Turning a dream into reality

Jacqueline MacKinnon

Jacqueline MacKinnon, owner of Benjamin Moore in Quispamis.
Photo: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph-Journal

Jacqueline MacKinnon has a swimming pool but still insists on going down to the wharf and jumping off every day. She took an even bigger leap into the small business world two years ago when she became the owner of Benjamin Moore in Quispamsis. Her husband, Ian, supports the business by handling things on the back end and focusing, as she says, on “when to stop spending money and pay the bills.”

Jacqueline and her husband met at university where they shared the dream of owning their own business. She grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and assumed that someday she would be running her own business. But then, of course, life got in the way including kids, a house and a mortgage. The timing to start a business never seemed to be right.

After four or five years of being home with her kids Jacqueline was getting antsy, but the thought of going back to the workforce wasn’t appealing to her. She was turning 40 and she realized it was time to make the dream of owning a business a reality.

Q: What were the first steps you took to get into a business of your own?

A: We started down the road looking for a business through an old co-worker of mine. He profiled people and then set them up with franchises. We came close to buying a couple of different businesses that we were interested in but the timing was never right.

We decided the best person to ask about a new business would be our accountant, as he would know who’s in business, who’s doing well and who’s not doing well. He put us on to Benjamin Moore.

Q: What was the attraction to owning a Benjamin Moore store?

A: When we looked for a business we wanted to make sure it was a brand that everybody knew. For us, it was a no-brainer. 

Q: How did you know this was the right business for you?

A: It took some time. The decision became clear when Ian was travelling for work and he called me from the Toronto airport. He said, “Get a piece of paper. Write down your three top criteria for what you want in a business. I’ll write them down here. When I come home, we’ll open a bottle of wine and we’ll discuss it.”

We had the same three criteria – we wanted to be community based, to be a brand that people recognized and to be a company that was environmentally responsible.

Q: You’re entering your third year of business. If you look back on the last two years, what has surprised you the most?

A: I think we were lucky – it was a surprisingly easy transition for us to own this business. The employees run the store – they have the knowledge and they run it like it’s their business. It was already a successful business. We want it to be more successful. I felt my role was getting out into the community, marketing, selling ourselves, making sure everybody knew that we were the new owners.

Q: How do you advertise?

A: We use social media, print ads and mailings mainly.

Q: When you look ahead five years, what do you see for your business?

A: Well, we’d like to grow the business but we’re cautious. It’s only been two years and when is the right time to focus on growth? We can see that there’s some growth potential and there are some good things on the horizon. We want to make sure that we’re ready to meet the upcoming needs.

Q: When you say “growth,” what does that look like for your business?

A: Right now we’re looking at growing our customer base as well as increasing sales to the people that we already have as customers. This is why we’ve introduced different products such as window treatments, decor, rugs and things like that.

Q: What’s the strategy to expand the customer base?

A: We’ll continue with the marketing that we’ve been doing. We do three or four campaigns a year through Canada Post, where we send out postcards. There’s always a national Benjamin Moore sale in the spring and the fall. I find these campaigns have been very successful. People still, as much as social media drives us, like that tangible piece they get it in the mail. They see the colours of the paint. A postcard usually has to go through a long process before it ends up in the trash. All these things work together.

Q: What’s your competitive advantage to the big box stores?

A: I think they are missing a key piece, which is the customer service – that’s our competitive advantage. At the larger stores you may run into staff who only know a little bit about paint, a little bit about flooring, a little bit about the screws and what size screw you need for a project. We are experts in what we sell and know exactly how to help you.

Q: Are there any other differentiators?

A: We have a fabulous product. There are lots of people who are making good paint now, but I still feel that Benjamin Moore is making the best paint on the market. We are ahead of the pack when it comes to our environmental consciousness. We just moved into zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in our premium products.

Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to acquire a small business?

A: My advice would be to start asking people in the know. Ask other business owners. Maybe they’re ready to get out? Maybe they’ve had enough?

Q: How do you keep good employees?

A: It works both ways. I want our employees to stick around and I want to make sure I’m being good to them. Hopefully they feel the same way. They want to stay around so they work hard and get excited about things. It’s amazing what’s happens when you challenge people. I think that’s important in a small business to try to keep people excited about what they’re doing.

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. Email Dave at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or follow him on twitter @dave_veale. Don’t miss any of Dave’s interviews with leaders…get blog updates in your inbox by signing up over here, at the top of the right column ==>



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