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Exploring entrepreneurialism with Express Employment Professionals

crop1By Brad Arth, Carol Arth and Jessica Culo
When we bought our first franchise with Express Employment Professionals—formerly known as Express Personnel Services—in Edmonton in 2004, it marked a major change in how we did business. We were already an entrepreneurial family, but our experience working together was specifically in the retail sector. Nevertheless, many of the skills we had gained, as well as our natural aptitudes, soon proved invaluable to this new undertaking.

I grew up in Westlock, Alta., about one hour’s drive north of Edmonton. My father and my grandfather owned a dry goods store that opened in 1952, originally known as A & M Store, which was eventually renamed Arth’s Fashion Centre. They sold clothing, shoes, giftware and fabrics for the whole family. The small retail location grew into a 17,000-square-foot department store.

I went into the family business after I graduated from high school in 1978. My brother Todd and I ended up purchasing the business from our father in 1989 and we ran it together for five years. Todd still runs it today.

Before retiring, my father and a business partner had started importing a line of ski wear and other sports outerwear from Asia. For a few years, they were primarily selling these products wholesale to other retailers. When my father decided to leave the industry, he asked if I wanted to keep this division moving forward.

I accepted his offer, but changed the business model to instead import directly to my own new private-label store, Powder Ridge. My family and I moved from Westlock to St. Albert, a suburb of Edmonton, in 1993.

Powder Ridge became a chain of stores across the Edmonton area, fluctuating from two to six locations. We designed and created our own outerwear styles, which were manufactured in Toronto and Hong Kong.

We owned and operated the stores for eight years. The business was primarily seasonal, so we had to hire a lot of new employees each year.

We closed the stores over the 2003/2004 winter season. One reason was climate change. When it’s not as cold and snowy, people are not going to buy as many jackets! Our lease rates had also increased over the years and competition was aggressively moving in.

At that point, I became interested in the staffing sector. Having dealt with a lot of employees over the years, I understood the challenges businesses in this area faced.

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