Work-life balance key to entrepreneurial success

The Grand Bend Chamber of Commerce named its 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year and Business of the Year at its annual general meeting November 12. Colonial and Gables won the business award, while Paddington’s Pub owner Jen Gaukroger won the entrepreneur honour.

Interview and photo by Casey Lessard

What makes you successful as an entrepreneur?
I’m trying desperately to get business owners in Grand Bend to work together. When I first came to Grand Bend, I met so many nice people and I was surprised at how they weren’t supportive of each other. I’ve designed this logo and program called the Grand Bend Dining District. I’m trying to say to the restaurants, we’re all very diverse, we all have different things to offer. If you have regulars, and we all do, they don’t want to sit in the same restaurant every time. And instead of tourists going to the first place they see, how can we give them to the type of restaurant they want?
The municipality supports the idea of a sign with a You Are Here locator that has all the restaurants on it. I’d really like everyone to pay into a pot so we can all advertise as a group and cut down on our marketing costs. If we all work together, we can do more.
For the Winter Carnival, this being the Olympic year, I’ve designed a passport with each page representing a country, and each page would be dedicated to one business. Instead of buying a ticket to be entered into the cash draw at the end of it all, each page would be a ticket and as soon as you redeem your coupons, you get a ticket into the draw. Up to 40 businesses can be involved. It’s about trying to get more people and more businesses involved.

You have all these ideas about marketing Grand Bend and the business community here. Why do you care?
People ask me why I bother. But it’s what this town needs. Why would a clothing shop downtown say they don’t know that there’s a pub down the street? I’d like to be in this town long-term. A lot of restaurants pop up and leave, and I don’t want to be one of them. I want to stay and sustain here. I don’t like the idea of having to move my daughter. I like it here and I’d like to see it grow. But I’m very anti-franchise; big box stores hurt little businesses.

How did you get into this business?
I was in radio for nine years, and I loved that but it became very corporate. At my first station, I worked with an owner whose office was in the building so we did some cool stuff. We threw pumpkins off a firefighter training tower for Smashing Pumpkins concert tickets; as creative as you could be, you could do it. As these stations were bought by bigger companies, with liability and corporate policies, all the fun went out of my marketing job.
I was living in Grand Bend and commuting to London. I got the opportunity to open a restaurant for a silent owner, and that was fun, and then I thought, why not do it on my own?

It’s quite a risk to take to do this on your own. Tell me about that decision.
My first thought was I didn’t want to do it because of the risk and start-up money it takes to do it. But if you want to live in Grand Bend, you need to either make yourself a job or travel outside the area to work, which is too bad. We shoestring-budgeted the little place and it was two solid months of 12 hour days of dealing with Alcohol and Gaming, and building code.
In England, people go to pubs like we go to coffee shops. It’s very social. Here, I’m trying to create that, but Canadians associate that lounging around with coffee. In England, people bring their kids and partners to the pub. If you don’t have good food, you’re sunk.
Pubs in England can be anything from a hole in the wall, beer only joint, to a fancy pub. I wanted it to be somewhere in the middle. Grand Bend had a variety of places to eat, but they were either burgers and wings on one end or very fine dining on the other. There wasn’t anything middle range. I knew I wanted to find that middle range before I knew it would be an English pub.
The beer is my favourite part. We carry 50 at any given time. We carry a lot of wine, too. We’re going to start promoting a wine luncheon that is social and laid back. We also have 30 types of tea if alcohol is not your thing.

You’re the Chamber’s Entrepreneur of the Year. Do you have any advice for people considering starting their own business?
I really believe you need to have the funds behind you. The first few years are really tough. You have to love what you’re doing; otherwise, it’s not going to last. You have to love every aspect of it, including cleaning the bathrooms and vacuuming the floors. There is a not-so-glamourous side to it.
I live on life balance. If I wasn’t a parent, I don’t think I’d ever leave work. My daughter keeps life in balance. You don’t want to work too much, party too much or parent too much. You have to get it all in there.