Category Archives: Startup Stories

Twenty Year Car-eer Drives Owner to Open Used Car Dealership

Brand new business owner, David Bain, has launched his automotive dealership specializing in the sale of pre-owned cars and trucks. Essex Auto Centre, “has been a goal of mine since I moved into management in my career. Understanding more of the business throughout the years, I realized that I would rather utilize my skills to advance my own business rather than someone else’s. Of course going into business as a car dealer was a natural choice since I have been in the industry for over 20 years.”

When I say that David is a new business owner, I mean NEW. “I left my job in March and began preparing to open the dealership. I received all the necessary licenses and financing by mid-May of this year.”

Unique Ideal Customer

Reinforcing the idea that planning is key to a successful start-up, David is clear who his ideal customer is. It isn’t by gender or age; demographic or disposable income. David wants someone who “has been referred to me by another customer.” Building his business from previously cultivated relationships and then taking care of new customers is his primary focus.

What makes him different

“Customer service is my difference. Taking care of the customer through the entire experience myself makes a big difference. At a large dealership, customers may get shuffled between employees multiple times. There’s no personal attention in that. Without that continuity the customer can feel a level of distrust in the entire process.”

On being a business owner

In addition to being able to provide outstanding customer service, David also enjoys the perks business ownership brings to him. “Flexibility is number one, both personally and professionally. Personally, I am able to be there more for my family and professionally I have complete autonomy in all my business decisions.” The downside? “Risk is one of the things that initially comes to mind. Another disadvantage is not having anyone else to fall back on. At previous jobs, I always had a support staff to get the job done, but now it is all up to me! I put up some personal investment money and utilized equity in my home to fund a small business operating line.”

Lessons Learned

“Patience is something that I am developing. It can be frustrating working through processes and applications and often being at the mercy of other people to achieve my goals. I am learning how to find that balance between persistence and frustration.”

Future Goals

“Short term I am aiming to be able to cover my start up costs and build a strong foundation that will support sustainable growth. I need to walk before I can run, so the focus now is implementing proper systems and procedures. This will enable me to achieve the growth I am looking for in the future. I currently lease my office and car lot, but would like to own my own property within five years.”

Advice to others

“Don’t be afraid to take the plunge. It takes a lot of guts and it can be scary, but well worth it. Another piece of advice would be to prepare in advance. Utilize the services of a small business support service that will help you do your homework. Lastly, anticipate challenges and have contingency plans.”

A personal note

As I spoke with David, I was very impressed with the presence of his young son, who appears to be that support David might be looking for. He was articulate, knowledgeable about the vehicles, and even got me a bottle of water. Looks like David is investing in a car dealership with generational appeal.

Essex Auto Centre is located at 438 Tabot Rd., Essex, Ontario
David can be reached at: 519-776-5100


Human Resources in a Box

John Box started his unique Human Resources Consulting business three years ago after identifying a unique niche. “We provide support to small organizations in the area of Human Resources management. The basic idea is to provide assistance to those organizations that are small or are not in a position to have full time Human Resources staff through the provision of project assistance, training, and day-to-day advice on appropriate issues.”

The Business

John had experience working with and in small organizations, and noticed that while each organization had staff, they did not always have the support that they should when it came to a complicated area, such as Human Resources. In particular, he noticed that there was often only one real manager or leader in the organization, who was being asked to have expertise in a number of different areas, and that they were spending an awful lot of time (and therefore money) trying to research or make informed decisions in areas they were not familiar with. John adds that he, “recognized this as a business opportunity that matched my interest and skill in problem solving, and so I decided to go for it.”

Ideally, John likes to work with small organizations, with less than 100 staff, that recognize the importance of staff and are committed to doing the right thing.

John brings his personal background in Human Resources that spans more than 30 years, in a variety of sectors, including municipal, not-for-profit, health care, and hospitality. This duration and nature of his experience has put him in a position where he has dealt with a wide variety of issues, and therefore can deal quickly and effectively with the issues his clients require assistance on. “If I don’t know the answer right away, I know where to find it, and to give it to my clients in a way that will work best for them.”

