Andre Blanleil named Kelowna chamber's business leader of the year
The Kelowna Chamber of Commerce has named local businessman Andre Blanleil its Business Leader of the Year for 2013.
The chamber says the award recognizes and celebrates Blanleil’s outstanding contribution to the business community in Kelowna.
“Andre is a good example of success, risk-taking and balancing business with civic commitment in the Okanagan,” said Caroline Grover, CEO of the chamber. “He was a City of Kelowna-appointed director (as a city councillor) on the chamber board for a number of years, through 2008, and brought the chamber that all-important municipal view on business matters."
Blanleil, who has sat on council for nearly 20 years and regularly finishes near the top of the poll in civic elections, is often seen overtly pro-business and, in his words "right-wing." But he said it's a label that is not always accurate.
Comparing himself to another popular, long-time city councillor, Robert Hobson—someone often seen as more centrist, or even left of centre—Blanleil said 95 per cent he and Hobson are on the same page when it comes to municipal matters.
Reached in Williams Lake, where he was working on the construction site of his 18th Andre's Electronic Experts store, Blanleil said he was surprised to hear he had won the award.
"Of course, I'm pretty happy about it," he said.
Blanleil chain of electronic's stores, are located throughout the B.C. Interior and sell a full range of home sound and vision electronics as well as appliances and mobile phones.
He started the chain in 1980 at the age of 23 when he took over the retail operation of his father's television repair business. And said over the years he has seen the electronics industry radically change, to point where young people today would not recognize what was being done back then.
"Back then, we were selling and fixing televisions," he said. And, as he points out, televisions were nothing like they are today. There were no cell phones and home stereos were radios and record players.
"It's like I always tell my staff, we are in the coolest industry," he added, noting Andre's sell the products that not only attract the technology headlines but are also the "must-have" products of today.
Since 1986, Blanleil's business model has to been to locate his stores in properties—often small strip malls—that he not only owns but ones he builds to.
"I'd rather have a mortgage than pay rent," he said, speaking from Williams Lake Wednesday, where he said he was shovelling dirt on the construction site of location number 18.
He said in nearly 20 year's on council he has seen how successful family business here have operated, that the way to go is by owning the property where your business is located.
With the exception of a few stores located in larger malls, his Andre's locations are located in strip malls he owns.
Blanleil has built 13 buildings to date and the company employs a total of 120 people.
Andre’s is one of the top five electronic retail chains in Canada, and Blanleil said he plans to continue expanding. Blanleil is also a founding partner and is on the board of directors of the largest electronics buying group in Canada, partnered five other business owners. In total they represent 400 retail locations.
And it's not just electronics anymore. In recent years, Blanleil has diversified his business model, which now includes a car wash and liquor store, as well as leased properties for other retailers in the strip malls he builds.
Born and raised in Kelowna, Blanleil has three sons who also call Kelowna home. Two of the them are involved in managing the company and the third is working part-time in the business, waiting for his hockey scholarship in Vernon to kick in next season.
The Blanleil family is also well-known in the Kelowna sports community for its years in men’s fastball, where three generations have played, starting with Blanleil's late father, Andre, Sr.
Blanleil's brother Rene is a former Kelowna fire chief.
Blanleil will receive his award at this year’s Business Excellence Awards Gala at the Delta Grand Hotel Oct. 23. The awards mark the chamber’s 26th annual Business Excellence Awards, which are announced during during Small Business Week.
Early bird ticket for the gala, priced is $90 plus GST each, are available until to 4 p.m. on Oct. 16. After that, the price will rise to $120 plus GST. All tickets must be purchased by noon Oct. 21.
Online purchase is available via the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce website.