Importance of SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises) to the Canadian Economy
The Art of Retailing
He everyone, my name is Dean Camfferman. Together, my family and I operate Surrey Natural Foods in beautiful downtown Whalley, BC. The store first opened its doors around 1974 under the ownership of Ann Wallace. She was a single mother raising five children at the time. She ran it from 1974 to 2000. Deane tells me that he remembers calling on her back then. The second owner ran it from 2000 to 2011 when he passed away suddenly. I managed the store for one year for the new owner in 2000 but left to pursue other interests. When I heard that he had passed away I jumped at the opportunity to get back into natural health. The concept of natural health has always fascinated me and I was excited to get back into it, this time as an owner. On July 11 we completed nine years of being in business. It’s been an intense learning experience, I must say, as most of my previous business experience was in wholesale. In retail you have to hope and pray that customers will come to you. In wholesale you go find your customers. I find that a whole lot easier to do and less stressful.
I’d like to thank Deane for the opportunity of contributing to his excellent newsletter. Deane has been a great inspiration to me as I struggled to learn the art of retailing. The information he provides is invaluable. Thanks Deane.
The purpose of my article is to create a forum for discussion amongst retailers. I’ll be putting my thoughts down and sharing them with you all but I hope to get lots of feedback from you. Sharing what we’ve learned with one another can only make us stronger and more effective as a group.
The Importance of SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises) to the Canadian Economy
Let’s start with definitions: Small businesses are those with 1-99 employees; Medium businesses have 100-499 employees and big businesses have 500+ employees.
In Canada, small business is BIG business. As Stuart McLean of CBC’s The Vinyl Cafe used to say: We may be small but we’re big. Here are some statistics:
- As of December 2017, the Canadian economy totalled 1.18 million employer businesses. Of these, 1.15 million (97.9%) were small businesses, 21,926 (1.9%) were medium-sized businesses and 2,939 (0.2%) were large businesses. How’s that for size folks?
- As of 2017, small businesses employed 8.3 million individuals in Canada, or 69.7% of the total private labour force. By comparison, medium-sized businesses employed 2.4 million individuals (19.9%) and large businesses employed 1.2 million individuals or 10.4% of the private labour force. Again, we come out as super stars
- In 2014 the contribution of small businesses to gross domestic product generated by the private sector was 41.5%, for medium-sized businesses 11.0% and for large businesses 47.5%. We come in a close second here until we look at the service-producing sector. This is where we are. In the same year SMEs’ contribution to GDP was 43.6%, on average, in the goods-producing sector (i.e. manufacturing) compared with 74.5% in the service-producing sector. Once again, who’s number one? We are.
You can find more information at the Government of Canada website: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/061.nsf/eng/h_03090.html
Remember, individually we may be small but when taken together we are huge! We may look at the chain stores, the big box stores and the super markets, They all sell supplements and natural products. We may think, How can I compete against them? The answer is easily, if you know three things: who you are, what you’re doing and where you’re going. I hope to bring some ideas to this column that may percolate in you and help you become the success you dreamed about. Let’s start out by realizing how important we are to the Canadian economy, to our customers and especially to ourself. Let’s learn together how each one of us can create our own success story.
Longevity – The Hundred Year Plan
For most business owners the whole premise of having a health food store is to promote good health and long life. However, when it comes to the business side we may not apply the same principles. To be successful in any business, large or small requires constant attention to basic business principles. As any business owner knows, if we don’t constantly check sales figures, profit margins, inventory levels, staffing needs etc the ship of state will soon veer off course and founder. The statistics for businesses lasting longer that 10 years show that the majority don’t make it that far. Owners who master the basic techniques stand a good chance of growing their business to the extent that they may be able to open a few branch locations and eventually end up with a successful chain of stores. Others take notice and before long someone comes along with a cash offer to buy them out. It is extremely difficult, I’m sure to turn down such an offer. Most of us would jump at the opportunity.
However, there is a downside to making the choice to sell. We may have a wad of cash but we no longer have a business. I have often asked myself, Self, what are you doing at your age (I’m 69) putting in the long hours and passing up the opportunity to enjoy a little more leisure time? There have been days when, if someone showed up with their check book I’d have jumped at the chance. Thankfully no one did.
Then I read an article that completely changed my perspective. The title is, Why So Many of The World’s Oldest Businesses are in Japan (see link below). The article begins with the following statement: The country has 33,000 businesses at least a century old. How have so many survived – and what does it mean for Japan’s future? The caption is followed by the story of a tea shop that has been in business for over 900 years. Here is an exerpt from the article:
Tsuen Tea sits on a street corner overlooking a large river and bridge in a sleepy outer suburb of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital. In a city famous for extraordinary shrines, temples and gardens (and an inundation of tourists armed with selfie sticks), it’s a relatively unremarkable structure; a quiet place to enjoy some ice cream or green tea.
