no-brainer as far as a guaranteed customer flow IF you found the right area. Back in 1987, we were the only thing on this strip of Richmond Avenue.
So you mentioned groceries, gum — what else did you carry?
Smokes, lottery, just a basic blend of everything. And then videos sort of came into being back in the early ’80s. The drugstores were into it and there were other video stores before we had the national chains. And then the store just evolved. We got into tapes and CDs at the suggestion of a friend of the family, actually — he said we should go into used cassettes. And that’s before CDs even came out. So we started buying and selling used cassettes. And we expanded the store to 3,000 square feet and things were going really well with videos. And when videos started going down in the early ’90s, we sized back to a 2,000 square foot business. Napster came along and took care of CDs and that was gone. And in business, you have to evolve.
You have to have your eyes open — always listen to people. They offer you suggestions and you just have to listen and you can learn so much. But you have to really pick the suggestions that work for you. I’m not a person to really jump big-time into things — I like to take little steps. I’m very conservative in business. Maybe that’s one of the reasons that some people can still stick around — they don’t put all their eggs in one basket and jump right into it and it’s all or nothing kind of thing. As long as you have a back door and a way out on any project, it’s OK to try things.
So you don’t commit to thousands of dollars worth of shelving for the DVDs, for instance?
Or like we’re on our fourth ice cream machine now — ice cream started for us about 15 years ago — but we started with a machine called the Little Softie, and it was a little countertop unit that made two ice cream cones and then it was done. And then we just moved up to bigger equipment.
I grew up on the 300-block of Second Street, and En-Jay’s was on the 200-block of Third Street, and Doug’s Pantry was on the corner of — I think — Fourth and Louise. And then there was another one on Ninth or Tenth and Louise — Buck’s …
That’s it! And stores like that were everywhere back then. But I’m curious about how you survive now in an era of Seven-11s and Macs. The only independents in town I can think of now are you, Clemmensen’s, and Hurl’s.
And there’s Little Chief, of course. A lot of the industry is changing over to service stations and chains. But for us, I learned some lessons. Budget, budget, budget. And don’t count your hours. At the start, I kept track of how many hours I worked in a week. And I just sort of got to, ‘You can’t count the hours. So don’t worry about it.’ If you love your job, then you’ll never work a day in your life.
And you love your job?
I LOVE my job! I was here until one in the morning in early January because I had to clean out my file cabinet and get ready for 2013 — I do a cut off. But you just don’t keep track of hours.
For me, it’s all about family. My sons, Dane and Shea, both worked here. One day my granddaughter will work here. My wife and I’ve been working in the business for a long time. In fact, I worked at Lindenberg’s for the first couple of years after we started the store, and she was working the daytimes. And after, at night, we’d come to the store and work together, and my brother and sister-in-law would do the same thing. You just smile, and be enthusiastic, and make time to play with the kids, because kids are what the future’s all about and it keeps you happy — keeps you grounded.
Do you have kids come through the store door a lot?
Yup. A lot of families.
I don’t frequent convenience stores anymore I sure did as a kid! but is the penny candy still around?
Yup. Nickel candy now.
Is there an area of the business that’s particularly hot right now?
Right now, videos! It’s true! Not everybody wants to download for free. We rent, and after a month, we’ll sell off what we have. And we just push them through, because every week we’re buying multiple copies so we’ve got move them through the door. And popcorn! You’ve got to have great popcorn. And the L.A. Squishy is good. It’s a treat — it’s like ice cream and slush — it’s something we developed here at the store.
People think it’s Los Angeles. But we used to have Stewart’s Carpets next door to us. And Lyle and Allison worked there, and used to come into our store. So we named it after them. L.A. And Allison lives in Thunder Bay now, and Lyle still lives in Brandon.
Any advice for someone hoping to have a business that lasts as long as yours has?
Love your job. Do little things. Attention to detail. If you pay attention to detail, whether it be floors, or your shelves being clean or well-stocked, how your signs look, your appearance, the outside of your business. If you do those little things, then the bigger picture is all looked after. And that works for me.
We treat our staff like family here. I would not ask a staff member to do anything I wouldn’t want to do. In fact, I’d probably race them for it to get that job done myself.
And have faith in people. Like we hire great people here. Have faith in your co-workers and give them encouragement to succeed in what they do. You know, we don’t have a high staff turnover here — a lot of places say, ‘Oh, they’ll stay for three months or they’ll stay for six months. People will come here in high school and they’ll stay until they’re finished high school, or if they’re going to university, they’ll stay here for that, or even after.
But we do encourage the people who work here to go on to bigger and better things. Because we want them to realize their full potential. Hopefully what they’ll get out of this business from working together with all of us here is a sense of thinking on the spot, working with different people and being a happy person. That carries you far in life. Just jump right in and keep grounded.
What grounds you? Family?
Family, yeah. And inner faith about the goodness of humanity.
You’ll never get rich in this business. I’ll always be a simple shopkeeper, but it’ll always be good. We have rewarding times — we have times that are tough, too. Everything comes in waves. When FasGas and Co-op just opened up across the street from us, it was really tough.
Whether you’re in the restaurant business or you’re selling pet foods or you’re in this business, you’re going to have times of brisk business and times that are slow. So you try to keep the crests high and the troughs as minimal as possible, and just keep working.
Do you anticipate doing this for several more years?
Until I’m 60. I’m 51 now. My wife says that when I turn 60, she’s going to go travel — I can join her if I want. (smiles) I think I will. So another nine years — I’ll have 35 years in, so that’ll be fine.
Oh, and no regrets. That’s the other secret in life — don’t have any regrets. You have to have some reason to be happy. If you want a quote, here’s a good one: ‘Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines WHAT you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.’
Are those words you live by?
Those are some of them. There’s lots. ‘Don’t take life too seriously.’ And ‘enjoy.’ ‘Family is important.’ Oh, excuse me! I’ve got to go hug my granddaughter now before she leaves.