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We interviewed Karen Flavelle, CEO of Purdy’s Chocolate, in our latest podcast. Listen now to hear her thoughts on managing a team and what she’d tell her younger self early in her career.

Daniel: Today on, “Connections.”

Karen: So, again, I kept getting rejection and rejection because, of course, I’m in the wrong time of the year, I’m not fitting into the standard university cycle of interview kids, you know, in first term of fourth year, offer them the job in the last term, or however that works. And then they start the job in September, so I was off kilter with everything. Plus it was a really bad [00:00:30] time economically. So I got a rejection from General Mills and I was, I guess, just pissed off because I’d had so many. And so I said…I phoned them up and somehow rather talked my way into an interview.

Daniel: In case this is the first time you’re listening to us, my name is Daniel Rodic, and I’m your host here at “Connections,” as well as co-founder of Exact Media, which is the company behind this podcast. We created [00:01:00] this podcast to connect you, our listeners, to the leaders and legends in the marketing and advertising industry. Every episode, it’s our job to tell their life stories and hope that you will be able to learn from their experiences, and pick up some tips, tricks and tactics to accelerate your career. To give a bit of context, Exact media works with marketers to help them drive trial conversion and acquire customers for their business by enabling them to distribute physical offers, whether it be a sample, a gift card, or a coupon into consumers [00:01:30] homes using the Excess Space and the e-commerce parcel. For example, if you’re buying running shoes online, a bank could include an actual granola bar in that parcel, or a gift card, or a coupon to get $1 off that granola bar in the store. If you are a marketer that’s trying to drive trial for your product or aggressively you’re trying to acquire customers in a new channel, I encourage you to visit us at, www.exactmedia.io, to learn how we can help you. Now, onto the episode. [00:02:00]

Today’s guest is Karen Flavelle, CEO of Purdy’s Chocolate. Her career started at General Mills, then spent a few years in the UK before coming back to work at Cara at Swiss Chalet. But this was all right after she spent two years out of Queens University living and working in Japan in a number of different jobs, including selling portraits, and getting hit on quite a bit by her male customers when she was working that first early job in Japan. [00:02:30] Since then she’s done quite a bit to grow the Purdy’s business out of British Columbia in Canada, now in Alberta and in Ontario. She’s had some really interesting piece of advice. The first on managing people, is understanding that every single person you manage, especially when you’re in a really big organization like Purdy’s, is gonna be different. They’re gonna have different motivations, different things that excite them and you have to understand that, you have to treat each one of them differently. This is almost the exact [00:03:00] same advice that we got from Michelle Peluso, the Chief Marketing Officer at IBM, on her approach to managing different folks.

The second thing when we asked her, what advice would you give to your 25 to 30-year-old self, is the importance of networking and building those relationships. It’s something that she sees very important today but is something that she kind of overlooked the value of when she started her career. Specifically, she shared one tactic not only about getting to know people but really how to build that relationship long term, [00:03:30] and it’s this idea that if you connect one person to someone else who you think would be valuable for them to meet, that’s often the best way to maintain long-term relationships. Because it lets you know, A, that you listen to me and you heard out what my needs were, and, two, you were thinking of me even though, you know, we haven’t spoken in a couple of months. It’s something that I use quite a bit that’s been quite helpful for me, sounds like it’s been very helpful for Karen, and so something I encourage you to take away out of this interview.

So, without [00:04:00] further ado, here is my interview with Karen Flavelle.

So, again, thank you so much for joining us for the podcast today. I actually wanted to start from some of the stuff I’ve been reading. I’ve been reading all about the story of Purdy’s and the story of your family getting involved in the business. And what I found very interesting was your comment that in some of the interviews, that your father was quite the inventor and really cared about the [00:04:30] factory that you guys had built. And it sounds like you spent a lot of time there when you were a kid, and I was wondering if you had any memorable moments or stories that you had shared with him when you visited the factory all those years when you’re growing up.

Karen: I don’t know if I’ve shared them with him because, of course, he thought we were, you know, model children and interested in the production equipment the way he was. But really, we were playing hide and go seek and parking [00:05:00] ourselves beside stock boxes of chocolates, and eating ourselves sick.

Daniel: I can imagine. Would you ever envision yourself at that moment in time as like, “Hey, I’m gonna one day take over this business, “or run the company, or like when you were a kid like what did you wanna be when you grew up?