But there’s something special about Tsuen Tea: it’s been open since 1160 AD and claims to be the world’s oldest continually operating tea house. It’s run by 38-year-old Yusuke Tsuen, who sits cross-legged behind a counter low on the floor pouring green tea from iron kettles. “We’ve focused on tea and haven’t expanded the business too much,” he says. “That’s why we’re surviving.”
I particularly like this classic understatement, We’ve focussed on tea and haven’t expanded the business too much. That’s why we’re surviving. Yes indeed Mr. Tsuen, I think you’ve managed to survive indeed! Your forebearers didn’t sell out. They just kept making tea from cast iron kettles year after year, generation after generation century after century. Who knows which famous writer wrote a masterpiece while imbibing your elixer. The Japanese equivalent of Shakespeare may well have gotten his or her start within your hallowed walls.
I recall reading an article many years ago in which the writer stated, You should not only have a 1 year, a 5 year and a 10 year plan but a 100 year plan. The writer referred to the Japanese in that article. Now, many years later I understand a little better what writer was saying. In these days of increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer we do well to ask ourselves, What does it mean for Canada’s Future?
This reminds me of a pithy saying I read many years ago in the Vancouver Province: Today’s giant oak is yesterdays little nut that held its ground. May you too, dear reader think before you leap.
Reaching Forward While Reaching Back
No, this is not a new exercise guaranteed to make you fit although there may be some merit to it. I am instead referring to something that every owner of a natural food and supplements store needs to do – stay abreast of current developments in the field of natural health. Almost every day I ask myself, Self, what can you do today to improve your health, energy, stamina etc.? The other day a thought came to me. A little bird landed on my shoulder and whispered something in my ear. It came in the form of the information on every bottle of supplements. The imaginary supplement is called, How To Lose Weight or HTLW. Under the recommended dose it says, Eat less. Increase dosage until desired results are obtained. OK, I admit that this has very little to do with this week’s topic. I just like it and wanted to share it with you all. It is now posted on my wall under the title, How To Lose Weight.
It is vital that we continually educate ourselves and our staff about the products we carry. Our stores are not just places to buy food and supplements. You can find these in most drug stores and supermarkets. Heck, my local dollar store sells Jamieson supplements! My water wholesaler has a shelf of supplements for sale. On the one hand I find it amusing, especially the Dollar Store. Walk into a Dollar Store and you are greeted by the smell of freshly unpacked plastic. Walk into my store and a mixed bouquet of essential oils and other mysterious scents greets you. I have often had a customer come in for the first time and say, Wow, it sure smells wonderful in here. You can almost see them start to relax the moment they walk in the door.
So, let’s get to the topic at hand before I exceed my alotted number of words. Customers don’t come to us merely to buy a bottle of Vitamin E, they come to us for information. They want to be assured that they are on the right track with respect to their health. It doesn’t take them long to figure out whether you know what you are talking about…….. unless you are continually educating yourself. That’s what I mean by reaching forward. And it’s important to stimulate a desire for learning in our staff as well. One way to do this is to refer certain questions to your fellow staff members. You may know a good answer to the question but by calling over one of your coworkers and asking them for input you show that you value their input while at the same time giving them a greater realization of their importance.
What do I mean by reaching back? I mean, don’t forget those tried and tested remedies that have been around for decades if not longer. Are you still recommending them or have you moved on to something else? Before COVID I had never heard of Hydroxychloroquine a product that has been around for around seventy years. This may be the only medicine that the pharmaceutical industry has produced in the last century that actually works! It is no surprise that it has lain buried for so long. There’s no money to be made from a product that sells for ten cents a pill when there is a new treatment that “shows great promise” but will sell for over $3000.
And when it comes to the tried and true are you aware of the many uses for it? Vitamin C has a list of benefits longer than an elephant’s nose. You may be missing 80% or more of it’s uses. I came across an article by Andrew Saul where he found excellent results using Vitamin E to treat varicose veins. He related how his father suffered from a severe case of them. When he started taking Vitamin E for a heart problem he eventually also cleared up his varicose veins to such an extent that when Mr. Saul reminded him that he had had a bad case of them his father had forgotten that this had been the case. Apparently it doesn’t do much for the memory. But there are other products that do. So, in conclusion, educate yourself continually and continuously. There is a difference in the meaning of those two words. And don’t forget to review products and protocols that have been around for a long time that you might have forgotten.
