All in good time

EJ and Don McGillis

EJ and Don McGillis opened the first two Edible Arrangements® stores in Ottawa in 2007 and 2008

In 2010, EJ and Don McGillis had three thriving toddlers. By March 2011, they were down to two. And by August 2011, they were down to one—their son, Spencer.

The reduction was a planned and happy one for all concerned, especially for the buyers of the two Edible Arrangements® stores EJ and Don had raised from “birth” in Ottawa. With these two “babies” in good hands, the couple would have more family time for their own youngster.

The staggered, gradual cutting of the ties made the parting less traumatic says EJ.

“It was our plan to sell the stores separately,” she explains.

“We were quite sticky with the individual buyers, too, as we needed to ensure that each had a good grasp of business and that they would take care of the staff.  We knew it would take a while, so we didn’t lose patience. Our Sunbelt broker, Khaled Bitar, was of great assistance— genuine, open and sincere about our interests and the buyers’ interests.”

As Edible Arrangements® is a franchise, we had additional documents and considerations—the proposed purchaser also had to be acceptable to the franchisor, mentions Khaled.  “We had quite a few conversations with all the parties involved.”

Building the business

Edible Arrangements® website, CanadaEdible Arrangements® fruit bouquets appeal to all the senses.  In fact, it was a visual that first drew the couple’s interest as they perused a magazine onboard a flight from Bermuda.  She and Don had talked about working on their own together, EJ recounts, and with her background in hotel administration and the food and beverage business, an Edible Arrangements® franchise made sense.

The company was pulling strong ratings—in 2006, for example, it ranked 4th in Inc. Magazine’s 5000, of the fastest growing private companies in America.

In May 2007, the McGillis’s opened Ottawa’s first Edible Arrangements® in Barrhaven, followed by the second in November 2008, in downtown Ottawa.

The business was unknown in Ottawa at the time, EJ recalls.  “Getting the name out was essential.  We worked hard to establish the brand and good name.”

EJ eventually became the face of the both stores, managing staff and customer needs, while Don worked behind the scene dealing with the financials and resuming his high tech career.

It was hard to balance a personal life, raising the “babies’ in tandem, she says. But the couple gave it their all, and their stores achieved a healthy growth of 25 per cent per year—a strong position from which to attract prospective buyers.

Having achieved their goals, Don and EJ were happy to surrender the keys to new owners who could continue to grow the business and continue the high standard McGillis’s had set, leaving the couple more time for family and other interests.

Khaled helped a lot with the buyer selection, and over the course of the two years we were in contact selling the stores, we became friends, mentions  EJ.  “He was an excellent guide and intermediary. It was essential to us that he understood our business.”

Owning a small business

There’s nothing fancy about being a business owner, EJ emphasizes. Slim and chic in fitted dress and heels as we talk over coffee, she describes the physical demands of hauling and unpacking heavy boxes of fruit and reorganizing their contents in a massive cooler each morning.   You have to be ready to step in at any time, she adds. “If someone calls in sick, who’s working?  Me,” she laughs.  “Stay healthy—take lots of vitamins and don’t miss meals.”

“And forget the heels! You need to be prepared to do whatever it takes—breaking down boxes, inventory… “

You learn a lot about yourself as a small business owner, EJ says.

“We have three employees who stayed with us from day one. But most of the workforce in an industry like ours is transitory. You learn not to take it personally. And you learn humility. If you have 30,000 customers, you can’t make each and every one happy each and every time.

“You need to appreciate where their disappointment or anger is coming from, though. As an example, we had a customer who was very upset about chocolate-dipped strawberries she had purchased from us. They had gone bad when she went to serve them.  It turned out she had let them sit on a table for two days. She should have kept them in the refrigerator. However it happened that she missed that important bit of information, the result was that she felt let down on something she intended to be very special for someone else. It reflected on her. Wouldn’t you be upset? We used the occasion to educate, not blame her, and gave her a refund.”

You’re stretched to solve problems you never dreamed you’d be facing, EJ adds.

“Best of all, as a business owner, you learn what you are capable of, and can go on to apply to anything in life.”

At the time of writing, Edible Arrangements® has over 1114 stores in 14 countries around the world. Each store is locally owned and operated.

Why is a business for sale?

Potential buyers of a business want to know upfront why it’s for sale. In all likelihood, the business is continuing to provide a good living for the owners just as it always has; as in the client success story featured in this issue, what’s changed is the owner, not the business.  Read more in Why is a business for sale?

By Karen Runtz

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