On Being a Business Owner

“I have the ability to decide what and how I will do something, and to be able to make a difference in a number of different organizations. Wearing different hats at different times- one minute you provide the service, another you are marketing the service, and then you are billing the client for the service! Also, I am able to work from home and limit my expenses.”

The only thing he doesn’t enjoy is the uncertainty- of having enough work and income. “That is, however, also part of the challenge, and therefore part of the fun!”

Lessons Learned

1. Be patient, but don’t just sit around waiting for them to come to you.
2. Provide a unique service, based on your own personality and style.
3. Constantly review what you have done, and do it better. Try new things, even if they don’t work.
4. If it’s not fun for you, it’s not worth it.
5. Have a good support team- of friends and colleagues.

Future Goals

John would like to start providing mediation services to the public. This will give them access to cost-effect dispute resolution, on matters ranging from individual employee disagreements to settling neighborhood spats. “In essence,” John adds, “it’s like starting a whole new business!”

Advice to Others

“Timing is important. Start the business when there is a demand for it, particularly once you have confirmed that through your own research. And from a more personal perspective, do it not because you think you have to because you have run out of other options (out of work, etc.), but because you really want to do it, with the confidence and support that will be necessary for success.”

Those looking to access JMBox Human Resources may locate him at:
JM Box Consulting Services
(519) 903-5634

New Internet Business Sparked by Desire and A Book

Business on the Internet

I recently had the opportunity to pose some questions to new business owner, Greg Fields. Here is an excerpt from his responses.

When asked to describe his business, Greg commented that, “Fields of Treasures is an on-line Jewelry store that creates a great shopping experience which entices the customer to make a purchase; inspiring a good feeling, self-confidence, and the desire to return for more.”

Book sparks business

Greg stated that he had read the book, “Get Rich Click” by Mark Ostrofsky. “Mark owns 8 internet based companies with revenues of over $75 million annually. His book teaches SEO optimization, affiliate marketing, social network selling, etc. My wife and I have always wanted to open a business. She came up with fashion jewelry shortly before I read in the book that jewelry is one of the easiest items to convert customers from traditional retail to internet. I had always heard that the internet had great potential.” And the business was born.

Of course, many people have attempted to develop successful businesses on the internet and have failed. Greg is confident that with great products and a solid long term plan, he and his wife will be able to grow the business and then to expand to other items. “Maybe home goods. We want to be the new Homesense or Kirklands.”

Ideal Customer Identified

Given the nature of the online business, Greg identifies his ideal customer as women between 30 to 55 who want to look great and feel good.

The Adventure of Owning a Business

In the business’s early stages, Greg already sees the benefits of being a business owner. “I love the independence of the hours. (I work long hours but when I choose). I love the challenge of applying the lessons I have learned over many years to my own company.” And the downside? “What’s not to like? I have freedom, vast earning potential and can run the company my way.”

Although his business is less than a few months old, Greg has already learned one important lesson. “Always expect the unexpected. There are many hurdles to jump but their worth it.”

And his advice for others who are thinking about starting their own businesses is simple. “Go for it. There will be many sleepless nights but the sense of accomplishment is worth it.”

Name: Greg Fields
Business Name: Fields of Treasures
Location: Belle River, ON Canada

How to find a business idea from your personal experience

Grain is a custom woodworking business founded by entrepreneur, Tom Gelinas of Windsor, ON as a result of his own experience. “It really started when I began purchasing furniture for myself. I quickly realized that everything I was buying was being imported from oversees, and often the quality reflected that. I knew that I could build something better. I had been woodworking for many years and had honed my talents by constructing built-ins and kitchens. This had built my understanding of wood and finishing. After gaining experience while apprenticing with a Master Craftsman, I was ready to offer my customers something we could both be proud of.” As with many successful business owners, Gelinas saw a gap in the marketplace and filled it with his unique and top quality products.

