Bill Long had worked at Sackville Harness Ltd., a Sackville, N.B.-based maker of equestrian and other custom leather products, since 1978.
In 1995, when an opportunity came up to buy the enterprise, he and his wife, Diane, purchased the business with financial assistance from Enterprise South East (formerly South East Lead Corp.), a local community economic development agency.
The couple were quite confident in their ability to manage the business, given Mr. Long’s previous experience working there.
But after a couple of years of owning it, he realized that, while he had the skills and qualifications to take care of the “work” part of the company, both he and his wife lacked the “business” background, experience and skills needed to manage and grow the enterprise.
One of their most pressing concerns was accounting and financial issues. They had been relying on a manual system to record the accounting transactions and other financial and payroll information, and found the task of keeping everything up to date onerous and unreliable.
For long-term profitability, they knew they needed to address this issue sooner rather than later, as they could not afford any losses.
Four craftsmen established Sackville Harness in 1919; the Longs were the sixth owners of the enterprise. Since its launch, the business has operated from the same premises, a heritage property and one of the oldest buildings in Sackville, dating back to the 1700s.
The business is the only harness shop in the Maritimes and the only one in North America that manufactures horse collars by hand. The shop sells custom-made horse harnesses, leather belts, shoes, bags, equestrian products and leather gift items.
Mr. Long inherited a small but loyal customer base, consisting of clients not only in the Maritimes but as far away as British Columbia. Over the years, he has not only kept this customer base intact but also added international clients as far away as Germany, Britain and Japan.
Though both Mr. and Ms. Long had little business experience and training, they were keen to learn how to better manage and grow their operation.
To better develop their business skills, they read books on business and entrepreneurship, including one they highly recommend, The E-Myth Enterprise by Michael Gerber.
About five years after buying the business, the couple also approached Enterprise South East with their problem, which in turn connected them with the business development program at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).
The agency came to their rescue, providing advice and training to assist them in converting from a manual accounting system to a computerized one to maintain their books, and manage their finances and payroll.
An agency consultant also visited their home office twice a week for several weeks to ensure the couple was comfortable in using the new system.
To set up the system, they bought a computer, and paid a nominal fee for the advisory and training service.
The system has been running smoothly, allowing the couple to focus more on business growth.
Mr. Long is now looking to pass the torch on to someone else to carry on the business.
But he’s in no hurry, since he has some criteria for potential suitors: a passion for the line of work and a willingness to commit to a period of time to learn the trade.
His advice to anyone interested in entrepreneurship is to “make the business work for you, rather than you work for the business.”
Special to The Globe and Mail
Nauman Farooqi is a professor and head of the department of commerce in the Ron Joyce Centre for Business Studies of Mount Allison University.
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Report on Small Business website.
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