Karen: Probably about that time which would have been elementary school, I wanted to be an archaeologist because I was fascinated with [00:05:30] mummies, and Egypt, and that kind of thing. So that’s a pretty young view. And I don’t recall in elementary school sort of what I thought, but by high school messages were coming from my father. We always had a family dinner, Monday to Thursday, around the table at least an hour, so lots of discussion about lots of things. And the message from him was that he didn’t want to parachute kids over long-term employees, [00:06:00] and really what that was about was his respect for the people who were in the business and had, you know, worked hard to make things happen and respecting that. And then another message was that he’s putting all his money back into the company to make it grow. And what he was meaning to communicate is, you know, businesses are fragile things and you need to keep investing in them to [00:06:30] make them healthy and strong, and growing. But what I also heard was, well, then you’re not gonna have any money when you retire so clearly you’re gonna have to sell the business in order to have something in your retirement to live on. And so between those two messages it was pretty obvious that there wasn’t a place for me or my siblings. So it wasn’t really something that I spent much time thinking about. [00:07:00]

Daniel: And we’re gonna probably jump around quite a bit during this conversation, but on the topic of selling the company, you know, fast forward many years later you end up buying the company from him. What do you think changed his mind about selling this to either another family or, you know, I’m sure a lot of the bigger players whether they be direct competitors to yourself or someone like a Hershey’s or a Mondelez would be eyeing the Purdy’s brand. Did you ever have that kind of conversation about, you know, why keep it in the [00:07:30] family versus sell to a, you know, a big player that probably would pay a pretty good multiple, and then be able to retire quite nicely with that kind of money. What was that decision making process like for him?

Karen: Well, I’ll answer in a different kind of way. After I’d been at Purdy’s, eventually, for probably about five years and various people asked me to speak and so I’d speak, and, you know, big part of the story was, how did you get involved in Purdy’s? [00:08:00] And so I’d talk about these two things that had been reasons for why I hadn’t for a long time. And one day my father got hold of one of my speeches and saw this thing about me…actually, at that time, what I was saying is, dad was going to sell the business in his retirement or Dad needed to sell the business or something like that. And he was just [00:08:30] about apoplectic because he said, “I never, never was going to sell the business.” So then I had to go back and figure out, well, so why did I get this message so clearly that dad was gonna sell the business and why is he so clearly never going to sell the business. And that’s where I put together… Well, what it was, was he said he was putting all his money into the business I assumed that meant selling, then that morphed in my mind to be he is gonna sell, [00:09:00] and so that’s why there was this big gap. So it was never a plan from my father’s perspective, really more what it was is he didn’t really have a plan, he was loving what he was doing, he loved the business, he was gonna live forever so he just wasn’t thinking about it at all.

I guess he was somewhere in the neighborhood of 65 when I joined the business. [00:09:30] Well, and so to answer your question of another way too, the things that changed…well, I’m kind of jumping around a bit, so maybe…

Daniel: That’s fine, yeah.

Karen: …should I go back to my past and then how we got to that conversation?

Daniel: I mean, yeah. We can kind of go ever which way you want I find is…wherever you think is the next logical step to go. The part I wanted to like almost interject from was, walking our way backwards is, [00:10:00] even before you got the job, so to speak, to join the family business, it sounds like it took you at least three tries to get, I don’t know if I call it an offer to join the company. But it wasn’t like you’d ask your dad like, “Hey, I’d love to join the business,” he be like, “Yeah. Here’s a spot for you.” You actually had to really push hard to eventually get that opportunity to actually join the business, if I understood correctly.

Karen: Yes, that’s right. So my siblings and I all went off and did different things after high [00:10:30] school, and I went to Queens University and did a business degree. And I was very interested in marketing, but before I dove into marketing I also had gotten very interested in Japan. So I had decided I was gonna go and live in Japan for at least a year before I started my career. So I did do that, I was in Asia for two years before…and two years solidly, no coming back. And then when [00:11:00] I came back it was actually the worst recession since the Second World War in 1981, when I was job searching. And at first I tried to do it from Vancouver, and all the jobs are in Toronto which is a five-hour plane ride away. So finally my mom said, you know, “I think you need to go to Toronto and look there, so even though you don’t have a job and you’re gonna have to pay rent and all that stuff you need to go to Toronto.” So, again, I kept getting [00:11:30] rejection and rejection because, of course, I’m in the wrong time of year, I’m not fitting into the standard university cycle of interview kids, you know, in first term of forth year, offer them the job in the last term, or however that works. And then they started the job in September, so I was off kilter with everything, plus it was a really bad time economically.

So I got a rejection [00:12:00] from General Mills and I was, I guess, just pissed off because I’d had so many. And so I phoned them up and somehow rather talked my way into an interview. And one of the things I remember really clearly is sitting in… I got there early, and I’m not an on-time person, so that takes a lot of effort for me to be well on time, which I was. Sat in the reception area and talked to the receptionist and just kind of was, I guess…because there was no Internet [00:12:30] to learn things about General Mills back then, but learn from her some things, and then interjecting them into the interview later on. And anyway, I did get the job, and I think they saw me as someone who was, you know, hugely adventurous because I’d gone off to Japan and done all these things.