Gelinas offered that working with wood had always been his passion. “We manufacture custom cabinets, custom trim, dining room tables, side tables, and built-ins. There are three key things that enable me to stand out among of my competitors. Specific joinery that I use to build a quality cabinet that will last. These techniques are not commonly used among my competition. The material that I use is thicker and stronger than current standards resulting in a quality product. My business is customer focused in that we offer one point of contact; me.” Gelinas personally sees to the attention of detail from the customer to the finished product.

Although only in business for a few months, Gelinas is already seeing that he was correct in assessing his market and filling a need in the woodworking sector. You may see some opportunities to bridge a gap in business, too, but be cautious and use the following questions as a template to assess the viability of your idea.

Is the market real?

Customer analysis – Surveys or attempting to answer: Who the customer is? What do they want to buy? What price are they willing to pay for that?
Competitor analysis – Which else is in this market? What are they doing for the customers? Are they supplying a similar substitute for what idea you have in mind? Is this industry growing or shrinking?

Is the product/service real?

Is this industry growing or shrinking?

Can I be the best at this market?

What are the risks?

Are there any barriers to entry?

Financial risks?

How can you create barriers so imitation is not prevalent?

Is it worth it?

Is it an attractive industry?

Regulations that you would be subjected to?

Gelinas notes that being in business for yourself, even with a great idea, can be taxing, but he adds, “I love creating and building. It is really inspiring to see a customer say they love what I have made them. Truly rewarding.”

Name: Tom Gelinas
Business Name: Grain Woodcrafting
Location: 1428 Argyle Rd Unit 4, Windsor, Ontario

Is following your heart sound business advice?

According to Sunflower Organic Café founder, Patricia Julian, it is, and that is the advice she would give new business owners. “You must always work from the heart and feel inspired by the people that you meet inside your business. People come in with all sorts of dietary needs and we do our best to meet each one. Although, I have never ran or owned a café before I feel like each day I am feeding a hungry family. It is really enjoyable and rewarding.”

Sunflower Organic Café is Windsor, Ontario’s only 100% organic café featuring Free Range, Fair Trade and Freshly Made menu items that include vegetarian and gluten free choices. Two freshly made soups daily that offer one vegetarian and one gluten free. The café is 100% recycled materials that feature a funky collection of tea pots and dishes. Additionally, the menu is simple and tasty. Everything is organic. The free range burger and vegetarian burgers are topped with living organic sunflower sprouts that Julian says are a hit with patrons.

When asked how she came up with the idea for her business, Julian replied, “Our family has been eating organic and thought that others might enjoy the opportunity to try organics. Drouillard Road seemed the perfect place to launch the idea with its major revitalization project already underway. We have been welcomed with open arms by the community and look forward to participating in their organic co-op garden this summer.”

Julian says the best part about being a business owner is, “the opportunity to share my love of tasty, nutritious food with others. I so enjoy the ‘YUM’ that I hear when people eat the food.”

Sunflower Organic Café is open every morning for breakfast that includes a complimentary tea or coffee with every entrée. Saturdays they offer an acoustic guitarist from 8pm to 11pm and are open Tuesday through Friday 8am to 4pm and Saturday from 8am to 11pm.

Owner’s Name: Patricia Julian
Business Name: Sunflower Organic Cafe
Location: 1659 Drouillard Rd., Windsor , Ontario N8Y 2S4

Turning a Problem into a Business

How did you become an entrepreneur? Was it something you always wanted to do or did you have an ‘ah ha’ moment that propelled you into a new career path?

For Roxanne Pettipas it was her dog that inspired her to start her own business. Before that, Roxanne was working as a supply teacher and she and her partner had been splitting their time between Toronto and the Bahamas. Eventually, Roxanne grew tired of coming home to an empty apartment so she decided to get a daschund named Buddy to help keep her company.

