While I was born in Kitchener, Ont., my family moved to St. Catharines when I was just two years old, so I really grew up here. I loved animals, was always a pet person and wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up. My family had dogs, cats and guinea pigs over the years.
As a kid, I played ringette and baseball. I wasn’t a huge fan of school, but liked math and science classes, which I followed through on after high school. I also went to St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ont., to study animal care for a year. That program is just enough to get you in as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic.
Then I got pregnant, so veterinary school was out of the cards. I went to work for McDonald’s, which I found trained me very well in business. Specifically, I worked for a franchisee who owned six locations, which took me from Kingston to Grimsby to Beamsville and back to St. Catharines.
My career with McDonald’s lasted 15 years, the final two of which I spent in the franchisee’s offices learning the back end of the business. I handled payroll, administrative work and scheduling for his six restaurants. It was a tough business to run with many part-time employees, but I liked how the franchisor provided instructions for everything and helped us continue to develop their brand. They really helped us be as successful as possible.
I worked closely with the franchisee and his children, who were in their 30s and contributing to the business. I watched how they did everything. All of that experience prepared me for working at a bank next.
That’s where I was, working as a teller for the Bank of Montreal (BMO), when I met Jeff in 2008. He was with PartSource and would come to the bank as part of running his business. We had mutual friends who helped us connect on Facebook. Each of us had two kids. One day, the six of us went to a bird sanctuary. We started hanging out more after that and got married in 2013.
From PartSource, where I really developed my business-running abilities, I went on to serve as a district manager for Mr. Lube Canada’s corporate-owned stores, with a territory stretching from Windsor, Ont., to Montreal. I had met Rhonda by then and the job proved to be a tough gig, given we had a young family of four children between us.
Around 2009, however, cutbacks eliminated Mr. Lube’s middle management roles. I found myself selling automotive parts locally again in St. Catharines.
The problem I found in the automotive world is the purchases feel negative and rushed. No one wants to spend hundreds of dollars on repairs, after all. And as a result, I was becoming a negative person myself.
Shortly after Rhonda and I got married in the fall of 2013, my brother and I decided to buy a dog for our parents as a Christmas gift. Driving back from the kennel, we stopped to buy a leash and collar at a Pet Valu store in Welland, Ont. They really wowed the socks off us! Not only was the customer service great, but they had a whole new look. I found myself awed by the wooden floors and muted wall tones—it was merchandising heaven!
I had considered working in a pet store in the past because, in comparison to an automotive shop, every purchase in a pet store is a happy one. I had applied to be a store manager for a PetSmart location and lost out to an internal candidate.
Rhonda supported me looking into Pet Valu. I went on the Internet and ordered a franchise package. Three weeks later, I was meeting with the franchise co-ordinator. My discovery day was in the spring and by the summer, I had left my job to start training at the franchisor’s head office, where I learned about the back end of the business.
Pet Valu’s training program was second to none and really set me up to succeed. I also had lots of questions for them, as my parents had owned a Mister Transmission franchise in the past. I wanted to know, for example, how my royalties would be used.
I loved my job at the bank. By the time the Pet Valu opportunity came along, I was a manager, running a team and striving for numbers. Jeff’s a spreadsheet guy and I’d learned from him how to do my job better at BMO. I would tell my team members, “Here are your goals and what you need to achieve.”
When we visited the Pet Valu store in Welland, I hadn’t been to one in a long time and it looked very different. Like Jeff, I was wowed by the service, but I also know he’s a bit of a dreamer, so when he first talked about buying his own Pet Valu franchise, I just said, “That’s nice, honey!” But he kept going with it and suddenly a franchise package showed up in the mail.
I figured I’d be working at the bank for a while yet, but once we got our pet store, I knew I wanted to eventually be part of it, too.