But one of the things I find is, there’s kind of two kinds of adventurousness. One is adventurousness like that, going off to Japan, going [00:13:00] off to different countries, going into remote places, all that, which I’m really comfortable with. And the other kind of adventurousness is within a corporation. And that one is probably a little harder for me. You know, speaking up, voicing my opinions, that kind of thing, in an environment full of other really smart people. So that was, I sort had to learn with that. [00:13:30]

Daniel: Sorry to interrupt you. Have you ever thought through why, why that might have been the case back then. Because I feel like the first part often is the more uncomfortable part for a lot of people, of like, I’m gonna go to a country…a new country on my own. I don’t know how much Japanese you had learned or picked up but it’s kind of a hard [SP] pick, the hardest place to go is a country like Japan where I can’t even sound out words by reading the signs, like that’s probably the hardest thing to do. And you seem like, “Oh, that’s easy, that was easy for me,” relative to speaking up in a meeting about [00:14:00] cheerios or something like that, so.

Karen: Exactly.

Daniel: Have you ever kind of thought about yourself like what…you know, at that moment in time why that was not as comfortable for you versus all your kind of worldly adventures?

Karen: Probably because I wanted to come across well, I wanted to be impressive. And if what I said was dumb then that would take away, and so maybe it’s just safer not to [00:14:30] say anything. And so I think it was a lack of confidence really. And, actually, I had a good boss who said, “Look, you need to say one thing every meeting.” And so it was a way of forcing me to do the thing that I was uncomfortable with and get better at it. Oh, and I think I also went into Dale Carnegie, the speaking thing, as another way of kind of helping to get over that.

Daniel: That makes sense. [00:15:30] I kind of interrupted your flow about the General Mills process, but I’m just actually really, personally curious like what was…what was it like in Japan and kind of broadly in Asia? What did you end up doing over those two years in terms of like paying your bills to obviously live there for two years? I feel like that was not easy to figure out.

Karen: Well, at university, as I said, I was determined to be there for at least a year, and I was also determined not to teach English, [00:15:30] so I joined an organization called I ISAC. Actually, ISAC had tried to start at Queen’s and then it had failed, and so there was another woman who was starting it. And so I joined her in kind of being the second round founder of ISAC at Queens. And ISAC is a French acronym that basically stands for business students’ organization, and it’s headquartered in Brussels. And it does a couple of things, [00:16:00] one is organizing these jobs around the world for business students, and then the second aspect is more local to each chapter at universities, organizing talks and things like that. So I was primarily interested in going to Japan. And what happened is you put your first, second, third country of choice on your application, and then each country created jobs for other [00:16:30] students from other countries to come to. And then that all went into a hopper in Brussels. But I was really lucky because it was the 50th year of diplomatic relations between Japan and Canada, so that increased my odds of getting to Japan by quite a lot, and I did. So I got a job with Japan Airlines for two months: July, August of the year that I graduated. And then…then I had to find other work after that, [00:17:00] because most people went home after that. And I did end up teaching English, because I had to change my visa. I had to fly to Korea, apply for the visa, come back, work illegally for the months that the visa took to process, then fly back to Korea, pick up the visa, and then I was legal.

And then I could also try and find other more business related jobs. But I had kind of hoped that I might be able to start my career [00:17:30] there, but what I found was, either you brought a bunch of experience and things to share like being a senior manager and knowing your North American company intimately, kind of something like that, or you needed to speak Japanese fluently. And I didn’t have either. So then it became more, “Okay, well, I’ll just enjoy living here, I’ll learn as much Japanese as I can,” because I love languages. And [00:18:00] I’ll see if there’s some businesses I can do. So one of the things was selling portrait photography on canvas, so the idea was a portrait would be taken and it would be put on canvas so it would look like a painting. And the target audience was kind of wealthy Arabs and people like that. And so this guy had put together a group of salespeople that were gonna go out and sell to these guys, and [00:18:30] it was not great. I stuck it out the longest, I gather, of the ladies that he had put together for this. And the potential customers would hit on me, and so it was not a great job. Really teaching English ended up being my foundation. Plus I made a relationship with a Japanese woman who was [00:19:00] wanting to improve her English, and so she and I, did kind of a Japanese English exchange, which is how I mostly learned my Japanese plus living with Japanese roommates.

Daniel: And do you still retain it? Do you go back often to keep up your Japanese skills?

Karen: No, I don’t. Because when I came back, none of my career sort of went that direction. And I have been back twice, I guess. [00:19:30] And I’d like to go again for a walking trip, but my Japanese is not terribly good anymore, I have to say. I think if I immersed myself and lived with a family for two months it probably would come back, but when I just go for a week it doesn’t really.

Daniel: That makes sense. So…

Karen: It’s a beautiful language, though.

Daniel: Japan is really on my next travel as well. I have this dream of doing once in the summer because I just think it’d be beautiful to tour, but then also [00:20:00] once in the winter to go skiing on some of their mountains. Which is, I think the next adventure I wanna do, I guess athletic-wise.

