How did you get your start in business?
I guess I was born into it. As sons and daughters of farmers often become farmers themselves, so do other children follow in the footsteps of their parents. Mom and dad were in business, so I saw it as a natural evolution that I also ended up in business. Mom and dad came up from Three Hills in southern Alberta in 1954, homesteaded and, in 1965, bought an auction market in Rycroft, which they operated for years.
How did the auction market work?
So, every Tuesday, farmers would bring in their livestock – but also a host of other stuff such as fresh vegetables, eggs, furniture – to be auctioned off. I started clerking at the family’s auction business when I was in Grade 7. So, I never went to school on Tuesday afternoons. We had special auction sales on other days. As well, mom and dad did farm auction sales, which, at that time, were keeping us really busy. I remember the first year I was in college in Grande Prairie, we had 33 auctions on that particular year in the month of April alone. That was a lot then, and it still is in today’s auction market. The auctions involved farmers in transition; they had sold their three-or-four quarters of land and were now in the process of getting rid of their agricultural tools and equipment. We did a lot of charity auction as well. Dad was a member of the Auctioneer’s Association of Alberta for 40 years and president for about 15. Mom and dad did the auction business for about 10 years. Then they started a dealership for farm equipment.
Did you ever work for anybody else outside of the family business?
I did. I had worked for a finance company called International Acceptance Corp., which had an office in Peace River. I was financing heavy-duty equipment for contractors as well as cars for both retail customers and car dealerships. After about a year-and-a-half of working with the company, I moved on to work with mom and dad again in the farm-equipment dealership. A few years later, my two brothers and I bought dad out, and we expanded the business to Fairview, Beaverlodge and Hines Creek through business acquisitions. We were doing quite well until we ran into a roadblock, and we, as a family, decided to change course.
What happened after that?
During the transition, we had a modular building shipped from Edmonton to a piece of property mom and dad owned in Rycroft in order for them to establish a motel business, which they operated with managers for many years. By this time, I had relocated to Edmonton.
What brought you to Edmonton?
I was originally working for a consulting business called Grant Research, which I later bought. At that time, there were a lot of grants, both at the provincial and federal levels, designed to spur export growth by helping export-oriented businesses to break into the international markets. Back in the pre-Internet era, research was a painstaking labor. For business owners, finding the right grant to apply for was very much like the proverbial hunt for the needle in a haystack. So, there was a real need for the services of Grant Research: we not only matched businesses with the right grants to apply for, we also drafted the application for them. And if the grant applications were successful, we also helped businesses with such things as, say, developing brochures that they would bring with them to international trade shows.
Who were your clients mostly?
We did quite a bit of work for apparel manufacturers as well as businesses in the industrial equipment/components space, including, at one point, Dika Industries in Rycroft.
How did the consulting business evolve as Internet technology arrived, making research a littler bit easier than when you first started?
In the course of doing Grant Research, I ran across a new government funding program aimed at encouraging women, specifically those who had not been working for more than three years, to get trained and be ready for re-integration back into the workforce. The funding was the federal government’s response to a labor shortage at that time. I got involved, and as I started organizing and hosting workplace-training programs, Grant Research morphed into becoming a career-training facility, which I started to call Campbell College.
Talk a little bit about Campbell College.
We initially obtained federal funding to train a total of 48 women, aged 25-34 and mostly housewives who had taken a prolonged break from work to focus on family and were now gearing up to return to the workplace or embark on a career shift. They were split into three groups of 16 each, with training dates arranged on a staggered basis. Training courses, which they had to complete in 10 months, ran the whole gamut from learning office applications to acquiring life skills.
Later, we developed with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), which we had already established a relationship with as we worked to get our graduates NAIT-certified in certain specific training, hospitality courses for youth aged 16-24, some of whom never had any work experience. Our menu of courses further expanded with offerings catered to newly arrived immigrants trying to gain Canadian work experience as well as individuals on social welfare trying to break the generational cycle of welfare. By then, the college’s population had grown up to 400 students annually.
The college was doing well in terms of fulfilling its mandate. But not from the business or wealth-building standpoint. So, in 1994 I relinquished control of the college to two of my assistant deans with caveats that they keep the name of the college and also keep the existing staff. About three years after it marked its 30th anniversary in 2016, Campbell College was acquired by Commonwealth College, which operates about a dozen community colleges across the country.
What did you do next?
I moved back to Rycroft from Edmonton with my family. The businessman that mom and dad had sold their motel business to was now contemplating moving back to Ontario after his wife passed away. That paved the way for me to buy back the motel business, the Crossroads Motel. I spent the next several years expanding the motel business, which was doing phenomenally well, buoyed by the booming oil and gas and agriculture sectors. After about eight years of running the motel, I sold it and moved back to Edmonton.
What triggered the move back to Edmonton?
My wife was from Edmonton, and she never really liked our transition to Rycroft to begin with. Back in Edmonton, I had the opportunity to buy a high-end men’s wear and accessories consignment store, which quickly birthed a second location in Edmonton and a third in Calgary.
How do you decide on buying a business?
First of all, I look at the profitability of the business and the price at which it was being sold for, making sure it wasn’t the end of the world for me if it fails. Then I look at whether I could run the business myself, or would have to rely on staff.
With three store locations to manage, how busy were you then?
My wife helped with managing the stores. But I was busy, as I also bought a motel in Cranbrook, BC, which meant hitting the road a lot until I had set up a management team in place. Soon after, I also needed to drive frequently to Rycroft after taking over management of the old location of the Tags gas station and convenience store, which I purchased after I sold Crossroads Motel.
How did you end up in your current business location?
After my divorce, things got divided up, and I decided to return to Rycroft and build a place for my business.
What other business interests do you have other than the Rycroft Husky/Esso?
I had transitioned the clothing store in Calgary into a Mexican canteen called Los Chilitos and operated it with a business partner. We have since opened a second location at the Calgary Farmer’s Market.
- Location: 4923 – 43 Street, Rycroft
- Phone: (780) 765-2968
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org