Al visits with Joshua MacGowan, owner of Supplement World Canada, a Saskatchewan-based chain of supplement stores. The biggest challenge for any new business is making a name for yourself in a competitive industry. Joshua was successful once, but then was forced to make the difficult decision to start all over again with a new brand. How did he do? Listen now to find out. You can find out even more about Supplement World Canada at www.supplementworldcanada.com.
Al visits with Joshua MacGowan, owner of Supplement World Canada, a Saskatchewan-based chain of supplement stores.
The biggest challenge for any new business is making a name for yourself in a competitive industry. Joshua was successful once, but then was forced to make the difficult decision to start all over again with a new brand. How did he do? Listen now to find out.
You can find out even more about Supplement World Canada at www.supplementworldcanada.com.
If you're the owner of a small business in Canada and you'd like us to help tell your story, email us at email@example.com.
Yes, We Are Open is a Moneris Podcast Production hosted by Al Grego.
Listen to music from Season 1 on Spotify.
Al Grego: Hello everyone. I'm Al Grego. And this is the Yes, We Are Open podcast.
Today I'm in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Built on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River, Saskatoon is the largest city in the province with a population of nearly 250,000, according to the 2016 census. Home to the university of Saskatchewan, the Meewasin Valley Authority, and the Wanuskewin Heritage Park--a national historic site of Canada representing 6,000 years of First Nations history. The city has nine river crossings, earning it the nickname "Bridge City." A highlighted city is the River Landing, a 36-acre riverfront park chock-full of attractions including restaurants, a farmers market, outdoor gym, and a venue for cultural activities. A more recent nickname the city has earned is the "Paris of the Prairies," as coined by the late, great singer-songwriter Gord Downie. The city is certainly a hidden gem, but not much longer. According to Canadianliving.com, this once-humble prairie town is suddenly attracting international tourists like never before. Vogue declared it, "an absolute, must-visit destination." USA Today listed it in their Best Destinations in Canada and the New York Times listed it as number 18 in their 52 Places To Go in 2018. From what I've seen in the city so far, I can understand the fuss. It certainly has its unique charm, but I'm not down by the river today. I'm on the east side, about 15 minutes away in University Heights visiting today's subject, Supplement World.
Good. How are you? Are you Josh?
Joshua MacGowan: Yeah, I'm Josh.
Al Grego: Oh, I'm Al. Nice to meet you.
Joshua MacGowan: Nice to meet you. Oh, we're doing that now. So, how's your time in Saskatoon been?
Al Grego: Oh, it's been fun.
That's Joshua MacGowan, owner of Supplement World. He welcomes me into his store, one of three locations in Saskatoon. As he shows me around, I can immediately see his passion and energy for everything supplement-related. I'd be willing to bet that I could point to any of the hundreds of items he has on his shelves and he'll have some intimate knowledge of each product.
Joshua MacGowan: The stuff we carry is kind of top-quality so…but we do have a lot of options here for pre-workouts. These are all of our creatines and recovery products, all that stuff.
Al Grego: Joshua is also very much a hands-on leader. He warned me ahead of time that during our interview he may get distracted helping a customer. It seems this enthusiasm and customer-driven approach has rubbed off on his employees as well.
What's your name?
Yvonne: My name is Yvonne.
Al Grego: Yvonne. How long have you been working here?
Yvonne: For a total of three years.
Al Grego: Three years? How do you like it?
Yvonne: I really like it here.
Al Grego: So it's a good company to work for?
Yvonne: Yeah, definitely. And the customers are super awesome as well. Friendliest customers. I've done a lot of retail myself before in the past and yeah, super awesome customers, I would say.
Al Grego: So you say that would be your favorite part of working here, is the customers or the team?
Yvonne: Yeah, I'd say both, actually.
Al Grego: Thank you.
Yvonne: Yeah, no worries.
Al Grego: After my tour of the store, we were able to sit down in a quieter location away from customers for our chat.