Karen: Actually, it’s, I think fall or spring is more recommended than summer. I know Tokyo is very hot and humid or at least it used to be, in the summer, where cherry blossom or the Japanese maple trees are magnificent in the fall. And when I’ve been checking sort of when’s the best [00:20:30] time to go to Japan, it tends to be spring and fall rather than summer.

Daniel: That’s a good tip. I’ll definitely look at it, falls around my birthday, so maybe I’ll do that as my birthday trip.

Karen: Oh, yeah.

Daniel: So, anyways, I kind of interrupted the flow. So you were at General Mills for a number of years and then eventually you moved to Cara?

Karen: I was [00:21:00] at General Mills for five and a half years and then I went to England. Mostly because I’d met Jamie and he was living in England at the time. He’s Canadian but was living there. And so I got a job with product development partnership, and at General Mills it had all been about ACNielsen and analysis, and I was starting…I was sort of not really loving [00:21:30] marketing anymore. I was just feeling like, you know, my cake mixes better than your cake mix, didn’t really intrigue me anymore. I mean, I think many do find that fascinating, “How do I get my cake mix to be more popular than your cake mix.” But it wasn’t my thing. And so I was starting to look at retail, because I was also noticing that the grocery stores were where the power was. There’s only five…at the time, there was about five [00:22:00] major grocery stores in Canada. So it wasn’t a fragmented market and it gave them a lot of power. So where the brands through the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s had had power, by the ’80s that was waning. And so I liked the idea of being on the side where the power was more, and the experientialness of retail. So I went to England thinking, you know, maybe I can find a job in retail. And it was a bit of a problem because I don’t have any status [00:22:30] there, so I also didn’t have a work permit.

But regardless, I started looking, and what I found with the retailers that I interviewed, and I remember a boot’s interview in particular, the drugstore, was they were offering me kind of a…or not offering, but suggesting that maybe what I was looking for was a purchasing position. And I thought, “No, that’s not what I am interested in.” And there had been this little consultant [00:23:00] company that had a relationship with General Mills, and so I thought, “Well, maybe I should do consulting rather than trying to find a position at a retailer.” So I started interviewing with them and I was thinking, you know, this would be good because I’ll get to learn about a bunch of different companies in the UK instead of just working for one. And I ended up starting with them.

And so two things happened, one, [00:23:30] one was good, they were much more intuitive. And so they would gather all of us together in a boardroom because one of the consultants was working on something and they would just want us to brainstorm. And so what I learned there was to trust my gut, that actually my gut did have value. And ACNielsen and all this data didn’t necessarily have more importance than what my intuitive gut would say. Obviously they go hand in hand, [00:24:00] and are good to do together, but it gave me much more confidence in my own gut. And then the other thing I learned was that actually I don’t really like consulting. I’m an operator, so I like starting a project, seeing it through, making sure it works the way it’s meant to, pivoting in the middle or pivoting three times, if that’s what’s needed to make it work. But not sort of pontificating on the side. So [00:24:30] the crash of ’87 happened halfway through my year there, and so that changed the world for my husband because he was in the financial markets. And so, we decided to move back to Canada. So I ended up only being there about a year.

And that’s when I sat down and said, “Okay, what do I love to do? What do I not like to do? What am I good at? What am I not so good at?” [00:25:00] And a medium-sized retail company came off the page. And so that’s when I approached my father. Now, I’d already approached him once during the time at General Mills, because I was bored with General Mills and trying to figure out what I needed. At the time I just thought I wanted to work for a different packaged goods company, and one of the interviews I had was out West in Vancouver with Nabob, [00:25:30] a coffee company who has since been acquired by General Foods. And at the time I thought, “Oh, well, I might as well ask dad and see if he’d like to have me come work at Purdy’s.” So I asked him fairly flippantly about like that. And I remember being in his bedroom at the time and asking this question, he has no memory of it all. And he just sort of said, “No, no we don’t have any need for [00:26:00] whatever you need.” So that was, as you said, try number two.

And so, then coming back from England doing the self assessment, coming up with a medium-size retail company, that was try number three. And try number three was much more thoughtful about why I would be good at this, why I wanted to do it, why I was passionate about it. And so, things had changed in his life. So two [00:26:30] big ones really, one was the most long-term person of all had come to dad and said, “So, when is the family coming into the business?” Because what she understood was the alternative was selling and she was thinking a little further ahead than he was. And she didn’t like the idea of it being sold outside the family, she much preferred the idea of family coming in. And then the second big thing that happened [00:27:00] before I did try number three is my youngest brother was killed in a mountain climbing accident. And so his mortality helped my father see his own mortality and sort of start thinking about, “Well, so what is gonna happen down the road?” So he was much more ready for me when I came with try number three. And I was more thoughtful at that time. [00:27:30] But then my husband said, “I’ve been away in England for five and a half years and if we’re gonna go to Vancouver for the rest of our lives, then I’d like to spend five years here in Toronto with my family before we do that.” So that was actually…well, there’s a couple things that were really good. One was being in Toronto meant I was not in the backyard, and so it was a big move, you know, changing my husband’s career and [00:28:00] leaving family and friends, and so we needed to be very sure that what we were doing was the right thing.

