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Joseph Choi helps build ShelfGenie brand in British Columbia

Photos courtesy ShelfGenie

By Joseph Choi
As ShelfGenie’s franchisee for British Columbia, I variably refer to my job title as ‘director of customer happiness,’ ‘creator of happier spaces’ and ‘cabinet whisperer.’ Signing on to the system in 2014 marked a major shift in my career direction from the financial services sector, but I was successful at applying my business acumen to the new venture: after our first 12 months of operations, mine became the first Canadian ShelfGenie franchise to win the rookie-of-the-year award.

Climbing the corporate ladder
I was born in Hong Kong and came to Canada at the age of two, living in Toronto for the following 28 years. At various points as I was growing up, I had aspirations to become a firefighter, a psychologist or a police officer.

Other than working at McDonald’s when I was 13, my first experience in franchising came while I was studying at Ryerson University for my bachelor of business administration (BBA). I saw a sign posted on a corkboard wall advertising College Pro painting franchises and decided to sign on. It was a brief stint and I failed a lot, but the learning experience would help me succeed later in life.

At the same time, I was working as a bank teller for Canada Trust. When that became a full-time job, my university studies had to become part-time.

As a result, it took me nearly seven years to finish my degree, during which time I was getting my financial certifications and climbing the corporate ladder, from financial advisor to information analyst. (And while I was with Canada Trust, it was acquired by Toronto-Dominion (TD) Bank and merged into its existing operations, which created TD Canada Trust.) Working for the bank kept me grounded in my 20s and helped pay for my courses at Ryerson, but my hectic schedule also took a toll on my health in terms of stress.

I joined Assante Wealth Management as a manager of business intelligence (BI) reporting and analysis. I stayed there for nearly five years before one of my bosses decided he wanted to move to Vancouver and bring a bunch of us over with him to help start up a new investment company, Qtrade Financial Group. It felt like fate, allowing me to live and work somewhere new.

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ShelfGenie designs, builds and installs shelving to make residential spaces more accessible for their owners.

I moved to Vancouver on Jan. 1, 2005, and joined the company as director of technology implementation and planning. Shortly after moving out west, I met my wife Heather at a friend’s barbecue party. She is a human resources (HR) professional. We got married in 2007 and our daughter Chelsea was born in 2010.

After five years with Qtrade, once Heather was pregnant, I moved on to Credential, where I served as director of corporate development and then director of advisory solutions. During that stint, I made a goal to start my own business before the age of 40. This was because I was leaving for work early in the morning and coming home late. I wanted more time with my family.

A match made in franchising
I waited until my daughter was four years old before looking seriously at doing something different with my career.
I wanted something with purpose, where I could help people from the heart. Heather agreed, “You need to do it!” At the same time, though, she was not high on the idea of starting up a new business from scratch. So, I began to consider franchising.

A franchise is a bit like a marriage, in that you’re wedded to your job. With that in mind, I sought out a ‘matchmaker’ in Chuck Prenevost and his team at FranNet, a Canadian franchise brokerage and advisory firm.

I first met with them in March 2014. We had a bunch of discussions and they did a great job of recommending the ‘top five’ business opportunities that offered security and would set me up for success. I did further research into all of them.

Among these suggestions, ShelfGenie was a bit of a ‘dark horse,’ but its concept rang true for me. Founded in 2000 in Richmond, Va., the company specializes in custom designing, building and installing shelving, including easy-to-reach base cabinets, two-tiered pull-out shelves and risers that fit under sinks and around drain pipes.

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By creating these storage and organization spaces in their clients’ homes, with a focus on kitchens and bathrooms, the company has established a niche market with seniors, for whom it increases accessibility and convenience for their day-to-day lives. This helps them live independently in their own homes longer, with everything in reach.

Given current demographic trends, with seniors continuing to represent more and more of the Canadian population, it’s a business concept with a lot of potential for future growth.

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