By Neceib Moussa
Although I grew up in the furniture retail business, when I first tried to go it alone, I struggled to achieve profitability. Yet, when I discovered Aaron’s, a specialty retail franchise chain known for lease-to-own furniture, computers, electronics and appliances, I realized I’d found what I needed: a system for success. Today, I own three locations across Western Canada and am planning my fourth.
Finding my path
I was born and raised in Wetaskiwin, Alta., not far south of Edmonton. I’m the youngest of three siblings. My sister Layla is five years older than me and my brother Mohammed is three years older. I grew up in a big, tightly knit Lebanese family. My dad had four brothers and two sisters who all lived in the same area.
As a child, I played a lot of hockey, golf and football and hung out at the beach in the summer. I wanted to be good at sciences and I dreamed of becoming a pilot one day, but my career turned out very differently.
When I was 13 or 14, I started working part-time at my dad’s furniture store. I would dust, vacuum, load chairs and do other light-duty work. As I got older, however, I really resisted the idea of falling into the family business (which is what my brother did after he went to college). I wanted to do something different.
After I finished high school, I went to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) for my business diploma. I specialized in marketing, which was more fun than the accounting, management and finance tracks.
I also had an affinity for cars, so I went into selling them. I worked at a Pontiac dealership for seven months.
Next, I tried my hand at sales for an independent real estate firm, but I started to realize I’m not great at being the face of customer service. I had a hard time selling and couldn’t close the deal with a smile.
I learned from my mistakes. Sales just wasn’t my thing; I’m more of a behind-the-scenes guy.
Learning the retail ropes
My dad and uncles owned a series of retail businesses and properties. When they opened a flea market in a 44,000-square-foot building in Edmonton, I got the chance to run it. It went very well.
Later, it was converted into a furniture store and I became the manager. I did some sales work when I had to, but most of the time, I supported the sales staff instead. I handled hiring, training, advertising, merchandising and after-sales service.
Next, I opened a La-Z-Boy Furniture Gallery with my dad, brother and brother-in-law. We later went our separate ways and today my brother runs two of them in Edmonton.
My sister, meanwhile, is also connected to retail. She and her husband own two grocery stores. They also specialize in farming Angus Beef cattle.
In 2005, I tried opening my own furniture store, but it didn’t take. I found it was very hard to make money with a ‘mom n’ pop shop.’ I realized I needed a program.
I already knew about furniture, but I needed to know more about how to grow a business, especially since the industry had changed a lot over the years. I started to search around for the next opportunity—and that’s how I found Aaron’s.