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Entrepreneur Insights: 5 tips for buying an established business

Posted on: July 25, 2013 | Author: ATB Business & Agriculture

The burgers and shakes at Calgary's classic Peters' Drive-In may not have changed since 1962, but the ownership has. Here, new owner Joanne Rowe shares her tips for buying an established business.

Many Albertans dream of starting their own business—fine-tuning an idea, developing a plan, marketing a product, and growing a customer base.

But for others, entrepreneurship doesn't start from the ground up—it starts with an established business, so you can hit the ground running.

"Start-ups are tough. Let's call a spade a spade," says Joanne Rowe, second-hand owner of Peters' Drive-In, a much-loved classic eatery in northeast Calgary. "If you can find an existing established business that you can purchase or take over, I would say that would be the preferred route."

Eight years after buying Peters' from its namesake, Gus Pieters, Joanne and her husband Stephen have learned a lot about running a fast-food joint and adopting a family business. Here are five of Joanne's tips:

  1. Pick a business with a good reputation.

    "We both thought that if we ever had the opportunity to buy Peters' Drive-In, we would jump at it because it's a well-established business in Calgary—had a great reputation and served a great product."
  2. Have some industry experience, but be prepared to learn a lot on the job.

    "I have quite a few years experience in the restaurant industry... And my husband has some experience as well because, when he was in university, he ran a catering company. So, we both dabbled in it a little bit, but there's definitely a learning curve when we first took over." "One time, Gus said to my husband, 'It's a handful, you know.' And Steve thought, 'Well, it's just this fast food restaurant. How tough could it be?' And, yeah, Gus was right. It's a handful! But it's fun. It's a fun handful."
  3. Listen to the employees, and value their opinions.

    "[The long-standing employees are] the nucleus of our staff, and they lead by example every day. They carry on the mantra, so to speak, of what Peters' stands for, which is providing great service and a great product." "Peters' is built around great staff, and I'm really proud to say we have some fabulous people working for us."
  4. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. (But recognize when something's broken.)

    "You don't want to mess with a good thing; however, you have to be open to new ideas and you have to be aware of what your customer wants. So, to the extent that your customer wants to see some evolution in the business, you have to recognize that and respond to it."
  5. Continue what the original owners started with pride and passion.

    "I'm passionate about Peters' not just because I own it, but because we have longstanding loyal customers and, to me, I have an obligation as the new owner to carry on what Gus started, and I take that obligation pretty seriously. I think it's a big responsibility."

To hear more from Joanne and other successful Alberta entrepreneurs, visit our We Grow Alberta page

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