The Family Business: Changing Direction
Blog Post

The Family Business: Changing Direction

I grew up in a family business. My dad had a career as a baker, and then at age 50, decided to buy a hotel. My dad grew up in the 1940’s, and had little formal education, but that fact never stopped him from doing what he wanted. He just continued to learn. My two older brothers also worked in both businesses – more my dad’s decision than theirs – but my mother insisted that I be able to make that choice for myself.

Businesses are all about dreams, but my dad didn’t dream about being a baker or owning a bakery. He was taught baking by his brothers, and he was expected to work at that trade to keep himself and his family financially secure. I never considered the fact that my dad’s dream was to become a businessman instead of a labourer, and to own a hotel. He wasn’t a very successful baker…he went bankrupt three times. He was, however, a successful businessman; he turned one hotel into two, and purchased many more businesses before he passed away in his mid 80’s. I believe his success was achieved because he had such a strong belief in himself and what he wanted to achieve.

My First Business

I was fortunate enough to have graduated high school, and to have attended UBC for two years. I later took courses in Apparel Design, and started to manufacture a small line of clothing. I didn’t realize that I was doing exactly what my dad had done. Instead of looking for a job…I was creating my own business.

When I had a chat with my dad about opening my own store, he didn’t seem at all surprised, and in fact, I remember sitting with him at lunch, and him writing figures on a napkin as he asked me questions about sales, overhead, and staff. We agreed that he would co-sign a loan for me, and before I knew it, I was papering over the windows in my new retail space, and putting an ‘OPENING SOON’ sign on the door. At that time I knew I loved designing clothing, and I was pretty sure I would love running a small retail store.

When You KNOW it’s time for a change

As time passed, my business and I grew and changed. I worked extremely hard, and began to feel the strain of never being home, and rarely seeing my husband.  I was so busy running my business, I felt I had no choice but to just keep going. I was right in the middle of opening my second location when my mother become ill, and after a short period, passed away. 

One of the things my mother and father had always argued about was work-life ‘balance’. She wanted him to work less, and spend more time with the family. When she passed away, I realized that I had lost that balance as well. I decided to close both my stores, and make a change. I was 46 years old, and had had my businesses for more than 17 years. It was time to discover what I wanted to do next. I started writing, I started reading, I started taking courses and I started cooking. I recently started teaching workshops on Social Media…and I am surprised how much I am enjoying them! 

My Dad’s Legacy

Growing up with a family business taught me how to turn what I love to do into a business. My dad taught me not to be afraid of change, and that the opportunities provided by running your own business are as limitless as your capacity to continue to learn.

I am finding my way in the new digital world, while continuing to use my experience to help others with their journey. I recently mentored an extremely bright and capable young woman who needed some practical tips on managing stock levels in her store. In our second meeting, we discovered that her first job had been bussing tables at one of my dad’s restaurants! Amazing to think that my dad could have possibly been one of the factors in both of us starting businesses. I like to think that I helped this woman understand another piece of her particular business puzzle…just like my dad did when he showed me what life could be like, as an entrepreneur.

About Cathy Burrell

Cathy owns Cavern Retail Consulting. She give business owners insights into who the new digital customer is, and how to engage with them through social media. She writes two blogs: one about food and one about business. She also teaches Social Media Workshops through White Rock Leisure Services.