Interview with Kevin Walker CEO of Great Canadian Dollar Store
Kevin Walker, CEO of Great Canadian Dollar Store has over twenty years of experience in the investment, trust and real estate field. Kevin was an Investment Advisor with Midland Walwyn and the President of Mid-Island Mortgage & Savings (Duncan) Ltd., prior to joining the Franchisor in 1998. When Bud Walker decided to retire in 2002 he looked to his son Kevin to take his place at the helm of Great Canadian Dollar Store. Kevin was already actively involved in the business and shared the values and ethics that his parents had always used to guide the company. The succession has been seamless and Great Canadian Dollar Store still focuses on the value of family, and the Prairie ethics of hard work, neighbourliness, and honesty.
BeTheBoss - What is the story behind Great Canadian Dollar Store?
Kevin Walker - In 1991, after a long and successful career as a stock broker, trust company founder and entrepreneur Bud Walker & his wife Vivian moved to Duncan and semi-retirement. Soon after, on the advice of their friend and accountant they bought into an idea fostered by two Saskatoon, Saskatchewan businessmen. Two years later Bud and Vivian bought the Great Canadian Dollar Store franchise concept from them and set up their head office on Vancouver Island.
BTB - What made you decide to franchise?
KW - Bud & Vivian Walker heard about the successes that US dollar store franchisors were experiencing. They felt Canada was ripe for the same concept. Bud and Vivian saw this as an opportunity to develop and grow the franchise business model and Great Canadian Dollar Store brand.
BTB - Tell us a little about the dollar store market?
KW - It’s hard to argue against buying items from a dollar store. Who doesn’t shop at a dollar store? People are always looking for value when spending their money. Great Canadian Dollar Store offers quality products at really good prices, we offer Extreme Value® to our shoppers. We like to call it a recession resistant business, a business that is not only fun to operate but can be hugely successful and profitable for the right people.
BTB - What have some of the challenges been in growing your franchise?
KW - Finding the right franchise members. We search for people who are team players and who are able to work within a proven system. Our franchise members don’t necessarily need previous retail experience but our most successful people come to us with good business or management skills are energetic and success oriented. Our success is dependent on the success of our franchise members.
BTB - Who has been your greatest inspiration?
KW - My inspiration comes from many sources; current and previous Home Office co-workers, franchise members, other franchisors, entrepreneurial friends and associates in the various business groups I’m involved with, and of course my parents. Bud and Vivian Walker are true entrepreneurs who have shared their passions, values and beliefs with me and with so many people they have met over the years.
BTB - What are some of the advantages in being a Great Canadian Dollar Store franchisee?
KW - One of our most successful franchise members summed it up when he said “Deciding to go with a franchise was a no brainer for me, I had no idea where to start and didn’t want to make mistakes that in future could cost me a lot of money”.
Franchisees actually enjoy three distinct advantages of being in our franchise system; guidance, networking and opportunity.
Guidance: During the initial start-up of a Great Canadian Dollar Store the support of the franchise home office and regional representatives are particularly invaluable. We coordinate and assist with setting-up the store and the initial ordering of stock. Our franchise members receive hands-on training during the set-up process as well as on going consultation. The start up phase of a small business is critical to its future growth and development. Receiving the support and guidance from a successful franchise removes many of the initial trial and error factors associated with a new business. The ongoing support of a franchise can help to keep a business from stagnating. A successful franchise is constantly searching for new opportunities and ideas for its members.
Networking: This is a key factor in the success of franchise businesses over independents. As an independent you are alone with your frustrations and problems when troubles arise. As a member of a franchise you have the support and experience of other members to draw upon, which can mean the difference between success and failure. Great Canadian Dollar Store promotes networking amongst our franchise members through monthly conference calls, and regular store visits from home office staff or field representatives. We believe that our franchise members are an invaluable source of new ideas, advice and inspiration to us as well as to each other.
Opportunity: Great Canadian Dollar Store is an established and respected member of the franchise and retail industries. We are members of the Canadian Franchise Association and support its Code of Ethics in our business practices. In addition, we are members of the Retail Council of Canada and International Franchise Association. Members of a franchise find that doors open much easier for them when they attempt to lease space in a prime location, establish a bank line of credit or place orders for inventory. Our aim is to provide Great Canadian Dollar Store franchise members with access to distributors that are unavailable to independent stores and at wholesale prices that are better than those offered to other chains. Our directory of Endorsed Suppliers contains over 200 supplier listings and we have strong relationships with all primary suppliers in the industry. Our Preferred Supplier Program® provides additional benefits to franchise members and we continue to work with our franchise members to develop unique opportunities that add value to their franchise membership.
BTB - What gadgets can’t you live without?
KW - Technology is great, and I do carry a blackberry…but I would never say “I can’t live without it!”
BTB - What do you do in your spare time?
KW - My spare time is well balanced between family activities; snow and water skiing and sharing the various activities and interests of our two sons. I’m also an active member with various business groups and forums. One evening a week I take some personal time, playing bass guitar with 4 other band members. I enjoy reading fiction, non-fiction and business books. Each morning I head to my local gym for an early workout, which keeps me fit and focused.
BTB - What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?
KW - It’s important to do your research and conduct due diligence. It’s important to ask questions, especially if comparing franchises. Ask for a complete list of which stores are franchised and which are company owned. If there are a lot of company owned stores find out how many were taken back from previous franchisees and why. Speak to at least 4 of the franchised store owners. Ask how they became involved with the franchise and if it meets their expectations. In any large system some franchise owners will not be as successful or happy as others but over all you should get an impression that the franchise has dealt with them in a fair and honest manner, that the franchise is supportive and provides each member with a sound opportunity for success. Also ask who holds the lease? The leaseholder has a great deal of control over the future of a business. The leaseholder controls the opening, closing and sale of the business. Normally the business owner should be the leaseholder. If you do consider subleasing from your franchisor insist on seeing a copy of the original lease that the franchisor signed. Ensure that all favourable terms are passed on to you and that risk is shared fairly.
Most franchisors have an initial franchise fee and an ongoing royalty. Find out if any additional fees are required? Research the costs involved and the services that are offered. Contact existing franchisees to help determine if it is money well spent. Lastly, make sure that you receive disclosure statements, these important documents are required if you live in Alberta, Ontario or PEI as well as by all members of the Canadian Franchise Association
BTB - In your opinion, why do you think that Great Canadian Dollar Store would be a great opportunity for someone?
KW - We are very focused on the success of our franchise members. As I’ve said earlier, their success is our success.We have been a Canadian franchise leader since 1993 which I think is testament to our stability and solid management skills. Our suppliers tell us that we have the happiest and most successful franchise dollar store members, who incidentally have benefit of no hidden fees or costs which is something unique in the industry. Over 19% of our franchise members are multiple franchise operators which is a reflection of our successful business model. Great Canadian Dollar Store Home Office provides a proven system that works but allows our franchise members the flexibility to service their individual and unique communities. We provide guidance, training, mentoring and a light touch from home office encouraging their entrepreneurial spirit. We live our motto of “Working together for success”® which helps us achieve beneficial goals together.