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The Business Insider: Learn From the Greats

Updated: Mar 12

An Interview with Randy Hodgkinson By Tormaigh Van Slyke

Born and raised in Peace River, Randy Hodgkinson, 66, would become a businessman, and he would help hundreds start and grow businesses. Although, early in his career Randy’s dream was to be a paramedic.

Throughout his childhood Randy’s parents William and Eileen owned a retail store on Main Street in Peace River. Called H&S Radio, the store opened in 1948.

Randy remembers working there as a teenager. H&S was in the two-storey part of the building Value Drug Mart now occupies. The business sold records, stereo equipment, musical instruments and more.

As soon as he could, Randy earned his EMT certification from SAIT. He spent three years working at the Peace River Hospital before moving to Calgary for four years where he became a paramedic.

Then, “life came along.” It was the 1980s. The recession was hitting hard, so in 1984 Randy moved back home to buy into the family business.

After a fateful trip in 1992, Randy grew the family enterprise by adding a new business, H&S Karaoke. Later, he started H&S Sound, which has grown with the help of partner Marty O’Byrne. Both businesses are still going strong.

In 1996, he turned the page on a new chapter when he closed the retail store. He was semi-retired for a few months until he took a part-time job at Community Futures Peace Country to run their self-employment program. He also met his soon-to-be wife, Sandra.

In 2004, Randy became a business development manager at Community Futures. In 2008, he moved into the general manager’s seat, and served 15 more years before retiring in January of this year.

In his time at Community Futures Peace Country, the organization approved 420 loans for just over $23 million. In addition, his team assisted approximately six-to-seven thousand non-loan clients.

Today, H&S Entertainment celebrates more than 75 years in business, and Randy’s contribution accounts for 40 of those years.

Randy built his career in business. He’s no longer a paramedic, but he made it his full-time job to provide lifelines for Peace Region entrepreneurs.

Without a doubt, his work continues to breathe new life into the local economy.

What were some of your early struggles as a business owner?

Interestingly enough, I spent a few years totally oblivious to what was going on in my business until I had a serious wakeup call involving my business partner.

It was the 1980s, and we did over $1 million in sales and somehow still lost $60,000. It forced me to start to become a business owner. A lot of what I was doing was pretending to be a business owner.

That was my wake-up call. I started really applying myself behind the scenes. I did what I had to and never looked back.

What mottos do you live by?

“How do we get to ‘yes?’”

“Spend the time before you spend a dime.”

“If it’s a good idea today, it’ll likely be a good idea tomorrow. It can wait.”

“Ego has no place in business” and “Live the truth.”

Boil it down for us. What do you need to start a business?

Common sense. Passion, passion, passion. Details, details and paying attention to the details.

If those are in place, you still need to be an educated risk taker, which is someone who finds out before they jump in.

While assessing risk, it’s important to recognize the skills you don’t have. You may be the best electrician in the world but know nothing about bookkeeping. So, you’ll need to find a good bookkeeper.

Even after you learn as much as you can, and you truly understand what you’re getting into—the buck stops with you, you’ll be the last to get paid, and the entire success of the thing rests on your shoulders—you’ll need to have the entrepreneurial spirit, the willingness to do whatever it takes.

At Community Futures, what was your role with would-be entrepreneurs?

About 85-to-90% of those who show up at Community Futures don’t follow through. Part of our role is making sure they understand what they’d be getting into and playing devil’s advocate for them. We want to point people in the right direction.

There are a lot of tire kickers, and that’s okay. It’s not for everyone. Some people are destined to be entrepreneurs and others are destined to work for somebody their entire life, earn steady pay cheques and get a pension.

It’s a difficult thing though, especially if it’s someone’s dream to become an entrepreneur.

Who am I to judge their dream?

So, we try to make the process as self-assessing for them as possible. I’m not telling them; I’m guiding them, so the lights start to come on for them.

Once we invest in them, it’s all about “How can I help?” We want them to be comfortable coming to us when there’s an issue.

What got you interested to start the karaoke business?

Well, it was 1991 just before Christmas. I was president of the local Board of Trade at the time. Two of us went to Taber, AB to encourage them to bring their conference to Peace River.

While I was there, I walked into a bar and saw karaoke for the first time. I thought, “Holy crap, this is cool!”

Within two months of getting back, I bought a machine and some discs and decided I was going to start this business.

I remember pitching the general manager of The Travellers Hotel. He said, “This will never work.” So, I said, “I want you to put me in your lounge. Give me one month, and if I don’t double your bar sales, you can throw me out. I won’t charge you a red cent.” I haven’t looked back since. He was very impressed.

I started with the big discs that looked like record LPs. There were 16 songs on these things with a movie in the background. I had eight. That’s 128 songs. Now I own 33,000 songs.

Karaoke has been an important part of my life. I met my wife Sandra while hosting karaoke.

What’s next after Community Futures?

I’m going to spend some time bugging my wife. She tells me I’m going to learn to cook.

I used to golf, so I’m trying to get back into it. I still have my sound and my karaoke businesses.

We don’t have any plans to move. We love where we are, and we’re close to our kids, and grandkids, and great grandkids.

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