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Faces of Entrepreneurship III - The Retailers

By Michelle Collins |

As the Christmas season draws closer, it's hard to miss the cheery decorations and music drawing us into neighbourhood shops to find that perfect gift for a loved one. Just who are the people behind the counter of those favourite stores? This month CanadaOne peeks into the world of the local retailer.

Sweet tooth takes a bite out of candy retail
Ken KouryIt was Ken Koury's sweet tooth that led him into the chocolate business one afternoon. Following a lunchtime break from his construction business, he walked into the shop next door to find something sweet. What he found instead was a store going out of business; right then Ken decided Port Perry, Ont., needed a chocolate shop. "I went to see if the store was for sale on Monday, owned it on Wednesday, and sold my construction business on Friday."

Things weren't exactly smooth sailing from that point. Originally Ken called his business Nuts About Chocolate. He didn't trademark the name and found out later that somebody in British Columbia had registered the same name just 10 days earlier. "I made every mistake in the book," he says. He has since changed the name to The Nutty Chocolatier, and he has opened two more corporate stores in Ontario, in Peterborough and Niagara-On-The-Lake.

Each of Ken's stores and his franchises has an inviting Victorian look and feel. After traveling throughout Ontario and to a local museum, Ken designed and built his original store, calling on his construction background.

As much detail goes into the Belgian chocolates, as they are all handmade and hand-decorated on-site at the Port Perry factory. "I think we probably have the largest selection of chocolate in Canada," says Ken. The Nutty Chocolatier has since evolved into a confectionery shop, which includes candy and ice cream.

After six years of running The Nutty Chocolatier, Ken decided to franchise. Today two Toronto stores and one Huntsville location operate as franchises. Ken has found that franchises are an easy way to expand into a community without the responsibility of every little detail needed to run the business.

As Ken's business grows and expands, he needs bigger facilities to hold his sweets. He began with 500 sq. ft. and is planning to move up from his current 2,000 sq. ft. to a 5,000 sq. ft. factory in the near future.

Yet Ken has found that getting bigger isn't necessarily better. More stores means hiring more people and ordering more supplies, which can eat into the overall profits. "Retail can be tough for people who rely on paychecks," he says. "The first couple of years, I poured any money I made back into the store." Despite any problems over the years, the challenges keep him in the business.

Since he opened the first store, he has worked 70 to 80 hours per week. In the beginning, he was behind the counter, but now he spends his time on more administrative tasks for each of the three corporate stores. He does manage to fit in three weeks for holidays throughout the year.

As a successful entrepreneur, Ken advises any prospective entrepreneurs to have a good business plan that they stick to. "I'm still working on mine. If you don't have one, it will cost you more money than you thought."

Dealing with banks was another lesson Ken had to learn. While the bank may offer you a lot of much needed cash, sooner or later they'll come knocking on your door to ask for repayment. "Remember that banks are a business too, and they have a profit to make just like you do, he says."

With plans to open stores all across Ontario over the next five years, Ken shows no signs of slowing down. "My life's ambition is to be a beach bum. That would last about a month," he says with a laugh. "I have an uncle who is 80 years old and still goes to work every day. That's what I'm going to be like."

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