By Peter Saunders
Krista Thompson and Heather Meek are the co-owners of Boomerang Kids, a franchise system with deep community roots in Ottawa, with their sights set on expansion elsewhere. They were already friends and business colleagues when they bought into the company about five years ago and began working on a way to franchise what was then a corporately managed pair of retail stores.
Boomerang Kids was founded in 1994 by Joan Garvey and Lyne Burton, two friends who wanted to run a business that would allow them to spend more time with their families. They opened a small store on Ottawa’s Bank Street that specialized in the resale of children’s clothing and maternity wear, through consignment commissions.
“A lot of families fund their kids’ clothing by selling the old before buying the new,” Meek explains.
The business was highly successful, leading to an expansion of the store in 1997 to add books, toys, car seats and other non-clothing items. These also included, for the first time, new goods.
A second location opened on Richmond Road in the Westboro neighbourhood in 2003 and was also successful. Franchising enquiries started to come in.
After their children grew up and they became empty-nesters, however, Garvey and Burton decided to sell Boomerang Kids in 2007 and move on to another business opportunity.
“It was up for sale because they realized they couldn’t contain the concept in just two stores,” says Thompson. “It needed to grow further, but they didn’t want to turn it into a franchise system themselves. They had owned it for 13 years and it was a great time in the market to sell.”
Developing the system
Thompson had begun her career as a broadcast journalist before specializing in communications and business management consulting with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), IBM and Hill & Knowlton. Meek had started out as an agricultural economist, before also working for PwC and IBM. They lived with their families near Ottawa in Kanata and Nepean, Ont., respectively.
“Business consulting was leading me into an all-encompassing job,” says Meek. “I wanted to try something I could mould around my life, rather than the other way around. We both wanted to own our own business.”
“I had a very generalist background and looked at all sorts of businesses, including existing franchises,” says Thompson, “but I understood Boomerang Kids because I was already a customer. The strong culture and reputation really attracted me. It felt like a clothing store and a community centre, all in one.”
They began by running the first two stores themselves, building a fuller understanding of the day-to-day realities of the specialized retail business before creating a true franchise system.
“We each managed a store for six months to learn what would make the concept replicable,” says Thompson. “We looked at key performance indicators (KPIs), fiddled with business processes and then watched the data to see the effects, to find out what factors had a bearing on the stores’ success. We had to streamline our business processes, develop a better human resources (HR) model and develop new software, to prove the brand could grow and each new store could be profitable.”
“The plan to build Boomerang Kids as a franchise chain was there at the outset and there was a lot of potential,” says Meek. “Most consignment stores are very small, though, and we’re doing it at a larger scale. It’s both more complex and more attractive to customers than other retail pricing systems. So, it was important to develop new software, starting at Bank Street, for our consignment system.”