By Jeff and Rhonda Riley
Even with our combined experience in retail and franchising, buying and running our Pet Valu franchise in St. Catharines, Ont., seemed like a steep challenge from the outset. Fortunately, with the support of a great staff and our community, we were able to nearly double our sales—and expand our store’s footprint—within the first two years of the business.
I was born in Guelph, Ont., and raised in St. Catharines. We made the move when I was four years old because my dad was a bank manager and he got transferred to a different branch. He continued to get transferred, but nearby enough that he could commute for the rest of his career, so we were able to stay put in St. Catharines.
My older brother and I grew up with pets, including dogs, fish and hamsters. I spent my time hanging out with friends, playing road hockey and watching TV. In my teenage years and through my 20s, I did a lot of curling.
I wanted to become the prime minister (PM) of Canada when I grew up and I was always passionate about politics. At school, I got involved in organizing events and activities. My accomplishments included getting hockey and cheerleading teams back to the school. I was even a mascot!
In terms of academic subjects, I hated English and French and enjoyed math, geography and social sciences. One realistic goal, given I was the son of a banker, was to become an accountant. I did find I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps.
After high school, I went to Brock University—which is right here in St. Catharines—for one-and-a-half years. Then my best friend passed away and I got into a really dark place. The loss changed my focus in life.
At 20 years old, I started to work at Canadian Tire as a floor sales clerk. It was a great fit and a year later, I became supervisor at another location in Dundas, Ont. I oversaw a night crew of anywhere up to 18 people at a time.
I worked at that store for almost three years, during most of which I lived with a friend in a student house not far away in Hamilton. Next, I got a job as a day manager at another Canadian Tire in Port Colborne, Ont. I stayed at that location for two years, moving up to retail assistant manager and department manager.
In retail, I found I loved all of the customer interaction and constant change. I also loved trying to make every aspect of a store look polished and finished. I learned a lot of high standards from the company.
While Canadian Tire has a progression plan to help turn today’s staff into tomorrow’s dealers, I decided it wasn’t what I wanted, as the time commitment would be too much for me.
As I had a knack for merchandising, I decided to do that on a freelance basis. I worked mainly on projects in Toronto during that stint. That was when I first got married. It didn’t work out, but we had two awesome children.
Canadian Tire hired me back again, but at the corporate level, as a field merchandiser. This involved travelling all across Canada as a project co-ordinator. I also started to help build their PartSource automotive shops, to help them compete with National Automotive Parts Association (NAPA) stores and the like, selling name-brand parts to commercial customers and people who work on their own vehicles.
Once you’re in the automotive world, it can be very hard to get out! I became a corporate store manager for NAPA out of Toronto. Then my district manager left NAPA for PartSource in St. Catharines and he offered me a job that brought me back there, again as a corporate store manager. That was when I met Rhonda, who worked at the bank.