Joshua MacGowan: Hi, my name is Josh McGowan and I am the owner of Supplement World. I had been really into sports nutrition, working out, exercise, sports, all of that since a young age and kind of along the way I got into reading about supplements--things that could help me recover a little faster, perform a little bit better.
So I started reading a lot about supplements from a really young age and got a job at a local gym and we sold supplements there and I ended up kind of falling in love more with recommending and helping people pick supplements than I did with the actual working at the gym portion of it. So I got a job at a local supplement store and I worked there for four or five years and just like completely fell in love with it. It was like ton of fun and helping people out and get to hear from people of all different walks of life, looking for products for different goals, different needs. Kind of every day you're helping solve a different problem.
The owner of that store had actually approached me and wanted to do a store with me in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and that was kind of what sparked the idea for me was, "wow, I could actually do this for a career. It doesn't just have to be a part-time job or go into university." It didn't quite pan out how we wanted it to, but the idea had already been sparked.
So fast forward, I'm 22 years old and have this idea, have this plan, I've put a ton of work into it. So I decided to pursue opening the store on my own, under a different name. It was under a license agreement store. So we were under a different brand name and basically I paid a brand from Ontario to use their name, and we were allowed to kind of operate how we wanted, rather than a traditional franchise where you have to follow very strict regulations, rules, structure. You could kind of create the model you wanted, which was exactly what attracted me to that brand.
It was all community engagement for us. That's what we use. I didn't have a very big budget. I did not have very much money to start. My uncle built my store for me for free, which was a huge help. I just had to pay for the construction supplies, but it wasn't a fancy store. We left most of it as it was from the previous tenant. We just put some shelves up, and built a nice counter.
So I didn't have a big marketing budget. So there was no big ad spend with anything. It was just guerrilla marketing. We went to all the local gyms and we set up tables and sampled out our products, which at the time wasn't a marketing strategy that had been done before, at least around Saskatchewan. At welcome week at University, we had a table set up at the gyms we had tables set up. Any local bodybuilding, CrossFit, powerlifting meets. We had tables set up and then eventually when we could afford it, we sponsored them. We worked with good social media influencers in the community right when social media marketing was starting to become kind of a thing. So we got the right people backing us and promoting our products. And then we just made sure that everything we recommended was actually good so that people would then go and tell their friends and family, Hey, you should try this stuff that I got from Supplement World, or the brand that we were at the time.
I always thought that it should be really consumer-focused. I thought that the supplement industry should be about helping people pick what they need, rather than selling what products the store wants to sell. That involves taking a lot of time to interact with your customers and asking them the proper questions and qualifying their needs to make sure that what you're recommending is actually the proper product. It's not really an industry where you can just walk in and pick something off the shelf and it's the right product for your goals. So I really wanted to kind of create that environment where customers felt like they could come in and ask all the questions they had and feel comfortable doing it because supplement stores can be a little bit intimidating if you've never been in one before.
It's the customer interactions that really are what I'm passionate about. Saskatoon, I think, was probably a really good place to open my first store because Saskatoon is very supportive of local business. If you put in that work and get involved with the community and give back, they support you like crazy. The customer loyalty out here is just I think it's like nowhere else in the country.
Al Grego: Do you have any examples of that?
Joshua MacGowan: Basically every event we did there was some sort of hiccup, right? I was 22, 23, trying to run these big events with not a lot of experience with organizing at the top level. And there would always be something that went wrong. The internet would go down or something. And just every single time the store would be packed with people. We would get crazy turn outs for our events and everybody would just be like, "oh no worries, take your time. Have fun." You know, everybody's chatting in the store. They're making friends in the store. It actually kind of became like a little community unto itself. All the customers kind of became friends of each other. They all started following each other on social media. So it was just kind of unique. Whereas, I do think if maybe we started out in like a higher-paced center, I can't help but wonder if some of those little hiccups that happened might've turned customers away instead of creating an opportunity for a stronger connection.
