A forward-thinking way of doing business
By Stefanie Wallace
From time to time, it’s necessary to expect the unexpected. Although
Lorna Garratt had other plans, change has kept the St. Catharines, Ont.,
native on her toes and thriving.
From time to time, it’s necessary to expect the unexpected. Although Lorna Garratt had other plans, change has kept the St. Catharines, Ont., native on her toes and thriving. She must be doing something right, as she was recognized with the Family Enterprise Award at the Niagara Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in March.
|The Kane’s Distributing staff outside the St. Catharines, Ont. shop. |
Garratt’s father, Ron Kane, founded Kane’s Distributing Limited in 1954 under the name Niagara Frontier Vending and Catering. When Kane and his business partners separated, the business split into two separate divisions, and Kane took over the vending side of the company. His wife Dianne joined him in 1962, and the company expanded to include cafeteria food service and games. Kane’s was also once a full-service vending operator (a part of the business that was sold to the Hudson Bay Company many years ago) and an office coffee service in the Niagara, Hamilton and Halton regions of Ontario, but the focus of Kane’s for the last 30-plus years has been on the sale of new and refurbished vending machines.
Garratt’s start to the business came at an early age. “I grew up rolling quarters and sorting through change,” she says. Just like any child working in a family business, Garratt did just about every job imaginable, from driving a lunch truck to being the food and beverage manager at the Dalhousie Yacht Club. In her 20s, Garratt decided to branch out into something different and do her own thing. She became a travel agent, but not for long, eventually coming back to work for her parents. “I didn’t have a choice!” Garratt says with a laugh. “They needed me and wanted to retire,” she says.
When Garratt returned and became fully involved in the business, changes in the company called for a new name and a new image. Officially renamed Kane’s Distributing Ltd. in 1997, the company moved to its current location along the Queen Elizabeth Highway in St. Catharines, Ont.
Garratt met her now ex-husband Scott Garratt and together they bought out the business in 1999. Though they are no longer married, Scott and Lorna continue to work as business partners. Despite the obvious challenge, business is business as usual at Kane’s. Being able to adapt to any situation is necessary, as Garratt has learned. “At the end of the day, I have a business to run and I have 20 families that I’m responsible for feeding,” she says of the staff at Kane’s.
Garratt’s proven resilience is evident as she describes the issues the company faced with the 2008 economic downturn. “When our vending machine sales plummeted a few years ago – as did everyone’s – we still managed to stay flat in our sales,” Garratt says. “Even though our vending sales were down, our payment systems sales had gone up, so it was a real balance.” But the real issue was the drop of the American dollar. “Being that the majority of our sales for our cashless systems are in U.S. currency, we suddenly went from 50 cents on the dollar to at par. We never increased our selling price, so that’s a 50 per cent cut right there,” she says. But with the majority of vending machines that Kane’s purchases coming from the United States, Garratt is willing to accept the tradeoff.
|Lorna Garratt, sales manager and owner of Kane’s Distributing, was recognized with the Family Enterprise Award at the Niagara Entrepeneur of the Year Awards in March.|
This accommodating and forward-thinking way of doing business has proven invaluable. Kane’s has aligned itself with different parts of the industry, diversifying its product base to keep up with the times. While selling vending machines is still the main focus of the company, Kane’s has found success creating and selling software products, including Vendit, a safety supply inventory management system, and E-range, a golf course tracking system. “E-range is a payment system but instead of selling vending products out of vending machines, it dispenses golf balls,” she says. Kane’s is also involved in the United States’ School Nutrition Association’s meal reimbursement plan, in which vending machines are used in school to provide lunches for children, with some of the cost subsidized by the government.
Garratt notes that although Kane’s many products are in some way very similar, the different industries each product targets mean she is stretched in many different directions, from vending and safety supply industry trade shows to golf, medical and nutrition association trade shows.
“Because my products are servicing – through vending – so many different industries, I find myself doing a lot of shows and having to meet up with a lot of distributors,” Garratt says. But she’s quick to clarify that she enjoys it – especially because it has given her the opportunity to fulfil her love of travelling. “It’s fun . . . I don’t just do the shows in Toronto, I go to the ones in Vegas!”
While her travel schedule may be jam-packed, Garratt is confident that reaching out to different industries has had a hand in Kane’s success.
Creating good partnerships with distributors along the way has also been beneficial. “I wasn’t trying to oversee and manage a huge staff and sales reps,” she says. Keeping everything in house is a big plus, Garratt says. “We’ve got some good products, and we’ve got really great support from the technical end, and we don’t have a huge staff to oversee, which makes it all doable,” she says. “We’re not contracting out work or having to outsource programming.”
Looking ahead, Garratt predicts Kane’s will stay in sales of vending equipment, but it’s evident that the business will be presented with – and thrive in – new opportunities. “I see our markets opening up into different ventures,” she says. “I think the future is more growth in our web-based systems and online vending.”
There’s no doubt Kane’s fearless leader will lead her team through the future, whatever surprises it may hold.