by Wendy Onstein

In celebration of International Women’s Day, the Leeds and Grenville Small Business Enterprise Centre is pleased to honour Janet Campbell of Mrs. McGarrigle’s Fine Food Shop with their annual Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Lifetime Achievement Award was created to recognize a woman who has been in business for many years and to celebrate her achievements as a business leader in our community. Last year’s award was presented to Heather Howard of Fox Run on the River.

Mrs. McGarrigle’s has been in business since 1988, when she and a partner started making mustard from a Grandmother’s recipes. From its humble beginnings in the basement of one of Ottawa’s hostels after hours, the business has morphed into a stylish gourmet food, fine kitchenware and home decor retailer with a huge distribution market serving over 400 stores carrying her products.

The first retail location opened in 1990 in a 450 square foot space, 250 of which was kitchen. By this time, the original partnership had dissolved and Janet was working on her own. New products were being developed and it became evident that the business needed more space. So, with a loan from her mother of $6,000, she opened a slightly larger store in 1995.

Four years later the perfect location became available to buy. Once a General Store built 1888, it had the character and environment that was ideal. The new property had room for growth and to accommodate both production and retail. It needed major renovations though, so, while still operating the current store, evenings were spent renovating the new location. It took time, patience and money, but the store was opened for the Christmas season in 1999.

In the coming years there were many lessons learned regarding running the business that Janet willingly shares:

-Banks don’t just hand over money – money comes from making profit in the business which then can be turned into creating more sales. The banks will work with you, but it isn’t easy. Find a banker you can work with and trust.

-Consistency is critical in business. This includes product quality, availability and consistent store hours.

-Developing local relationships with producers has enabled the store to provide fresh cheese and coffee to customers. These local relationships are nurtured with regular visits.

-Running a tight ship is also important – having enough staff to be efficient kept costs manageable. But it is a fine line.

-Seizing opportunities, even when you’re are scared, leads to business growth.

-Making sure that you are spending as much time as you can with your customers and suppliers builds loyalty and strengthens relationships.

-Having a succession plan gives you an exit strategy – so, when you want to go, you can. Now her daughter, Hailey, works alongside her, learning the ropes of business; although Janet says that Hailey has been a retailer since she was 3 years old, when she helped run the cash register, standing on a stool so she could reach the keys.

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