By Steven and Kary Tratner
It’s funny how life tends to come full circle. More than 13 years ago, we were calling up franchisees with DirectBuy, the private home improvement and furnishings club we now serve as franchisees in Markham, Ont. These days, we’re the ones fielding those calls, sharing our experience and advice.
Of course, the basics are easy. DirectBuy is a private club in which members have access to a huge selection of products from more than 500 brand name manufacturers. They’re able to buy pretty much everything for in and around their home directly, with no retail mark up. DirectBuy forever changes the way families buy, providing them with an opportunity to live a better life.
The appeal, convenience and savings the concept offers might be obvious to DirectBuy’s hundreds of thousands of members across North America. What’s not so obvious is how a business consultant and lawyer with three kids ended up running one of the company’s most successful franchises.
I was born in England and came to Canada when I was just seven years old. The family—my parents, older brother and I—moved across the pond for an opportunity in my father’s medical career. He worked as a geneticist at an agency that provides clinical services and programs to people living with developmental disabilities. In fact, Dad still works part-time for the agency, at the age of 85. He is truly an inspiration to me, both in terms of his work ethic and the way he always treats others with kindness and respect.
Soon after moving, we established ourselves in Toronto, living in an apartment for the first year until we got settled in our new home. Eventually, we moved to North York, where my brother and I grew up and went to school.
When the time came, I enrolled at the University of Waterloo, where I stayed for two years pursuing a degree in psychology, before I headed back home to attend Osgoode Hall Law School. I was interested in the law but not quite sure what career path I wanted to pursue. I knew a law degree would present me with a world of different options, and I was open to all of them.
After being called to the bar in 1987, I landed a job working at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, a body that regulates the practice of medicine to protect and serve the public interest. I worked closely with the organization’s complaints committee, in relation to complaints lodged by patients regarding a physician’s care or conduct. I actually enjoyed my job quite a bit—until I got the chance to make a long-held entrepreneurial dream come true with my husband, Steven.
I was born and raised in Calgary. After finishing my first year of undergraduate studies at the University of Calgary, I decided to move to Toronto to complete my bachelor of arts degree in economics at York University. I had some friends going to school in the city and it sounded like a fun atmosphere. Besides, moving away from home can be one of the best parts of the university experience, and I’m so grateful my parents provided me with the opportunity to do so. (This too has come full circle, as our eldest daughter, Marley, is currently in her second year at McGill University in Montreal.)
After completing my first degree, I decided to pursue my masters of business administration at York’s Schulich School of Business (back then, it was known as The Faculty of Administrative Studies). It was during my time at York that I met Kary—the business school was right next door to the law school.
In 1985, after graduating from the master’s program, I began working as a marketing manager with a large Japanese trading company. My position provided me with great exposure to many industries, and gave me the chance to travel throughout North America. After about two years, I transitioned into business consulting in the medical management field. My work involved opening medical clinics, including everything from site selection to build-outs to staffing. I was also relatively happy with my job, but Kary and I always wanted to find a way to work together, and it was time to make it happen.