Whereas, I think what often happens in family businesses if you’re just, you know, working for a third party company in the same city it’s easy to just kind of drift into the family business and maybe not have thought through things quite as well. So that was good, and also having the five years for my father and I to hammer through what that [00:28:30] would look like. What position I would come in at, he started with me coming and spending a year working on the factory floor, and how I eventually went was as a executive vice president. Because I was arguing, you know, “I’m a director of marketing for a $2 billion dollar company, so I don’t think I’m gonna go and start at the factory floor all over again.” That sort of what happens if you didn’t go to university [00:29:00] maybe and you just start off in your family business in the old days.

Daniel: Makes sense.

Karen: And then my father was really good at having family meetings and working through the finance side. Because as one of his colleagues said, you know, “Purdy’s has always been this lovely wonderful chocolate company, but as soon as Karen starts to get involved her siblings are [00:29:30] gonna think of it as a company worth how much?” Worth, you know, some amount of money and the dynamics are gonna change. And so I think what we did was great, which is we valued the company, dad had a partner who was a financial guy, meaning, had the financial experience and knowledge to say, “Yes, that’s a fair price.” We had it valued by a third party, Eric said, [00:30:00] “Yeah that’s fair price and that’s the price that I bought the company for, from, first him and then from the family. And so I feel good about that, because I think it was very fair and very clean for everyone. What I didn’t want is to have siblings who weren’t working in the business but who had lots of opinions about how the business should run, and felt like owners because they owned [00:30:30] some, and so then their opinions had weight. And I hadn’t even thought of the fact that there’s two of them and one of me, because I’ve seen that go badly sideways as well. So I think it’s a very clean way to do it.

Daniel: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Getting a bit more tactical I don’t know if this happened, you know, how early in your career at General Mills or particularly at Cara, but when you started managing [00:31:00] people for the first time, was there any advice that you had wished you’d received when you started managing people that you kind of later realized in life that that’s kind of good advice that you now give to others?

Karen: Well, in the packaged goods world you have very small teams of people like you. I don’t remember much from General Mills apart from just a really good structure [00:31:30] around what performance reviews are like, because then that gives you, you know, expectations like being able to motivate people that don’t work for you. So if you’re reformulating a product within a packaged goods system one of the pieces is how much is it now gonna cost, and what do we have to sell it for, and is that gonna be viable. And so you need the accountant who doesn’t work for you to do those numbers for you. So, you know, a number [00:32:00] of things on the performance review I always thought was really valuable, and the structure of making lists, I mean, it’s a simple one that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, because it’s something I now do automatically, and I wonder, you know, how many other new people actually need to be told just a simple thing like, “Every Monday, make a list, every day, make a list.” So there’s a lot of good practices that I could pass on to my small team at General Mills and at Swiss Chalet, [00:32:30] kind of similar because it was the marketing department so we were a small group.

The biggest thing I noticed coming to Purdy’s was…and in a different kind of role, more executive vice president, whilst people aren’t all the same. So do unto others as you would have them do unto you, I mean, not the religious connotation, but just the thought process of how people respond. I realized they’re really different. [00:33:00] Because someone I worked closely with on the retail side, she was very intuitive and creative and a strong sense, just gut sense of who the customer was. And then I’d go over and talk to the plant manager and he’d be, you know, analytical and linear and all that. And, of course, we need both of those but I couldn’t treat them the same. So that was one big learning. [00:33:30]

And the other is respecting those that have come before you. So we talked quite about standing on the shoulders of those that come before us, and then we really put that to work. Because as I took over from dad, in the earlier days I was kind of hearing things like, yeah, yeah, you know, you did that before and it sounded to me like, you know, walking five miles to school in the [00:34:00] snow with only running shoes and it didn’t feel relevant, it sort of felt like, yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s my parents saying that. And then I started saying, “Well, but really those things are valuable so how can I get myself to treat them with more value? And how do I get others to treat them with more value.” So we dubbed them historical perspective. And then we would just refer to HP. So, you know, we’re thinking of… I’m just making this up, [00:34:30] selling chocolates in a grocery store which we don’t do, what’s the HP on that? Well, when the Foresters owned Purdy’s, they did that and it wasn’t… Because they actually did, and it wasn’t very successful, “Okay, so are the reasons that it wasn’t very successful then the same as now or are there some differences now that might make it a success?” You know, so asking those kinds of questions and valuing what’s come before, and valuing where your [00:35:00] starting point is, is only there because others put you there.

