It was the last weekend of the summer season, and Robert Farquharson was looking forward to the end of another exhausting 17-week run for the Neptune Drive-In Theatre in Shediac, N.B.
Mr. Farquharson would finally be able to have a weekend to himself, rather than working at the drive-in on top of his regular job as general manager at Sackville Auto and RV Ltd.
The summer had been especially stressful for the entire Farquharson family, as he had involved his wife and two daughters in the venture to cope with the unexpected departure of staff during the short summer run for the theatre.
With the season over, Mr. Farquharson and his business partner, Jeff Coates, had to make some major staffing decisions as they could not continue to cope with the hectic, non-stop schedule.
After graduating with a business degree from the University of Prince Edward Island in 1984, Mr. Farquharson joined a national company involved in financial services for recreation vehicles .
He enjoyed the work but after 15 years of coping with a hectic travel schedule, in 1993 he left and joined a local recreational vehicle company in Sackville, N.B.
In 2006, Mr. Coates, a colleague, bought Vogue Cinema, the local movie theatre in Sackville. Some time later, the owner of the Neptune drive-in in the nearby resort town of Shediac approached Mr. Coates to buy the business.
Although it appealed to him, the property value of the land was high, a lucrative piece of real estate close to the oceanfront. After working the numbers, Mr. Coates decided not to buy the business.
Four years later, a local business person bought the property and approached Mr. Coates with a suggestion to lease the drive-in business. After discussing the opportunity with Mr. Farquharson, the duo decided to team up and leased the theatre in 2010.
After a lapse of four years, the drive-in opened for a 17-week period in the summer of the same year.
From the very beginning, the partners sought to hire bilingual staff to cater to area clientele. They also installed a second radio transmitter to allow French language transmission of the audio for movies.
To jump start the new business, the partners committed a significant portion of their weekends to it. Their families were supportive.
Although the theatre paid better than minimum wage, it was difficult to hire young, bilingual staff, especially given that the theatre was open only on weekends and could not offer full-time summer jobs.
Moving forward, the partners knew that they did not want to devote all of their weekends to the business on a regular basis.
After three years of running the drive-in, they felt financially comfortable hiring a full-time seasonal employee who would relieve them of the day-to-day operations.
This manager would be responsible for taking care of the weekend workload, as well as use other weekdays to hire and manage part-time staff.
The manager would also be responsible for facilitating a social media presence by taking care of Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The partners have been successful in hiring a person for a full-time seasonal position starting next summer. This individual worked for the theatre this summer and has their trust and confidence.
Community support has been outstanding and instrumental to the increasing success of the Neptune Drive-In.
One of the outcomes of the partners’ efforts has been the creation of 12 seasonal positions, a significant contribution to the local economy.
With a management position in place for 2013, the partners are focusing on ideas to improve their business. Some may include opening at reduced rates on weeknights, adding a playground for children, joint promotions with local restaurants and offering digital projection.
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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