I want this article to be a two-way communication. I value your input and your experience. Tell me about your experiences so that we can all learn together. You can reach me at [email protected]
The Third Most Important Person in Your Organization
In the hierarchy of importance, I think that we would all agree that the number one, most important person in our business is, you guessed it, THE CUSTOMER. Without our beloved customers who support us through thick and thin we would not exist as a business. I will discuss this vital person in future articles. It will take a number of articles to talk about them. Occupying the number two spot on the list is, in my opinion the staff. Again, I will devote future articles to them. So, who do you think comes in at number three? This oft forgotten, mostly neglected, sometimes even poorly treated member of your organization comes with a lot of benefits. Number one, you don’t have to pay them, unless of course you want to. Number two, they are a tremendous source of information that is vital to the success of your business. Number three, did I mention that they work for free?
By now I’m sure that you’ve figured out who this person is: your sales representative. As a member of your team this person plays a vital role in the success of your business. The first business that I owned was a wholesale garden supply company. I was the sole sales representative while my partner took care of finances. From 1977 to 1987 we built the business starting with about half a dozen products. Within 5 years we were doing over $500,000 in yearly sales, no mean feat considering the time. I knew next to nothing about sales so I took a sales course at UBC. That was the best course I’ve ever taken. I learned the science of selling. Those years taught me about the value of a sales rep to an organization and to this day I depend on my sales reps to help me be successful
So, why, you may ask, is the sales rep so important? I’m glad you asked. Now, when I say sales rep, I mean someone who actually comes to the store, through the door and meets with me and my staff face to face. Those who call me on the phone are mere order takers. The sales rep I’m referring to does far more than take my order although they also do that.
Number one, they provide me with vital information on what’s hot and what’s not. They can let me know what is trending in the industry and which products are dying out. A good rep will tell me, Dean, we’ve got a 25% discount on this product but don’t buy too much because it’s slowing down. How many of you are sitting on cases of hand sanitizer as we speak? Talk about a product with a short life span. I still sell some but only about 10% of what I sold in the first three months of COVID.
Number two, they provide information on current deals. You may say, I can get that in my emails from my supplier. True dat. However, I find that my sales rep can usually also tell me about unpublished deals that may be even better than the published ones. After all, suppliers also over buy and need to blow stock out the door. They can also recommend other ways to maximize the deals or get extended payment terms etc etc.
Number three, your sales rep can keep you up to date on how your fellow retailers are doing. They are out there almost every day talking to them, learning what’s working for them and what isn’t. This information is invaluable. There are many other things that your sales rep does that I haven’t mentioned.
There are wholesalers out there that I haven’t bought from in the entire ten years that I have been in business. Why? Because they have never called on me and never even phoned me. Imagine how much business they are letting slip through their fingers. The suppliers that I buy the most from are those that call on me. Here are my three favourite sales reps in no particular order. Steve Rogerson, formerly with Christmas, now with Pure Source. Peter Muller, now with New Roots. I was buying $0 from New Roots until he took over as my sales rep. Third, Amber Birch from Westpoint Naturals. These three have proven to be most valuable to my business. In fact, while I was writing this article Steve called me to see if I needed to place an order. You’re good Steve. How about you? What has your experience been with sales reps? Let me know and I’ll put it in a second article.
Many years ago I came across a poster. It was a picture of a general in the middle of a war fighting with bows and arrows. Outside his tent was a salesman with a Gatling gun. The caption under the picture said, I don’t have time to see a salesman. I have a war to fight.
Have fun my friends and make sure you’ve got this dude on your team.
You can reach me at:
Surrey Natural Foods
Building and Retaining Your All-Star Team
Previously, I wrote about the third most important member of your staff – your sales reps. I sent each of the sales reps that I had mentioned by name a copy of my article. I received two very nice emails of appreciation back from them expressing their appreciation for my words. I meant every word that I wrote about them. They are a vital part of our all-star team.
Today I would like to write about the second most important person in your organization – your employees or, better said your co-workers. I don’t like the word employee. It conveys no feeling of the value of a person to your organization. It only indicates that the employee works for you for pay. If I hear a business owner talk about, “my employees” it may indicate that you do not appreciate their true value to your organization. Whether you are a manager or the owner makes no difference. Your attitude towards your staff will greatly influence the quality of their work. It will be the determining factor for whether they stay with you or move on. Here are a few points that will make a big difference in how well they do. These are not new concepts. They are the tried and true things that we often forget to do. Use this as a checklist to ask yourself, Am I still doing this? If I am doing this am I doing it often enough and thoroughly enough?