Daniel: I really like that because it sounds like it’s a healthy balance of kind of reasoning from ground up, to a certain extent where you’re not just taking past generations advice and saying, “Well, they never get it before so we’re not gonna do it now.” But still recognizing someone did some thinking before, is that thinking still valid or not? Using kind of the ground up of data but not completely either accepting or completely discarding [00:35:30] something just because it happened before.

Karen: Yeah, yeah.

Daniel: I really like that approach. In terms of when you think back to your younger self at, whether it be at General Mills or at Cara or, you know, wherever you feel like you would have most needed the advice, what kind of advice would you have given to your 25, 30-year-old self? And, you know, if you have [00:36:00] like places like where you were and, you know, why you felt like you might have needed that advice?

Karen: One would probably be around networking. I didn’t really appreciate or understand networking at that point, and there’s so much value to it. Whether it’s learning from new people that you meet or whether it’s making connections that then you can [00:36:30] step from one place to another. You know, I did a lot of kind of student politics and stuff like that at high school and university, but I didn’t really join the Marketing Association or things like that when I got to Toronto and started my career. So I think doing more of those kinds of things and even voluntary boards that are nothing to do with business, but as a way [00:37:00] of meeting other people and having some other kinds of challenges and maybe leadership before I actually had leadership. But I could build that skill through a board or a networking kind of situation.

Daniel: Technically, is there anything you’ve learned that’s been helpful in kind of accelerating how you develop those relationships or get to know people? Because I find that’s…you know, when I talk to a lot of friends who are in the industry and, you know, [00:37:30] sometimes the uncomfortable part is like, “Oh, I love to go to these cocktail hours and events, and, you know, I’d love to go on a board but and I’m not really sure how to even start that conversation,” or, “When I meet someone that I’m interested in working with in a business perspective, like how do I stay in touch? So that eventually, you know, one day maybe it’ll unlock some interesting opportunities.” Did you find any way that you approached it that was different than others?

Karen: Well, one was…so the cocktail party example of [00:38:00] standing at that open door and you look through the door and there’s all these people who are clustered in small groups, and seem to know each other and having a great time, and you’re walking in knowing hardly anyone. So what I… My father-in-law is the kind of person who, for him that would be like being a kid in a candy store, he loves to entertain people, he loves to meet new people. And so I would kind of just try and inject that in myself because it’s not me [00:38:30] entirely, at all. But instead of looking at these small groups as scary, how can I look at it as, “Wow, you know, this person is so fascinating how can I meet this…you know, I’m just gonna walk up and say hello.” And that really helped actually, it just kind of took the fear away and made it easier to introduce myself to people that I didn’t know.

Daniel: It almost sounds like you’re imprinting, is like all these [00:39:00] people are incredibly interesting, like how exciting would it be to get to know why they’re interesting, versus being afraid of like, “Oh, they’re gonna judge me when I say hello, so I might as well not say anything and get a drink in the corner.”

Karen: Right. Exactly. Well and then maximizing the line up at the bar, or, you know, “Do you mind if I put my cocktail plate down here,” and, “Oh, by the way I’m Karen.” Is like maximizing those opportunities where there’s kind of a reason for you to be there, [00:39:30] can make it easier as well. And then following up with people. I guess I love connecting people, so, you know, if I meet one person and then three months or four months later I meet another person, and there might be some benefit in them knowing each other, you know, I’d love being able to put together people and hope something more comes out of that, so. But at the same time, what it’s telling those people is, “Well, you listen to what I [00:40:00] said, you understand what I’m about and you gave me something. You gave me an opportunity through knowing this other person.” So I think doing that, taking advantage of whatever opportunities like that, that you come across, rather than shying away from putting together two people, is good.

Daniel: I love that, I love that. That’s been super helpful for me and my co-founder as well. Just a great way to help [00:40:30] everyone out in your network. Switching to a kind of a separate topic, because I sensed, you know, outside of your work at Purdy’s, health and fitness seems like also another incredible important part of your life. And one thing I found very interesting is a lot of people in positions like yours have some kind of very defined routines, whether it’s, you know, a morning or evening routine or a weekly routine. What’s that like for you today and [00:41:00] how does that differ from, you know, what your schedule was like at either Cara or General Mills, what’s it today and how has it evolved since your early part of your career?

Karen: So I have more time now than I used to. I have a president who runs my company on a day-to-day basis. So I’m a skier in the winter and a road biker in the summer. So I try to ski [00:41:30] kind of four days a week in the winter, and right now I have a Monday night ride. I normally have a Wednesday morning ride, I probably ride on my own, Thursday and Friday, and then ride with a group on Saturday and Sunday, so ride a fair bit. But that’s a lot different from before. At General Mills and Cara I just went for runs probably half an hour, 45-minute runs, first thing in the [00:42:00] morning. And then when I moved to Vancouver by that point we had three kids, four and under, and my husband was working on Toronto time which meant he was getting up at 4:30 in the morning. So I thought, “Well, I’ll get up at 4:30 as well and I’ll go for a run,” and then I’m still back with plenty of time to work. One day a week I will not work, and all that time adds up [00:42:30] to being able to take one of the kids from say 9:00 in the morning till noon on an adventure. So once a week in the morning, I would take one of the kids on an adventure. Like the…

Daniel: What would an adventure look like?