“I used to take Buddy out for walks using this little neck collar, and after a while I thought he had developed allergies because he would gag and cough every time we were out,” she said. Roxanne admits she didn’t know much about dogs at the time, but she quickly realized that Buddy was choking from the pressure that the collar was putting on his throat. Roxanne searched far and wide for a solution to the problem, but every harness she found was bulky and awkward with too many clips and clasps. “Buddy wasn’t happy and neither was I, so that’s when I decided to make something for him.”

Perhaps it was her background as an art teacher that made her so industrious, but instead of waiting for someone else to produce an acceptable harness Roxanne decided to create one herself. “At the time I was using a soft pliable tire rubber in my art class, so I used that material to create the very first Buddy Belt.” She then consulted a shoe maker and a clothing designer to help her understand how to work with leather. “I had to learn it all,” she said, “Whether it was working with an industrial sewing machine, or learning about patterns, dies, and templates, it all stemmed from wanting to create something comfortable for Buddy.”

Like a traditional collar the Buddy Belt has one buckle that is fastened between the shoulder blades instead of around the neck. The animal’s front legs are then extended through the two holes underneath the collar that helps reduce strain on the neck.

Once Buddy starting sporting his new harness around the neighbourhood, the orders started rolling in. After spending countless hours at the library making patterns, Roxanne developed 11 different sizes of Buddy Belts to meet the needs of teacup, toy and standard size dogs. As Roxanne became heavily invested in her idea, she was offered a full time teaching job. At that point Roxanne found herself having to choose between her business and the teaching career she always wanted. In the end she decided to pursue Buddy Belts full time. “It was a hard decision, but I knew I’d regret it otherwise,” she said.

What I took away from interviewing Roxanne is that you can turn a problem into a business idea. If other people are having the same problem as you, there may be a gap in the market for a new product or service that addresses that problem.

If you want more information about Buddy Belts please visit the website.

Hunting for Success in Social Gaming– Profiling HitGrab

The number of people who actively use Facebook has reached epic proportions. Last year the site had approximately 500 million active users and over this past year it has grown to over 800 million users. As the number of users continues to grow, so too does the amount of time we spend on Facebook. According to one article, Facebook accounts for about 16% of our total time spent online.

Perhaps one reason people are spending more time on Facebook is because they’re enthralled with games that can be played on the site. If you’ve ever played a game on Facebook – you know how addicting these games can be. One game I’ve been obsessed with recently is called Mousehunt. Founded by a social gaming company called HitGrab, Mousehunt has been attracting hundreds of thousands of players since its inception in 2008.

This week I sat down with HitGrab’s Co-Founder Bryan Freeman to hear about how he started the company. “I used to work at a dotcom,” he said, “but then I started doing some marketing work on the side to make a few extra dollars.” After earning seed money, Bryan and his Co-Founder Joel Auge decided to start a new venture. “Originally, we started out doing some web-based experiments to see what stuck,” said Bryan. After dabbling in a few different areas, the duo started working on Facebook development and noticed there was a bigger opportunity in creating games for the popular website.“One night we came up with a concept about catching mice, and when we shared it with everyone at the office they thought we were mad,” laughs Bryan. But after the initial shock, the team saw the potential for the game and then they spent the next couple of years developing it.

The game’s revenue model is similar to many online games. The game is completely free for people to play, but players can buy additional features if they want an enhanced gaming experience. I was shocked when I heard who the paying audience was made up of. “In Singapore we have an audience that’s really young, in the UK we have an audience of middle aged women, and in the US it’s completely mixed,” he said.

The widespread appeal of the game is a big part of HitGrab’s success. As HitGrab employees shared the game with their friends and family members, the game went viral and more people started joining all over the world. “It really was amazing to see how fast the game caught on, and we were shocked to see our players come from all over the world” said Bryan. To reward their success, Facebook gave the company 1 of 5 coveted grants for $250,000.