Saskatoon. That's where we started. That's just me. And then we expanded into Prince Albert. There's somebody that's worked there basically since the start. And they've been a huge part of the Prince Albert store success. They actually just bought into the company, so I now have a partner in Prince Albert. Regina, we opened there next after Prince Albert and I've got a partner on that store. Edmonton, we have four locations there so I have a partner there. And then our first licensed store is also there. So there's a gentleman there who owns two stores that I'm not part of directly.
Al Grego: Just licensed your brand to them?
Joshua MacGowan: To him, yes. And it's still very involved because obviously I care a lot about the success of everybody that uses the name Supplement World. And then our Calgary location. I have two partners on that store. So in about three years, I guess, we went from two stores in Saskatoon under our old brand to ten stores in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Al Grego: Wow. That's great growth.
Joshua MacGowan: Yeah, it's been a lot of fun.
Al Grego: Up next, Joshua's hard work and customer focus has helped him become a trusted name for supplements in the province of Saskatchewan, but something was holding him back. The name wasn't really his. Would he dare start from scratch with his own brand after all this progress? Stay tuned to find out.
You're listening to Yes, We Are Open. Joshua McGowan had grown an impressive business selling supplements in Saskatoon. Through a lot of hard work and creative marketing, he managed to grow his business and make a name for himself in Saskatchewan. He was poised for more growth but something was holding him back. And in order to overcome that obstacle, he would have to make a tough decision that will put all of those gains at risk.
This podcast is obviously about overcoming adversity and overcoming struggle. So when you think of maybe one of the toughest times that you went through with your business, what would that be? What would you think?
Joshua MacGowan: It was definitely for us the rebrand, and it wasn't just the rebrand itself. It was all of the time and the decision leading up to the rebrand of, "is this worth the risk?" The business was going very well. Things were good. We had a great customer base, and on one hand it felt like to keep the vision that we had kind of created for our company we had to do the rebrand, but on the other hand, it felt like we were kind of risking everything.
I became a part of the old brand because they gave you total freedom to kind of create your own vision for the store. A couple of years into that, this brand started to kind of standardize their own business model that they were doing out in Ontario.
Al Grego: Sure. As they were growing, they needed to develop a playbook and that didn't match really what you...
Joshua MacGowan: Yeah, exactly. Which is totally fair. And we had like really candid conversations about this for about a year before I did my rebrand. We were discussing like kind of the options, and I was very transparent that if I have to change our business model that works for us, I'm likely going to have to rebrand and kind of create our own chain of supplement stores. That year was just filled with stressful situations. You got to wonder, "are the suppliers still going to sell you product if you leave an established chain in the industry? Is that chain going to try to open stores around you to make your life difficult? Are the customers going to be really confused about the branding? Are the customers going to be mad because they've purchased t-shirts and shaker bottles and all your brand merchandise to support you and now you have a different brand?" So there's so many things running through my mind and our team's mind, and we just had no idea what to expect.
It was a really stressful year. Me and my girlfriend talked about it pretty much every night for the entire year. We just discussed like the pros and cons, looped a very similar conversation. We actually flew out to Ontario to meet with the owners of some of these suppliers and kind of see what the future would look like if we did do this rebrand, if we would still have their support. We went and met with the CEO of the company I was a part of and kind of discussed our options. I was even looking at buying into that chain with him. So there was just so many moving parts on the go. But once we kind of decided once that decision was made, then things got a lot easier and harder at the same time, right? Because once the decisions made then all that stress and anxiety is out of the way, but now it's time to work and there's a lot of work to do.
We got to kind of brainstorming all the things that we would have to do to make sure that this transition was successful. Things like, when do you change the social media page name? Because everybody is used to looking up the old brand to find you, how are they going to find you if you just change it? We developed kind of a plan where we did a merchandise exchange program. So anybody that purchased any merchandise from our old brand, we were going to give them, I think it was three months where they could come in and with the purchase of supplements, they could trade in all their old merchandise for one-for-one with new pieces of merchandise. So that was kind of the first thing we thought of...