Karen: Well, pumping pumpkin patch…because they would be toddlers, they’d be preschool at that point. But, you know, I got my physical fitness and I got working time in, by getting up [00:43:00] that early in the morning. And it worked really well through that time of my life. I’m actually not a morning person, I’m actually a night…


Daniel: You ride every day in the mornings.

Karen: Yes, but not at 4:30, I can ride later now. So as the kids became teenagers and my husband was still getting up at 4:30, then it was obviously my job to herd them to bed [00:43:30] at a reasonable hour. So that got me out of my 4:30 a.m. wake up and into a different program.

Daniel: Got it. Two more questions, I know we’re running up on time. One thing I found as a pivotal moment in a lot of people’s careers is when they’ve kind of had this moment, you know, maybe more so you’d feel this at Purdy’s than your other jobs, where you’ve almost stared failure or company death [00:44:00] in the face. Has there ever been…I guess the term I’ve used before is like memorable failure, is something that, you know, originally is like, “Wow, this is going to be the end of the company I can’t believe I made that decision. I can’t believe this is happening,” but ended up being a pivotal turning point for the better. Is there a story that comes to mind when you think about that? [00:44:30]

Karen: I think the closest that I can come to that is the decision of where to go next. So when I joined Purdy’s we had shops everywhere we wanted to have shops in BC and Alberta. And so the question was, how do we grow? And the company myth was, “Oh, we can’t go to Ontario, that’s too far away, our shelf life is too short, can’t do that.” But I knew that we needed [00:45:00] to grow and I wondered if really that was true. And we decided it wasn’t, that three days trucked across Canada still stayed within our three week shelf life, so the three to four week shelf life. So it was, in fact, doable. But still a huge risk because as you’re building retail, every time you build a store you’re signing a 10-year lease. And so once you start the process, if you decide five years down [00:45:30] the road, “Oh, this isn’t very good.” Well, you’ve got stores that have lease commitments that are not at the same time, so you can’t just say, “Well, we’ll stumble through until they all finish,” because they finish at different times. Or we could break the lease but that’s gonna cost a lot of money. So I think just starting that process was certainly a big gulp of, there’s [00:46:00] kind of no turning back, we need to make this successful. And, fortunately, we have made it successful, we’re still building awareness, and we’re more building hearts and minds in Ontario, because a lot of what chocolate and especially the kinds of things we do, where we’re a gift 90% of the time.

And so it’s more about emotions and memories. And, “Oh, my [00:46:30] grandmother always used to get me hedgehogs for Christmas,” or, “I remember eating Sweet Georgia Browns with my sister, you know, late at night when we weren’t supposed to,” or, you know, those kinds of things are really what people love about what we do. And so we’re still working to build that in Ontario and get the passion for Purdy’s to be at the level it is in BC and Alberta. So [00:47:00] we’re successful but not as successful as we’d like to be.

Daniel: So when you kind of look forward whether it’s kind of personally or professionally, like what’s left on your bucket list of things that you’re excited to take on or to accomplish but haven’t gotten to yet?

Karen: Oh, tons. And they’re always intertwined as well. So one is e-commerce, we’ve been selling online [00:47:30] since 2000, so long time, but there are so many things we could be doing better and we’re in the process of putting a new platform that will give us the technical ability to do those things that we need to be doing better. The whole social media side, I think we’ve got lots of room, you know, we’ve been doing a lot and it’s been great, but I think there’s more that we can do there, [00:48:00] and it’s a constantly evolving thing anyway. So understanding each new platform that comes along and how to talk, and what’s the tone, and how to build a following on Instagram, Snapchat, etc. And whatever new is gonna be coming along.

Daniel: Just to interrupt there, like how do you get…what do you find is the most effective way to kind of learn about a new platform and figure out, “Okay, is this gonna work for us or not?” If so, like [00:48:30] here’s the way to communicate and talk, is there kind of resources you and your team look at, is it just playing around with a tool, like, what’s the best approach? If, you know, a new version of Snapchat would pop up tomorrow how would you evaluate, “Is this something we should pursue or not?”

