Warren and Pam MacPhee are a husband-wife entrepreneurial power couple, with their skill s combining to cover all sides of their multiple business ventures. They met in business school at the University of Alberta, where Pam was studying marketing and Warren HR and management. Both of them grew up in households built around family-owned small businesses. Before moving to Kelowna to pursue their own business dreams, they lived and worked in Calgary, where Warren was an IT Manager for TransAlta, and Pam worked in Marketing and Television Production for Shaw. They both wanted to live in the Okanagan, and owning a business is a much better way to get there than looking for a corporate job. They saw starting a business as their ticket to the life they desired, so they made a go of it.
One of the most important parts of their background, when beginning their entrepreneurial journey, was their combined knowledge of corporate systems, processes, scale, etc. They were able to apply these lessons to their small business ventures, in order to emulate the corporate success that they had observed and experienced.
Their first business venture was to purchase a Cora’s, the renowned breakfast chain, franchise in Kelowna, despite the fact that restaurants hadn’t been on their radar when they were conducting their search. What made them confident in this purchase was that Cora’s was a proven formula, giving them a solid framework within which they could apply their own skill sets. Franchising also facilitated the best opportunity for bank financing, especially in the restaurant industry, which is renowned for its volatility.
Cora’s was actually Warren and Pam’s third attempt to buy a business. In their previous pursuits, one opportunity had fallen through because they were attempting to sign the lease on the day of the market crash in 2008, and another opportunity to buy a waterpark in Vernon didn’t pan out either. This bad luck turned around quickly with Cora’s, as they found a site in no time, swooping in on a Blockbuster location that was closing down.
After a successful first year, adversity struck. Their restaurant burned down during the very last week of their first year in business, just as they were taking their first vacation. Searching for a new location took another 18 months, but they eventually landed at the Orchard Park Shopping Centre, which turned out to be a blessing, thanks to the parking and accessibility inherent in the location. Warren and Pam showed great resilience in running Cora’s after the fire, operating it for another three years, before selling it in 2017.
Many lessons were learned from this initial experience. “As time went on, we trusted our business skills to help the business, within the framework of the Cora’s model as a whole,” says Warren. Before selling Cora’s, they knew that they wanted to grow, but commuting around the Okanagan looking for another location wasn’t ideal. “We also recognized that a franchise puts a floor on your risk, so that you won’t lose everything, but it also puts a ceiling on your reward,” said Pam. “So for our next venture, we wanted something that wasn’t geographically contained, to tap into a larger market, with more scalability, without having to always build more restaurant locations.”
With these criteria in mind, online business became an obvious next step for Warren and Pam. Warren’s background in IT made him aware of online businesses, which helped them in the earnest search for their next opportunity. Kelowna is also a technology focused community, which meant that the infrastructure and activity were both present. Initially, Pam started restaurantsforsaleglobal.com, an advertising service for people trying to buy/sell restaurants, working closely with Kelowna’s tech community to do so. Beyond this, they didn’t have a specific industry attachment, so the internet gave them a lot of freedom to grow and pursue various paths. Their success in the restaurant industry, without any experience, gave them a lot of confidence in chasing their second major venture. “Our experience is in the running and growing of a business, not the particular domain that it’s in,” says Warren.
With all of this in mind, just recently, they finished the acquisition of Tutu and Lulu, an online children’s fashion company, based in Coquitlam, BC. The company designs and manufactures children’s clothing, selling it online. While they didn’t originally want an inventory business, Tutu and Lulu does have the scalability, growth potential, and online presence that they were after, plus customers can help themselves, unlike at a restaurant. Warren and Pam are currently working on applying their successful business systems to their latest purchase.
Warren and Pam also first got involved with the Valhalla Angels in 2012, because it afforded them access to investments that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Both of them love hearing about all of the innovation going on, and living vicariously through other entrepreneurs, to see what makes each business tick. As a peer group, they have enjoyed meeting people who have been down the same road, with the same goals, who have done the things they are hoping to do, and learning from these other journeys. This was especially the case at the Valhalla Angel’s Unconference in Banff. “The best thing about the Valhalla Angels is to learn and get invigorated from other people, because there is no real school for this,” says Pam. All of their angel investing decisions get put to one key litmus test: prove to us how you can make more money with our money than we can. This has been the path to their angel investing success.
On their journey together, Warren and Pam have learned many lessons: how important it is to manage the details, how fast the business cycle is in a restaurant compared to the corporate world, that you must make hay while the sun shines (especially in a snowy place like Kelowna!), and, after the restaurant fire, that having all of your eggs in one basket leaves you incredibly vulnerable. As they progress with Tutu and Lulu and their angel investing with Valhalla Angels, there will be more than a few lessons to follow.