Al Grego: Great idea.
Joshua MacGowan: That'll alleviate one of the headaches. So put that in the plan book. We did a huge social media giveaway on our new brand page where we'd get people liking and tagging their friends to win a $1,000 shopping spree to celebrate our grand reopening kind of thing.
There was tens of thousands of comments on the page of people tagging their friends. So that helped like a lot of people find out that we were rebranding right away. And luckily for us, once word got out that we were doing this, people were incredibly supportive of it because now this was a company that was fully Saskatoon-based, right? It was right out of Saskatchewan, right out of Saskatoon, only two stores.
Al Grego: Did you embrace that in your rebrand?
Joshua MacGowan: Oh yeah. But we had, we had embraced that from day one, too, that we were right here in Saskatoon. We were part of the community and we kind of always will be. This is a big part of who we are. So because people had seen that, they'd seen that that was true, they just got right behind it. And they loved it. We made like cool merchandise and Supplement World Saskatoon shirts, and everybody just got right behind it. So it was a ton of stress and a lot of money to rebrand because we had to do the merchandise exchange program and change your signs and change all your marketing material that's out there, your billboards. But luckily for us, it did go well.
I think deep down, I always knew that it was the right thing for us because it also really sparked a new fire in our team. And that gave me a lot of confidence because all of a sudden for our team, there were all these growth opportunities, right? We just became a brand new company and kind of the sky's the limit. We can open these stores anywhere in Canada. And we believed in our concept, in our model, that it would work if we tailored it to the communities we opened in. A cool little side note on that is we're doing our first store in British Columbia in probably three months from the recording of this. And the person doing it, it's actually the family of somebody who was with me when we rebranded our store. He was working there. So yeah, it came true. There came more opportunities for the people that were part of it.
Al Grego: And I want to touch a bit on the pandemic. It is something that has affected every business in Canada and I'm sure you guys felt the effect of it because gyms were closed and stores were closed for a while. It was a lockdown. So how did you guys weather that storm?
Joshua MacGowan: It was definitely a huge hurdle. Like you mentioned, when gyms are closed and your primary business is selling supplements to people that are looking to improve their performance in the gym, your sales are going to be affected.
In Saskatoon, where we've been established for so long, we weathered it okay. The car sales took a hit, but we were okay. It was tougher in the communities where we were a lot newer. So Alberta, for example, we opened our first store in Edmonton, August of 2019. So that gives us about six months before the pandemic. And we opened our second location there two weeks before the lockdowns happened.
Al Grego: Bad timing.
Joshua MacGowan: Bad timing. So we didn't have an established community, really. We didn't have brand recognition. People sure are not trying out new stores when they're being encouraged to not even leave their house, right? If they are going out, they're probably going to the places that they have already built into their routines. If they kind of know what's going to be going on, they're not really looking for new experiences. So it was probably the worst time we could've picked to open a new location.
Al Grego: How did those stores survive then?
Joshua MacGowan: They survived. Yeah. So we didn't lay off any staff. So my partner on that store, he's a young guy. He was 22 or 23 at the time we opened and took out a loan and moved his life out to Alberta and worked super hard. Luckily, because we had just opened that second store, we hadn't hired a full team of people. We only had one employee there, so we didn't have to lay anybody off. But Paul, my partner there, he worked every single hour during the entire year-and-a-half pandemic and just was not really taking a salary to kind of float it. So it was just like a lot of hard work. I wasn't taking my salary, obviously. We just got as creative as we could, but it was a grind. It was not easy. Luckily, all the stores made it. None closed. And I think at this point, fingers crossed, I think we're through the worst of it as a business, at least for Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Al Grego: Coming up after the break, we find out whether Joshua's rebrand paid off and see what the future holds for Supplement World.