Karen: So from my perspective it’s more about hiring the right people who know that. And that’s what we’ve been doing lately, is we have three or four new people all on the website that we didn’t have a year ago. [00:49:00] And, actually a big shift was, I used to say the web has to contribute like a store. So we have expectations of what the store should contribute and that’s what web needs to contribute. And then a year ago I sort of said, “Okay, hang on a second, we need to really make this thing much bigger and in order to do that we have to put far more investment into it than we would in a store.” So that’s a big change and that’s why we’ve been [00:49:30] improving our web platform, adding more people, that kind of thing. So it’s having people who watch it daily because I confess, I’m not interested in following Facebook, and I do a bit on Instagram, but, really, I need people who are passionate about it, including my kids telling me this is the latest. But I need people at the company [00:50:00] who are those people. And then last fall I put together a board of advisers, and one of those people is a pure play online retailer. So he has been instrumental in helping us with that as well, in making the right choices of, you know, what are the gaps in terms of people, what are the gaps, or who is the best web platform. So he was part of the decision [00:50:30] with that, he was part of the decision hiring our new VP, IT. And he comes from a pure play online background, so that’s been huge for us too. Because we’re a 110-year-old company.

Daniel: Yeah, I can imagine, it’s not easy to kind of pivot the business model and the thinking, because it relies so much on the in-person experience of walking into a Purdy’s as I’ve experienced, so I feel like that’s the hardest thing to replicate that [00:51:00] everyone struggles with. Is like how do I bring that online, you know, am I serving the same customer online in the same way I’m serving a different use case, or am I serving a completely different customer? You know there’s many ways you can go about it, right?

Karen: Well, and that’s another part is we can track our web customers and then we have a direct to customer couple of businesses, one fundraising and the other is group, and the missing link is the store. So the ideal world [00:51:30] would be when you walk into one of our stores we can know that maybe you made two web purchases in the last six months and you’re one of our fundraising customers, and here you are in front of us in the store. Like that would be wonderful, or similarly, looking at our store customer base and knowing that they didn’t know about our fundraising or they don’t know about our group program that might, in fact, be helpful for them.

Daniel: That makes a lot of sense.

Karen: Getting [00:52:00] much better on the data side is another opportunity where we’re about to have live inventory. And live inventory means you have the ability to have someone order online and then pick up in the store, so that’s exciting.

Daniel: That’s awesome.

Karen: We’ve had a lot of customers tell us that they’d like to be able to do that. And then another one is business gift, and business gift…it’s funny because we’ve sort of being doing them for a long time, but not [00:52:30] really with any focus. Because, obviously, we have, you know, the car dealership that comes into a shop and want a whole lot of boxes for his employees at Christmas, let’s say, or, you know, lots of things like that have been happening for many years. But we haven’t put as much focus on it as we should and could. And, certainly, online, you know, we’ve gotta be one of the easiest gifts for one company to give another because it’s the right fit and it’s the right color, and it’s shareable, and, you know, all those sorts of things. [00:53:00] But there’s so much more that we can do to make that easy for people that we’re not currently doing.

Daniel: That makes sense.

Karen: And then those two are also part of what will help build Ontario. So, you know, make us more front and center in people’s minds and people’s daily habits. Because I think, one of the things that happened with Laura Secord kind of losing [00:53:30] people’s interest, is the whole category became not a habit anymore, whereas in BC it’s much more of a habit here. So it’s kind of rebuilding those habits, because Laura Secord had a wonderful place in many people’s memories, and families, and traditions, but it’s kind of different.

Daniel: Why do you think that is between BC and Ontario? Like what’s the difference?

Karen: I think the difference is [00:54:00] Laura Secord didn’t keep the quality up, and they didn’t keep their offering relevant. And they went too far into ice cream they became the ice cream store. And even though we have ice cream we have very consciously stayed the chocolate store, not the ice cream store.

Daniel: Yeah, it’s true. I normally go to Laura Secord for ice cream when I see it, but I also think about Purdy’s for gifts for chocolate, so at least as a data point of one, I can say that’s true. [00:54:30] I know you… Sorry go ahead.

Karen: No, that’s it.

Daniel: Yeah, I know you have to go. So the last thing I was just curious about was, personally, for you, is there anything else on your bucket list, you know, travel-wise, cycling-wise, or else wise that you’re excited about, you know, doing this year or sometime in the future?

Karen: I also want to ski in Japan, and all the powder I’ve heard is there. One of my sons [00:55:00] is trying to get a family [inaudible 00:55:03] trip either in summer or winter. So family trips are wonderful, and especially ones like that. I’m thinking about a walking trip in Japan. I’ve sort of done a bit of research into that. And cycling, actually we just came back from Poland but I’d like to go in the summer sometime when the weather is [00:55:30] much warmer, and we can cycle, they have lots of cycling routes around Poland. So, yeah, cycling all kinds of different places.

Daniel: That’s amazing, well, maybe I’ll see you on the slopes in Japan at some point soon.

Karen: That’d be great.

Daniel: Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed what you heard, felt like you learned something, please just take a minute to go into iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcast and write [00:56:00] us a review. It helps us reach more people like yourself and helps us share the knowledge with others. So please check out iTunes, write a review, tell us what you think and look forward to talking to you on our next episode.