A: My sister is VP of operations. My mum is still very much involved in the processing area. My father is a mechanical engineer who’s retired but still puts in his two cents in terms of the design and flow of the operation. I’m extremely close to my sister who lives seven doors away. We vacation together, work together, live and breathe Summer Fresh day in and day out.
Q: What issues do you have with family and staff? They can never be one of the family.
A: We’re a family run business, but at the same time we’ve got a great infrastructure in place. I know that in a lot of other family businesses, it’s the family who really calls the shots, but we all have our own job description here. The VP of sales and marketing makes her decisions and our CFO makes his decisions. The family will put a word in but we really have an open minded organization.
We’ve always been very up front with the employees and make sure that they’re rewarded accordingly. We don’t have staff profit sharing but if the company does well, then everybody shares in the goodness of how we do. If we don’t do well, they don’t get bonuses.
Q: Have there been bad years?
A: Some interesting years. Sometimes you’re growing at an extremely fast pace, and you get called in to a meeting to be told that, effective in six months, you’re not going to be doing business with them. It has nothing to do with your quality or service level or who you are as an organization. It’s just a decision that was made and there’s no going back. That stumbled us.
If you’ve got $1-million in sales and you lose 10 per cent of your sales in six months, you’re shocked. So you’ve got to be extremely creative and make up those sales pretty fast. But by being strong and having great employees, we’ve been able to keep our growth levels at the levels that we’ve been achieving. I’m very proud of our team.
Q: Was that connected to the economic downturn in 2008/2009?
A: Not at all. Obviously retail and food service were hit hard with the economy, but we’ve been able to create products to suit particular retailers, food service customers and, at the end of the day the consumers, with a price point that works for them.
Q: What’s your strategy?
A: We really monitor the marketplace in both Canada and the U.S. We saw that consumers started to watch their spending in the auto industry area – that would be Windsor, Detroit, moving on into London, Ont. So we saw that stream of what was going on probably about 18 to 24 months ahead of time. When you monitor sales through scan data, you know when something is happening so you’re able to react pretty quickly and not get caught.
Q: Where are your markets?
A: Our strength is Canada. We’re a Canadian organization. We’ve probably got about 80 per cent of our sales in Canada and 20 per cent in the U.S. There’s a huge opportunity for us in the U.S. It would be nice to see our products across the world, but we’re in fresh refrigerated food and our business model as it is now doesn’t work for us to ship into Europe, Asia or other continents. So right now we’re focused in on North America.
Q: How do you manage your time?
A: It’s difficult. I have an eight-and-a-half-year-old daughter. My baby – my daughter – is first and foremost, but up until I had my daughter, Summer Fresh was my baby. So when I gave birth, I wondered, ‘how am I going to watch my baby and take care of this business as well?’ You learn to juggle and hire great people to help. You learn to pick your battles. You can’t be everything to everybody.