“You can sit on your idea for 12 months or two years, but then you’ve just lost 12 months or two years worth of growth and revenue,” says the president and co-founder of the Calgary Heritage Roasting Company.
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Parker and CHRC co-founder Mike Wenzlawe sat on their plan for three months after they first considered creating a lifestyle-focused coffee brand in 2014.
Since they decided to take the plunge, CHRC has made waves of increasing size in Alberta’s coffee industry. The CHRC’s beans are now carried by retailers across Western Canada, and the company has collaborated with everyone from Wild Rose Brewery to Arc’Teryx.
Here are 4 tips from Parker on starting a business.
1: Learn to be lean.
For its first two years, the CHRC was a small and scrappy company.
"We started with pedalling maximum 10 pounds of coffee a week to family friends, strangers,” says Parker. “Anybody that would give us money, pretty much, for our coffee.”
Those lean years weren’t always comfortable, but they were educational. Paucity forced Parker and Wenzlawe to be creative.
“We’re a smaller company and don’t have some of the leverage that other companies do financially, so we’ve had to really build things from the ground up,” Parker says. “This journey has also helped us get to this point. If we weren’t frugal, we wouldn’t be as inventive.”
2: See the big picture with your people.
Parker is an early riser. His partner Wenzlawe is not.
“I used to get so mad because I’d be working away at 5:30, 6am, and Mike wouldn’t be up until 8:30 or 9,” he says. “I’d be like, dude, I’ve already gotten four hours worth of work done here. What are you doing?
“But Mike also works until 8 or 9 at night. It’s like, OK, I get it. It’s fine.”
Parker and Wenzlawe also pride themselves on allow team members—including themselves—any time off they ask for. It might cause some short-term inconvenience, they reason, but in the long run it works out in their favour.
“If me or Mike or any of our other staff members need some time off, we’re willing to do that,” Parker says. “They’re going to leave, be appreciative, and come back working 10 times harder. That’s been a big value of ours from the beginning.”
3: Stand out and be authentic.
Parker credits much of the success of CHRC to its basic premise: a coffee brand that evokes the outdoors and truly embodies Calgary.
“We looked in the marketplace and everything mimicked Vancouver, Seattle, Portland,” he says. “You still see that in Calgary. Everything mimics another spot.”
Companies that authentically do something different are more likely to get noticed. It helped CHRC secure its first retail carriers in Calgary, leading to its present success.
4: Feel free.
For Parker, the best part about being an entrepreneur is also one of the hardest: freedom. Freedom lets him pursue his ideas without needing anyone’s approval. Freedom means there’s nothing to buffer the consequences if those ideas don’t pan out.
“It’s so empowering but at the same time it’s one of the most challenging things,” he says. “It’s the beauty and it also can really be a black spot on a company.”
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