This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We've asked readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories. Their answers are edited.
Introducing Lawrence Eade, president & CEO of Wok Box, quick service Asian inspired restaurant franchise that got its start in Edmonton in 2004.
1. Let's start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
Wok Box specializes in fresh, wok-cooked Asian cuisine, offering simple but extensive menu options influenced by the flavors of 10 Asian regions, including Thailand, Malaysia, Mongolia, Singapore, Korea, China, Japan, India, Cambodia and Vietnam.Wok Box's main meals consist of fresh Stirfry noodle boxes, rice boxes and curry boxes – more than one million of which were sold in 2013 – plus Naan-Wich and Bahn Mi sandwiches. Many dishes can be made vegetarian, vegan or wheat-free.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
A couple reasons but a major one was the desire for controlling my own destiny. My father worked for a company for over 25 years and was given a package to leave when he was in his early 50s. He's retired and is happy and comfortable, but I remember thinking that someone else made the decision for him to be done working.
I never wanted that to happen to me. At the time I was finishing my Chartered Accounting designation with KPMG and thought that if I didn't take the risk then I never would. Having a great foundation as a CA was comforting to know that if it all blew up I had a fall back. Fortunately it hasn't!
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
Our customers are truly from all walks. We have teenagers, business people, seniors, males, females…the list goes on. Our diverse menu offering and fun energetic brand really appeals to many people. There really is limited options that are like us in so many markets so when people want a noodle box they immediately think "Wok Box". They find us generally through word of mouth, especially in new markets, and as we grow more traditional marketing methods bring them in. We have really been focusing on online marketing and advertising, whether that is through Google Ad Words, Twitter, Facebook or our annual Groupon promotion. But our best marketing is giving the customer a great experience so they tell others.
4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
We have a great team and many employees in our business. As Wok Box has some corporate locations we have employees that are on the very front line all the way up through to senior operational employees. That wasn't always the case, as we grew it was really just the founders and partners doing everything! That certainly has helped us understand what each employees role is and what they need to accomplish though.
I am the CEO and drive most of the decisions in the business, whether that be approving branding materials or new products or reviewing leases or franchise agreements. The other owners and founders are on the Board of Directors and give their thoughts and advice in that context. Of course we've all been driving this for years so there are many lively conversations on the direction we should go.
5. You've been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
Understanding your customers and what they want is critical to the big picture of being a successful business. Knowing what is happening at the store level and how those happenings are impacting the customer's wants and expectations is what we keep our focus on each and every day. So long as we know customers are happy we are successful. Everything revolves around that simple focus.
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