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The Business Insider: Learn from the Greats

An Interview with Barb and Gord Drummond By Tormaigh Van Slyke

Gord and Barb Drummond opened Peace River’s Tim Hortons in 2001. They opened the Tim Hortons in Valleyview in 2010, and last year they opened two more locations—one in High Prairie and one in Fairview.

Born and raised in Eastern Canada, Gord and Barb met in 1989, and they moved to Peace River and got married the following year.

Gord worked in forestry, and Barb taught at Good Shepherd School, earning the Provincial Teacher Excellence Award in 1994 & the Who Makes School Cool Award in 2000.

As business owners, they earned the Peace River and District Chamber of Commerce’s President’s Award of Excellence in 2012 and again in 2020.

In 2016, they received provincial recognition from the Premier’s Council with the Award of Excellence in Employment. In 2017, they earned the DMI Henry Fuller Davis Award of Selflessness.

Gord has been an ambassador for the Tim Hortons Children’s Camp, and Barb is currently a board director for the Tim Hortons Foundation Camps.

Gord is a strong advocate for Kids Cancer Camps and fundraisers for Children’s Cancer Research, a cause he rode his bicycle across Canada for to raise funds and awareness. He is also a co-founder of Alberta Pond Hockey Championships.

Barb is a strong advocate for people with diversabilities, both in education and employment. She speaks at conventions across the country to promote awareness. In 2018, she opened a tutoring franchise in Peace River called Scholars Education, which she sold in 2021.

What’s the largest factor that helped you become successful in business?

Gord: It’s so multi-faceted, but it really boils down to the willingness to work hard. A lot of things make you successful, but if you’re not willing to work your tail off, there’s only so far you can go.

Barb: We also did our research. We chose Tim Hortons because it’s a brand that fits us as a family. For us to get into Timmys, and to be able to remain in the Peace Country, where we absolutely love, it’s really been a blessing. We chose the brand and the community to grow with, and the stars aligned, so we’ve been fortunate.

They say we are what we repeatedly do. What are some of your success habits?

Barb: If I don’t know something, I research it. At the same time, it’s very important to know where your strengths and weaknesses lie. We hire to compensate for our weaknesses. Interestingly, our roles have totally reversed since getting into the restaurants—now Gord’s more operations and I’m more behind the scenes.

Gord: It’s easy for business owners to fall into the trap of working in your business—yes, you do have to work in your business—but it can be difficult to transition to working on your business.

To Barb’s point, it’s about knowing what you’re not good at. Either get good at it or get out of the way for someone you’ve hired. Make it a habit. Don’t be fearful of it. Accept there are people in the room who are better at things. Embrace it.

So, it’s easy to say, “I’m going to work less in my business and more on my business,” but it’s about forming the daily routines that allow it to happen. It’s not as simple as it seems. It takes years.

Approximately how many hours per week do you work?

Barb: It’s often based on the needs of the business at the time. We sometimes have shorter days now, but there have probably been more long days overall.

We don’t have set hours, but we recognize it’s not only our livelihood. It’s the livelihood of our team members. We need to ensure everything is running smoothly.

We’re working on stepping away and having the younger generation step up. We have fantastic management at each location, which allows us to step away more.

Gord: We’re both still probably putting in a 40-hour work week. It’s just not in the classic sense.

It’s common to respond to stuff at 10pm, and the day may have started with an email at 7am. The difference is, we’ve created some flexibility for ourselves. We’ll still work 14-hour days, straight up, but over the years we’ve been able to step back and work on the business, which allows for more freedom.

Barb: Let’s just say we’re not sleeping on flour bags in the back of the restaurants anymore.

What’s your approach to finding the best people for the job?

Barb: Recruiting is one thing, but retaining team members is a whole different ball game. It’s important to really get to know your people. We want to understand who’s behind the front counters, and we want to ensure we are an employer of choice for them. We also want to ensure we’re an equal opportunity employer for people who have diversabilities.

Obviously, we want to hire local, but when the numbers aren’t there, we’ve gone the foreign worker route. It’s not an easy route to take—on multiple levels—but we’ve been successful with it.

What are your “rules of thumb” in business?

Barb: I take the stuff I don’t want to do, and I do it first. Another rule of thumb is to listen to our team members.

They’re the ones in the trenches. If they have a suggestion or a better way of doing something, we want them to bring it to the table.

Gord: Yeah, that work you’ve been putting off will be sitting there waiting for you tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. Just get at it. Otherwise, the anxiety will follow you around. You don’t need to put yourself through that.

What is your approach to management, team building and delegating?

Barb: The franchise provides structure, systems, processes, checklists and training. It’s a great place to start, but really, it’s about communication, and a big part of that is listening to our team.

We have parties, rewards and certificates for our team, but we like to go above and beyond. We’ve done things like bail someone out of jail. We’ve helped people buy a house or their first vehicle or dentures, different things like that. This may be their one-and-only job, so we want to help when it’s the right thing to do.

Gord: Yeah, we marry our expectations with the corporation’s expectations, and we work with our management on KPIs [key performance indicators].

There are financial rewards when management hits certain targets. They have stretch goals, so they know what to strive for, and we ensure the goals aren’t impossible to accomplish.

We’re never going to apologize for our standards. We work with our team to help them achieve those standards—and their stretch goals. We’re not striving for perfection, but we are striving for excellence. In our industry, it’s not easy. There are so many moving parts.

What do you look for when considering a new business venture?

Gord: One thing to really consider is capital. I think if most businesses take stock of where they went wrong, it’s that they were undercapitalized. They’ve put most of their money into starting up. Their startup costs were probably more than they anticipated, and then they don’t have enough to really get the business running.

You can build a degree of loyalty with your guests by being heavily engaged in the community. We firmly believe that. As the community supports us, we’re going to support the community. That is a baseline for us as business owners.

What mistakes have you made that you’ve learned the most from?

Gord: If you’ve done your job as an owner, let your team members run with it. Most people want to do an honest day’s work. So, it’s a mistake if you’ve put structures and protocols in place that prevent your people from doing their jobs, particularly in management.

If you try to correct someone too much or steer them more than necessary, they start to second guess themselves, and now they’re scared to manage anything.

Being able to step back and let the trust happen is a lesson I wish I learned sooner. I would have saved myself from a lot of extra stress.

Barb: I agree. Also, in the early days, we should have been slower to hire and quicker to fire, especially when we could see it wasn’t working out with an individual.

You always want to give second chances and train as much as you can, but with more than 20 years of experience, I can confidently say it’s in everyone’s best interests to end it when it’s just not a good fit.

What’s one change a person can make right now to get them closer to success in business?

Barb: Take more risks. If I could do it over, I would’ve explored becoming a business owner earlier in life. If you want to do something, try everything you can to make it happen.

Gord: The only reason to change is if you’re unhappy with the current circumstances. If you want something different, but you’re having a hard time, keep it simple.

Figure out where you want to be in a year. Now, where would you like to see yourself in five years? Make it a plan. Seriously, write it down, and walk the steps backward.

You might decide you need to be in bed at 10 and up at 5. That might be the first step.

You’ve made a change, and you’re one step closer to accomplishing your goals. If you’re not getting the bigger things done, start with the small things.

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