How betting on small businesses makes for a sweet deal

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Maybe, on paper, Aldric Comeau might have raised some corporate eyebrows. He was only 20-years-old and his vision was to build a small business—a restaurant—in his home community of Clare, Nova Scotia.

But the reality is Atlantic Canada will prosper because of people like Aldric, who have what it takes to set up and run businesses that work. Credit unions don’t think credit scores and credit history define a person. When evaluating the potential of an up-and-coming entrepreneur we think about character, reputation and work ethic. We think about whether or not we see talent worth investing in.

That’s why, with the help of the credit union, Aldric was able to purchase his first business—Chez l’Ami—at the age of 20. Now, eight years later, he’s a staple in the community.

Today, Aldric is living the Atlantic Canadian dream and is an inspiration to other entrepreneurs who want to work, succeed, and stay in their home town.

He was kind enough to sit down with Caisse populaire de Clare CEO, Paul Emile LeBlanc, to share his story, experience, and recommendations for those who wish to follow his lead.

PL: What made you want to own a small business?

AC: I’ve been entrepreneurial since high school and always dreamed of owning my own business. I really didn’t want to move out west like a lot of my friends. I wanted to stay here in Clare—I love it here.

PL: How did you secure the financing to buy the business?

AC: I started at the bank, but unfortunately, they rejected my pitch. It was very disappointing. They said I was, too young and didn’t know me and weren’t confident in the business. I guess I kind of expected that reaction, but I was hopeful they’d see the potential in both me and the business.

When I went to the credit union, it was a completely different experience. The team approved me quite quickly because they knew me and my family. They not only gave me the loan, but also helped me with the planning and purchase process. It was a great experience. I really felt like the team believed in me.

My business is actually right next door to Caisse populaire de Clare, so now many of the people who helped me are my customers. It’s funny how I started as their customer and now they’re mine. It’s a really great feeling. 

PL: Tell us about the business and how it’s grown over the years.

AC: I bought the company in 2007. At the time, it was just an ice cream shop and I ran the business by myself. I knew I wanted to offer more services, so I immediately purchased a grill, fryer, and a variety of food and packaging. The credit union made sure the loan was big enough to build the business into something that matched my vision.

A couple of years later, the credit union extended my loan so I could do some upgrades and repairs to the building. I also paved the entire driveway which really improved the appearance and accessibility of the business. I’m really proud of how it looks today.

 

PL: Do you feel you’ve made an impact on the community?

AC: Absolutely. Besides providing a service and experience a lot of people enjoy, I make sure to source all my products locally and if I can’t find them near Clare, I go to the nearest Nova Scotia supplier. All of the seafood is fresh from suppliers here in Clare and Digby, all other food products come from Foodland in Saulinerville, and our ice cream is Farmers. Our signage comes from Yarmouth, our take-out containers come from the Annapolis Valley region, and I purchased the grill and fryer in Halifax. Also, the building repairs, upgrades, and driveway were completed by local companies. It’s really great to be able to say we’re supporting other small businesses both here in Clare and right across the province.

Another great part of being a local business owner has been becoming an employer. My father, sister, and good friend are all working for me full-time and I have another friend working part-time. Owning Chez l’Ami has allowed me to stay close to my family and friends and has helped me keep them here in Clare. To me, this is much more than a business—it’s very personal.

PL: Tell us about your other business ventures since opening Chez l’Ami.

AC: One year after purchasing the store, I acquired six local rental units from the same business owner. The credit union gave me a loan extension to purchase the units based on my track record of successful payments against Chez l’Ami. I’m now up to 18 units.

 

PL: What tips do you have for other local entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada?

AC: If you believe you can do well, you will. Hard work really does pay off—you just have to be persistent and don’t take “no” for an answer. You also have to love what you do and I can genuinely say that I love my job. It’s not about the money, it’s about the pride that comes along with owning a business in my community. I love my business and I love my community.