- Understand their needs and wants
It goes without saying that a happy team member is a productive one. Circumstances change. What was true a week or a month ago may not be the same today. An unhappy member can’t be as productive as one who is emotionally stable. We may not be able to solve their problems but at least we can give them a sympathetic ear. Showing genuine concern for our fellow workers is a vital obligation of a store owner or manager. Taking the time to check back with them to see how things are progressing is also important. You can expect to see an increase in staff turnover if you don’t pay attention to their personal welfare. Remember it takes a long time to train your staff. Every time you have to replace someone you are spending valuable time and money to do so. Ask yourself, Could I have done something to retain this staff member?
- Recognize their accomplishments
Be aware of your staff. When they do something extra, let them know by showing appreciation. Never underestimate the value of telling someone that they did a good job. When someone does a great job building a display or taking extra time to help a customer don’t forget to show appreciation for their efforts. It costs nothing but a little time and a few words but the return on that investment is priceless.
- Train, train, train
Training staff never ends. While staff meetings are important, 80% of training takes place on the floor. Showing a staff member how to set up a display, explaining to a customer the features and benefits of a product while your coworker listens in is a good way to train them. NEVER correct them in front of other staff members or, worse yet, in front of a customer. Take them aside and speak to them privately.
The success or failure of your business is dependant on how much thought, time and effort you put into making your staff successful. By continually working with your staff in this way your will see your business grow and prosper. If you neglect this don’t expect much success.
As always, let me know what has worked for you. I look forward to your feedback. You can reach me at the email below:
Surrey Natural Foods
Independent Health Retailer, Quo Vadis?
For the natural foods industry it is truly interesting times. I don’t like the word industry as it conveys to me images of factories not farms, but I can’t think of a better word yet. As a store owner or manager you may be struggling to maintain staff levels or inventory or any other aspect of your business. You don’t have time to think past tomorrow. Your focus is on meeting payroll, paying your suppliers etc. However, it is right now when we need a clear head and a definite course of action so that we don’t become another statistic of a business that didn’t make it. If we delay making critical decisions now we may be in danger of missing a great opportunity that may not come along again.
Assuming that you are taking the time to dig down below the surface noise of viruses hiding behind every face mask, social distancing (since when has distancing become social?), flattening the curve and other tired phrases ad nauseum are you taking time to listen to what is being said by highly qualified scientists who are not merely parroting the party line of the main stream media? Have you taken the time to listen to real investigative journalists and truth seekers such as Del Bigtree or Robert F Kennedy Jr? This week’s airing of Plandemic (available for free viewing at https://plandemicseries.com/ ) is about as complete an expose of the interesting times that we live in as can be found. I have watched it twice and plan to watch it at least three more times to make sure that I understand the message conveyed in it. The depth of deceit, the litany of lies, the deliberate trashing of truth by Big Pharma and Big Media, including the BBC, CBC and PBS is truly mind boggling.
The question I ask myself and all of you is, What are you doing about it? Are you dutifully donning your mask every morning and without a murmur accepting the present situation as if there is no alternative or are you taking the time to educate yourself so that you in turn can educate your customers? The natural health industry has been fighting a battle against Rockefellerian “health care” for nearly a century. People have made it their life’s work to combat the “great lie” of pharmaceutical medicine. Some among us have mysteriously died or disappeared, never to be seen again. The disappearance of former editor of Alive Magazine, Rhody Lake in 2005 in Sechelt comes to mind. To this day she has not been found.
In this week’s article I am sounding a call to all independent owners and managers of health food stores: Don’t forget to educate yourself. Understand the temper of the times we live in and pass on what you have learned to your staff, your family and your customers. Talk to your fellow retailers, distributors and manufacturers to learn from them what they have discovered. We need to go on the offensive in order to assure that, as an industry, we grow stronger, not weaker during these trying times. We should set a goal amongst ourselves of increasing the number of stores in Canada by at least ten per cent every year. We should have a training center where prospective new owners can learn how to operate a store. We should have ways of financing available for those who want to enter the industry by buying an existing business or, better yet, starting a new one. There are many people who love our industry but couldn’t get a job at good pay within it. Instead they had to go to work for a large corporation in their supplement department. These people would jump at the opportunity to have their own business or at least work for an independent retailer.
Today, our industry finds itself at a unique time in history. If all we do is hunker down to wait out the storm we will likely come out of our bunker only to find that it is too late to make the changes that are needed. We may find fewer products available rather than an ever-expanding cornucopia of natural products. Now, in the midst of all the turmoil, is the BEST time to ensure that we are advancing, not retreating. As an industry we have made advances but as the poem goes,
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep
When we look back on the year that is may it be with a deep satisfaction that we advanced the cause of natural health to the human race; that we not only stood our ground but that we made great advances.
As always I appreciate your feedback in the way of suggestions and comments. You can reach me at:
Surrey Natural Foods