Whether it’s a restaurant or a retail store, don’t we all dream at one time or another of becoming an entrepreneur and opening our own business? I know I have—I still haven’t decided whether it’ll be a bakery, café, or bed and breakfast. However, post-university—with piles of student debt—doesn’t seem to be the time to venture into entrepreneurial territory… or does it?
Apparently not for recent McMaster life science grad Kanwar Gill. Gill, who was brought to our attention by a former Medium writer, opened up Organique Juice Bar, which sells a selection of cold-pressed juices, in Streetsville about three months ago.
In this interview, Gill speaks about his self-proclaimed “smoothie chef” title, working 75 hours a week, and the importance of starting small.
The Medium: Upon graduation, did you immediately have the intention of opening a juice bar? If not, what did you plan on going into?
Kanwar Gill: To be honest, upon graduation I had no clue what I wanted to do. I was originally intent on getting into some sort of graduate school, but I always had a dream of opening my own business. After deciding against going to graduate school, I decided it was time to look for a job. Unfortunately this job hunt was about as fruitful as my graduate school career, so I ultimately decided to take the plunge. I drained all my savings, found a loan, and opened up my own business.
TM: Why a juice bar? When did you discover cold-pressed juice and why did it inspire you to want to open your own juice bar?
KG: Long before I ever even heard about cold-pressed juice, I was a self-proclaimed “smoothie chef” at home. My parents nearly killed me when I told them I spent $500 on a Blendtec blender to make my masterpieces with. However, when they started experimenting with it themselves, they began to love it almost as much as I did.
My discovery of cold-pressed juice actually happened on a market research trip that I took to Manhattan to see some of the trends that were arising in the juice/smoothie industry there. In Manhattan, there is basically a juice bar on every major intersection, so there I first got to try my hand at tasting some organic cold-pressed juices and organic superfood smoothies. After my first taste, I was completely hooked and knew bringing similar products to Mississauga would represent an excellent business opportunity.
TM: How did you develop your recipes?
KG: Most of our recipes were made by trial and error. We probably tried a hundred different mixes and concoctions until we settled on ones that not only tasted good, but were healthy as well. At Organique, we try to let the high-quality ingredients do the talking. All of our ingredients come from Pfenning’s Farms, an organic farm located outside of Waterloo, Ontario.
TM: Very basically, what were the stages you went through to open your business? Did you have any idea what you were doing or were you learning through doing?
KG: I definitely did not have any idea what I was doing and definitely did learn through doing. I do not have any formal business education and no one in my family has ever owned a business. […] I probably had a hundred different ideas before I finally settled on opening up a juice bar. One thing that helped me reach this decision is that I noticed how popular juice bars were becoming in every metropolitan area all over the world. One of my mentors taught me that all successful entrepreneurs have to be excellent at spotting trends and opportunities and capitalizing on them. I decided it was a no-brainer to try to emulate their success in Mississauga.
The second stage that I went through was the research stage. I tried to learn everything I could about the industry I was getting into. An easy way to do this is to look at what other successful companies are doing in other parts of the world that have a similar target market to yours […]
When I first sat down to write my business plan—the third stage of opening my business—I honestly had no clue what I was doing. I was accustomed to writing research papers on protein interactions, but writing out a market research report and target market summary was completely over my head. This is where the hard work of teaching myself basic business principles began. I researched everything I could about general business management. I read books, magazines, online articles, and talked to as many successful business owners as I could in order to gain a better grasp of the fundamentals of not only running a business, but also developing a solid business plan. After this grueling work and months of editing and adjusting, my business plan was done.
We began building our store during the summer of 2014 and we officially opened up shop on November 19. Since then we’ve been slowly building up our customer base and we’ve been getting busier and busier as the weeks go by.
TM: Why open it in Streetsville? Has it been a welcoming community?
KG: Mississauga is a very difficult place for young entrepreneurs to enter into a retail-oriented industry. The majority of commercial real estate in Mississauga is owned by large property management companies that are typically only interested in working with franchise chains with a lot of financial backing. This makes it very difficult for start-ups in the retail industry to acquire prime real estate. Streetsville, on the other hand, is an area filled with small mom-and-pop-shop type of establishments. The community in Streetsville is very supportive of the independent entrepreneurs that call the village their home. So far we have had tremendous support from the residents who live in and around the area and we are on the track to becoming a very successful company.
TM: Do you have anyone else working for you? How do you like being your own boss?
KG: Now that we are almost in our third month of operation and business has begun to pick up, I have hired one part-time employee to work Monday to Friday. There is no way one person can do it all and that’s why it is important to begin to delegate business tasks as soon as you can afford to. I personally don’t like to think of myself as my own boss. I have made it a point to seek out and establish connections with mentors who challenge me and help me keep my business on track.
TM: What advice would you give to current students who are interested in starting up their own business?
KG: What I would definitely suggest is that if you have an idea, to start small. Do a ton of research and see what your competitors are doing and figure out how you can either do it better, or do it somewhere where your competitors aren’t selling their product or service. Another point to note is that you should never get discouraged if you aren’t successful from the get-go. […] As a rule of thumb, if you think your company will be successful in X amount of time, multiply X by three to get a real estimate of the time it takes to build a business.