My journey as an entrepreneur really started because an opportunity presented itself and I decided to jump on it. It was 1988 and I had recent graduate from the Academy of Fashion and Design; my love for shopping and bargain-hunting landed me a job managing the wholesale division of a Toronto company. I've always been an overachiever and workaholic, so I was running the division like it was my own business when the owner was forced to close his doors because of other unsuccessful ventures.As I was wondering what my next step would be, a friend of mine pointed out that I was making the company all the money anyway, why did I need him?! The next Monday the Bargains Group was born out of my two-bedroom apartment and we've been growing ever since!I started The Bargains Group in 1988 with the goal of helping retailers save money on wholesale clothing and accessories. Today, The Bargains Group has grown into an award-winning company famous for our $2.00 t-shirts; but now offers over 50,000 custom promotional products and other non-branded items at up to 80% off. For the past 30 years, I have leveraged my network of resources and buying power to aid every company and non-profit agency to maximize their buying dollar. Fueled by my entrepreneurial passion and commitment to helping others, I founded a national charity - Engage and Change, focusing on giving back to my local community and across the country. We launched two annual initiatives- Project Winter Survival and Project Water, helps thousands of homeless throughout Toronto and the surrounding area survive the extreme weather conditions while engaging and enabling citizens of all ages to donate their time to their local community through sponsored group engagement events. This was the catalyst for our new social enterprise Kits for a Cause. I have designed a business model for companies to support their local community. My recent social enterprise wing: Kits for a Cause provides turn-key solutions for businesses to engage their employees while solving local community services’ needs for resources. I am a blogger at Huffington Post and have been featured in various media outlets. I also love to take part in speaking engagements to share my entrepreneurial business experience.
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business?
20 years ago, when I was volunteering at an event for a local shelter, I met a woman who worked there Her job was to buy clothing items for the youth living in the shelter that wasn’t donated. When I asked her where she buys items from, she told me that she buys all the clothing items from a well-known retail store at a 20% discount only. Later, I shared that the retail store, she buys from is my custom and I assured her next time if she buys from Bargains group she can get a 70% discount on those items. That meeting made me realize that there was so much more I could do to support nonprofits across the country through my business. So, I reworked my business model and made significant changes to allow nonprofits to buy wholesale supplies from Bargains Group – this way they were able to save money, time and maximize their efforts in helping those in need.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
I love what I do. The challenge can be that sometimes you need to remember to take a break. Knowing when to turn it off, in order to spend time with family is so important. It’s a great problem to have, having too much passion for what you do!
What books are you currently reading?
I have a very short attention span and very little time, so I rarely can sit down and read a book. I always make time for reading the news, blogs, articles, listening to podcasts, etc. when I’m on my way to events or winding down for the night.
And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?
Good to Great, Jim Collins
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
I grew up in a very traditionally accomplished family of professionals. There were lawyers, doctors, etc. This made my journey as an entrepreneur an unfamiliar one for my family. Every Sunday I would visit my grandfather and he would ask me when I was going to get a real job? I would explain every time how much I loved what I did, that I was proud to be passionate about the career and business I had created, but every visit was the same. “ When are you going to get a real job?” I finally explained that I was making three times what my cousins were making in their “successful” careers. I never received that question again!
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
To me, my reputation means everything. That is why I always treat everyone like they’re a VIP customer. Too often I see failed business attempts because someone risked their reputation for more money. My success has rested on my belief that your network is your net worth. After 30 years in business, this couldn’t be truer.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
Every day's a learning experience. Some days you learn more than others, but when you challenge yourself to think beyond what’s expected of you big things can happen.
What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?
There are no shortcuts to success. In order to be the best, you need to work harder than everyone around you...unless you win the lottery! Get out if you're not passionate. Passion=profit.