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Dream in a Jar: A Preserve Makers Journey
“From Prince Edward Island to Toronto: Overcoming Challenges, and Building a Legacy”
"Human beings have the remarkable ability to turn nothing into something. They can turn weeds into gardens and pennies into fortunes." ~ Jim Rohn
My dream was to take my bottled gems of Island berries to the masses of people off the Island, only because I didn’t think I could make a living selling to local shops. Toronto seemed like the place. So I asked friends there, “Where should I sell my preserves?”
Hotel Renfrew was the store consistently mentioned.
So, I set my sights on getting to Toronto and selling my treats to Holt Renfrew.
I borrowed a friend’s old Honda Civic. I headed to Froggies ( a used clothing store) and bought a ‘new to me’ zippered Mary Maxim sweater with a moose design. And I found a pair of jeans that looked new and fit well.
Loaded the car, filled the tank and headed out on the road to Toronto. I never thought about calling ahead.
Prince Edward Island had a ferry between Borden and Cape Tormentine, New Brunswick. If you timed it right, nineteen hours of driving would get one to Toronto, with the help of six cans of Coca-Cola and six washroom breaks. I know this because there was one year, I drove it ten times.
The first time I went to Holt Renfrew was memorable.
A big man stood at the front doors of Holts Renfrew's flagship store on 50 Bloor Street. He greeted shoppers wearing a long wool coat with a lambswool collar, top hat and white gloves.
I thought, oh well, I am here now, no turning back and showing him the moose knitted on the back of my sweater.
With a box of preserves under my arm, I asked him, “Where can I find the gourmet food department?” He replied, “Second floor.”
Entering the store, I notice a woman in a formal gown playing a grand piano.
Taking the escalator up and past the chandeliers, I found the gourmet food section.
I headed straight to the cash counter and asked for the manager. She said, “That would be me.”
“Hi, I am Bruce, and I just drove from Prince Edward Island. I make preserves and would like to sell them in your store.”
Judy responded, “Sorry, but everything we sell here is from Europe and exclusive to us.”
I asked, “Who does the buying for the store?” She said, “David.”
“Can I speak with him?”
“You need to make an appointment.”
“Ok, can I make an appointment to see him now?”
Judy, showing her impatience, said, “I am not sure if he is in, but I will check.”
I walked around the store looking at the product offering. Sure enough, everything was from Paris, Belgium, and England. And I noticed all the preserves listed sugar as the first ingredient.
After an hour of hanging around the store in clothes that did not represent their customers’ fashion, Judy finally picked up the phone and called.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure if she was calling security.
Two minutes later, David, the buyer, introduced himself and invited me to his office.
Sitting across his desk, I shared my story and goal of selling preserves in his store. He repeated the exact same words as Judy.
He spoke of everything being from Europe. And his customers had discerning tastes and appreciated exclusivity.
“Thank you, David; I understand, but what do you think of when I say Prince Edward Island?”
He thought momentarily, then replied, "Clean air, good food and nice people.”
I asked another question.
“Would you want your customers thinking the same thing?”
He stated emphatically, “But we are very exclusive.”
I said, "David, I am very exclusive as well. My products are not available anywhere!”
He didn't know what to say.
“Here are three jars for you to try.”
Strawberry Grand Marnier,
Wild Blueberry Raspberry Champagne
“I will leave my original Strawberry & Grand Marnier, my favourite Wild Blueberry Raspberry Champagne and my popular Raspberry & Champagne with you; please taste. Please keep my products in mind. I would love to do business with you. I am driving back to the Island today, and here’s my number; please call.”
Four days later, David called.
“Bruce, these are the best preserves I’ve ever tasted, and I’m ready to place an order.”
While listening and writing down his order, my heart started to race a bit.
“When do you need it, David?”
“Thank you, David.”
I hung up the phone and freaked.
How am I going to do this?
Now I have a severe problem: a large order, a need for a new place and more money. But first things first, get the order done.
After my late night waiting on tables, I would visit the favourite watering holes of friends on my way home. Then, finding capable friends, I put forward an invitation to come back to my place to make jam.
It worked, and we shipped on time.
Now, I need to find a new place to produce more products. And quickly.
Driving by a faded yellow building near the airport’s approach lights, I noticed a rent sign in the window. I pulled in and wrote down the number.
The next day, I called the number and arranged the time to meet the landlord and strike a deal. I could rent a small space to make preserves. It had a back door, a front door, and a window. In the same building was their convenience store. The back door was for receiving. The store had sizeable walk-in pop fridges; fortunately, they let me put the fresh berries there.
This week, I was sad to read that Roy’s brother Roger, the engine behind R. Birts and Associates, had passed away. He was a real go-getter with a true entrepreneurial spirit. Anything is possible; type guy.
One day, I shared about seeing one of Charlottetown’s largest landlords collecting bottles at the side of the road; I assumed it was not for Island beautification.
I mentioned it seemed foolish that a man of such wealth would do something like this. Roger scolded my attitude. Rightfully so. He told me collecting empty bottles helped him begin his entrepreneurial journey. And shared, “You do what you need to do.”
Roger and I spoke of this lovely, humble gentleman who lived through the Depression era and how he formed habits necessary to survive. The practice of a penny saved is a penny earned that served him and his family well.
I read a quote by Wayne Dyer sometime ago, and it stuck with me, "Judgements prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances."
I shipped the products to Holt Renfrew with our label.
Prince Edward Island Preserve Company had arrived.
Eventually, we privately labelled products for them and became their ninth best-selling item in their store.
Other stores took notice, and more orders started coming in.
One lady was so impressed she ordered twenty-five thousand dollars worth. She built lovely baskets and sold them to Bowring’s.
Forty-five days later, I couldn't find her to get payment; I called Bowrings to see if they could pay me directly. But it was too late; they paid her. After cashing their cheque, she bankrupted her company. We did not see five cents.
Friends and acquaintances invested money, enabling the business to continue.
One afternoon, while cooking a batch when an antique dealer from Sandwich, Massachusetts, Mr. Paul Madden, drove up to my front door driving a large Mercedes 500SEL. He walked into where I was making preserves, carrying an empty jar with our label on it in his hand. I was a bit intimidated by his size, being 6'4" and at least 350 pounds in size.
"Holding up the empty jar, bellows I am looking for the maker of this."
Nervously, I said, "That would be me, sir."
"Jam is a hobby of mine," I have tasted a lot (and with his size being what it was, I believed him), and these are the best I have ever tasted. I want to buy six cases."
Relieved hearing this, I said, "Thank you, sir, but I only sell to stores. I had told the stores I wouldn't compete with them."
He stared at me, thought briefly, and then put the bottle down on the counter firmly, "Young man, I want to buy six cases now and will pay you the full price."
I thought, OK, I will sell them to him at the same price the store sells them.
After loading the six cases into his car and having the money in my hand, I thought, I need more people like him; this could be the answer to my cash flow problems.
Instead of chasing the world to make a living, I could find a place and invite the world to make a life.
So, the hunt begins for the right place.
A tiny ad in the local paper leads me to it.
"A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work." - Colin Powell.
"Do not wait; the time will never be 'just right.' Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along." - Napoleon Hill
I hope we meet again; till then, take care and be kind to yourself and others.
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