Mat Belanger: This podcast is sponsored by Moneris. As a business owner, change comes out of you fast. That's why Moneris is right by your side as you innovate and adapt so you can get paid. With solutions for businesses of all shapes and sizes, we're proud to help Canadians like you achieve their goals. From online, in-store, curbside, and pickup solutions, Moneris is there to help your business succeed every step of the way. To talk to one of our business advisors, call 1-866-MONERIS or visit moneris.com.
Al Grego: Welcome back to Yes, We Are Open. Now fully under the Supplement World Canada brand, Joshua MacGowan seems to have successfully rebuilt his own trustworthy name in supplement retail. Now he turns his sights towards growth. So what's in store for Joshua's company? Is the sky actually the limit? Can he weather the fourth wave of this pandemic and succeed? Let's find out.
What's your outlook for the future of Supplement World?
Joshua MacGowan: I try to be an optimist. I try to be realistic. I think the future is still bright. I think for Canada, I still think it's a bright future. And so we're still pushing forward like things are going to be good soon. And if they're not, we'll make it through like we did last time. Just work hard and keep pushing. But we're also, when I say these things, sometimes I worry about the people listening that maybe have other businesses thinking that I'm not quite understanding the pains of it. Our industry was super effected but there's industries that were a lot more affected, so staying positive and working harder isn't the answer for everybody. For some industries, they were just kind of like out of luck, and if you didn't get government help you were on your own and they had to close. And so that's like really sad. I just want to say these things about, "we just worked hard," I don't think that our hard work was better than those other businesses. We were just in an industry that allowed the hard work to carry us through.
So I think the future is bright. We have our fourth Saskatoon store scheduled to open this early winter. We get possession of the unit, hopefully November 1st, so we're pushing that forward like things are going to be good. We've got our first BC location scheduled to open and we're pushing that forward like things are going to be good. We've got our fifth Edmonton location secured for August of next summer. So the future, in our eyes, is still bright. We're pushing forward, really excited for the growth. I mean, for us, we like to do cool events at our stores. We like to bring in industry celebrities for meet-and-greets and host community events, and the bigger we get, the more pull we have for those types of events. So for us, adding these locations is really exciting not only because it's an expansion, but it also allows us to make our existing locations, kind of like give them cooler opportunities for the communities that we're already in. So to sum up, I think the future is bright. We're excited.
We're really lucky that we were in the industry we're in, and I'm really lucky that we've got such a strong team and that our team really pulled together not only during the pandemic, but just anytime that we've had business challenges. It's been a really cohesive unit that's all worked together and done what we had to do to get everybody through it. It's not just each person worries about their own location. Everybody's kind of thinking about the benefit of the brand and building as a team unit. And so I think that that's been a huge advantage for us in the industry and part of what makes it so fun for us to grow this. We have a really good team and hopefully it keeps growing that way.
Al Grego: And that's the story of Supplement World. One of the biggest challenges of any new business is building a brand that customers can trust. Imagine putting all that hard work into becoming a trusted brand in your market only to start all over again with a different name. That's what Joshua faced when he decided to rebrand to Supplement World Canada. The easiest thing he could have done was to just continue operating under the old name. He probably would have been just fine, maybe even thrived, but Joshua believed enough in his vision, or rather in himself. And with that self-belief he was able to successfully go on his own. Now he's got a thriving team and business to show for it, and he's got some pretty good evidence to show that the path to success is paved with strong customer focus and active community involvement. I look forward to seeing what he does next.
Yes, We Are Open is a Moneris Podcast Production. I'd like to thank Joshua MacGowan and his staff for taking the time to share their story. You can learn more about Supplement World at supplementworldcanada.com. You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. For more information about this podcast, visit our site YesWeAreOpenPodcast.com. If you'd like to support us, rate us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. If you're a Canadian small business owner or know of one with an interesting story of perseverance to tell, I'd love to help tell it. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tune in next week for another story of small business struggle and survival on the Yes, We Are Open podcast. I'm Al Grego. Thank you for listening.