By Timothy Quinn
As a Toronto-based franchisee for Intelligent Office, which provides ‘virtual’ professional office services—from phone systems and mailing addresses to on-demand office space and conference rooms—à la carte for small to medium-size enterprises (SMEs), I’ve introduced a burgeoning business-to-business (B2B) model to an urban environment where there are already strong trends in its favour. As a result, my three franchises are among the top performers across the entire system today and have served as an example to our corporate headquarters of where rapid growth can be found tomorrow.
Getting into business
I was born in Georgetown, which is part of Halton Hills, Ont. I grew up there and then in Bramalea, a neighbourhood in Brampton, Ont. As a child, I was into sports, especially hockey and football. And as I grew older, I became interested in current events, business and politics.
At McMaster University in Hamilton, I earned a bachelor of commerce (honours) degree with a minor in economics. When I graduated in the early 1990s, however, the economy was in the depths of a recession. I was interested in the advertising and marketing sectors, but the job placement rates there were way down.
Looking through a local newspaper, I felt motivated by a job ad seeking a junior salesperson for Artisan Graphics, which produced computer-cut vinyl logos for corporate truck fleet identification. Based in Mississauga, Ont., they had introduced new digital imaging technology for producing these photo-quality printed truck-side graphics. The concept of ‘rolling billboards’ was still very new back then.
I ended up working there for a couple of years, when the concept’s popularity was growing exponentially. Beyond trucks, the digital technology was a game-changer for all outdoor advertising, as it provided a way to produce low quantities of ultra-wide-format images on a variety of substrates much more affordably than ever.
In 1993, three of us left Artisan, got a small business loan and started our own company, GHQ Imaging, in Etobicoke (which is now part of Toronto). We bought the next generation of four-colour processing equipment, targeted a customer base of billboard companies and ad agencies throughout the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and became Canada’s largest printer of ‘superboards.’
The industry was still exploding. Over the following six years, we established a sales network spanning both North and South America. We grew from $800,000 in annual sales to $15 million.
By 1999, GHQ had more than 120 employees and was the third largest supplier of its kind in the world. Prismaflex International, a large manufacturer of outdoor advertising products and printed output in France, purchased the company from us that year. I stayed for one more year on a management contract.
After I left Prismaflex, I took some time off to travel in Australia and to build a cottage on Lake Joseph in Ontario’s Muskoka region. Then I provided backing to the inventors of the Roto-Majic, a handheld tilling and weed-removal device for gardening. This involved some business consulting and we arranged an exclusive distribution contract with Home Hardware.