Young: Serial entrepreneurship here now

Have you ever been asked to check in on a retail or service venture as a friendly referral from a friend or acquaintance and knew that one day, you would actually make the effort to do so?

Last fall, my nurse wife, over the supper table, remarked about the enjoyable salad she picked up at a food bar in Orchard Plaza, Kelowna.

Chopped Leaf she said, was a location that others had told her about and while performing some nursing work close by, she decided to check it out.

Well, my wife loves salads seven days a week, but she was so impressed with the quality, diversity and price that she insisted I try it too.

I finally did it, better late than never. And so recently, I made a determined effort to take my wife there for a Saturday lunch break while shopping. After all, she enjoyed their product earlier, why not again?

Well, I was so taken with the staff, product menu and food selection that I enquired about the ownership and quickly discovered, yet another, albeit new, Okanagan entrepreneur.

And so my story for this week.

About three years ago, Blair and Karla Stevens moved to the Okanagan from Edmonton where Blair has his roots.  He left the educational world from Grade 11 when his father, an entrepreneur in his own right, started Crown Tire in Alberta many years ago and who suggested to Blair that he could accomplish success through “street smarts” if he applied himself to open-minded knowledge acquisition.

Karla, on the other hand, attended the University of Alberta majoring in business administration.

After leaving school, Blair entered the construction industry to begin his baptism into the world of work and at age 19, after making some money, acquired his entrepreneurial beginnings through a food franchise named Blimpys—part of a U.S. sandwich and yogurt franchise operation.

He gave Blimpys his heart and soul for three years, acquiring sufficient funds to launch his own franchise operation, Wok Box Asian take out.

The Wok Box concept took off and Blair and Karla decided to move to the valley as Karla and her family had vacationed here in the past and she loved the quality of life the Okanagan offered.

The couple married after moving here in 2009 and Blair slowly exited Wok Box ready for new challenges, remaining a shareholder in the Wok Box organization.

I began this column highlighting serial entrepreneurs, so let me for a moment delve into this realm.

Once thought exotic, serial entrepreneurs seem to be everywhere in places we might least expect.

From their innate tolerance to their creative use of resources to their sixth sense of when to exit, they have a lot to teach us and the more traditional entrepreneurial venturist in our midst.

A serial entrepreneur is an entrepreneur who starts a number of new ventures after already starting and exiting a previous one.

Our classic entrepreneur is often guided by a belief in a market opportunity for a particular product or service or innovative and unique technology.

Such an entrepreneur follows an inspiration and is able to motivate others to follow their similar dreams.

In contrast to a single venture entrepreneur, a serial entrepreneur may decide to treat entrepreneurship as a profession of sorts.

He or she has the powerful ability to repeatedly recognize a market opportunity.

This may often rely less on personal intuition and inspiration and more on a careful analysis of the market opportunity itself.

With that background, Blair and Karla methodically determined they were ready for their new journey and budgeted three years of their lives to perfect the concept for Chopped Leaf Salad Bar, with the strong belief that fast food can be high quality and healthy and, with great service, can readily satisfy a gap in the market providing healthy food for a healthy lifestyle.

Hence, Blair requested that the Chopped Leaf team he assembled to begin his second franchise operation journey be tasked to create a premium menu and service offering that would appeal to a wide range of demographics and serve specific niches as gluten-free and vegan lifestyles.

Once the journey for Chopped Leaf began, within a year the menu creation, design and website were complete and the Chopped Leaf brand was launched in Kelowna in the spring of 2009 in Orchard Plaza.

This wonderful, innovative, eco-friendly restaurant was immediately well-received with its service offering to dine in or take out with catering options for its full menu line of chef designed salads, wraps, sandwiches, appetizers and soups.

Through its website, Facebook and monthly newsletters, Chopped Leaf connects with its customers to inform them about what’s up and coming and informative food facts.

Blair, already being familiar from taking Wok Box from one store to more than 70 in a six-year period, found himself feeling quite confident that his entrepreneurial spirit would lead him to success with Chopped Leaf.

A pivotal moment in reaching the next horizon was opening the second location on Robson Street in Vancouver and during 2011, an additional eight franchise locations will keep the spirit alive for this true serial entrepreneur who has no intention of slowing down at 29 years of age.

Joel Young is an entrepreneurial leadership coach, educator and consultant and founder of the Okanagan Valley Entrepreneurs Society

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