Canada's business magazine for traditional natural health retailers

4 minutes reading time (820 words)

Saying goodbye to retail

don claire smithAfter an impressive 41 years in natural health retail, Don Smith and his wife Claire are moving on. They have sold their 6,500 sq. foot store - Foodsmiths - in Perth ON and are putting their retailing days behind them.


After an impressive 41 years in natural health retail, Don Smith and his wife Claire are moving on. They have sold their 6,500 sq. foot store - Foodsmiths - in Perth ON and are putting their retailing days behind them.

For the former owners, the time was right to move on. “We knew we weren't getting any younger and retail, especially nowadays, is a younger person's game,” says Don. “You need to be energetic, on top of technology, and have an eye and feel for current trends. Not that we weren't able to do this any longer, but you have to be good at it and keep up a good pace of change.”

The person who will now ‘keep up that pace’ is long time employee Bill Watts. “The decision to buy the store was not a matter of should I, but could I?” says Bill. “It was always my goal to own my own business from early on in my career so when Don and Claire asked if I would be interested in purchasing the business, I was very excited.”

Asking Bill if he was interested in taking over the store was really a no-brainer. Who better to continue the Foodsmiths legacy than a trusted employee who had been working in retail since the age of 15. “I worked part-time at a local grocery store while attending high school and after graduation, I continued to work for the same business full-time, working my way up to a department manager at the age of 21.” says Bill.  He joined Foodsmiths in 2009 and held positions as produce manager, general manager and now owner.

Taking on ownership of a retail store that has been very successful over the last four decades sweetens the deal. Don credits persistence, drive and the desire to always improve things for both customers and staff members as the keys to their success over the years. Making the workplace an enjoyable one for everyone was certainly a goal for Don and Claire. “It's so true that you get treated the way you treat other people,” says Don. “I think the other big factor in our success was the ability to be able to recognize and capitalize upon opportunities in our local marketplace. You can't be afraid to gamble and try new things, obviously with a good dash of research and consideration.” Of course, not every new idea worked, but Don says that’s how they learned so much.

And the early years gave Don and Claire many challenges to learn from. “We really flew by the seat of our pants in the early years…so much much naivety,” says Don. “The challenges were mostly physical over the years; having our storage flooded, almost going bankrupt when bank rates rose to above 20 per cent, and overextending ourselves financially with the building of our latest location. Those were the main crises points in our history but of course there have been many other challenges along the way.”

In the future, Don believes human resources will be one of the biggest challenges for businesses to overcome. “What I find distressing is when more regulations are brought in; policy makers don't understand the consequences. On one hand, they talk about wanting to support small business in so many ways, and they're putting the nail in the coffin of small business with the other. But as with any challenge, you have to adapt.”

Fortunately for Don and Claire, this isn’t a challenge they will need to overcome anymore as they move on to the next phase of their lives, a phase they have some definite plans for. Claire is looking forward to getting involved with more community groups, not to mention working on her golf handicap. Don has many outside projects and activities he has yearned for years to spend more time on, including playing more music. And of course, the four most important reasons they chose to move on – their four grandchildren, who they want to spend more time with.

Don will still be active in the industry: he has two years left in his term on the CHFA board and is considering staying involved in the industry. He says both him and Claire will miss the change and stimulation the business gave them, as well as the great people they worked with, the relationships they developed and the many great customers they saw so regularly. “We have been humbled and touched by the outpouring of congratulations and thank you’s from so many. It has made us realize we had so much more than a business, and we’re very cognizant and appreciative of what it has given to us.”•


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