The following is an article that appeared in the St. John’s Board of Trade Business News Dec. 2013/Jan. 2014 titled “A Gateway To Growth.”
Lynn Hindy put everything she had into customer service and supporting her employees: Last year, she found out just how successful she was at doing that
Lynn Hindy is a case study in how to survive in business – but not in the way you might think.
Yes, the St. John’s entrepreneur has faced all the usual challenges of starting and operating a successful small company: financing, staffing, marketing, you name it. Hindy managed to find her footing in all those areas. No, her challenge was a bit tougher than the usual hurdles: Hindy faced cancer and survived, while being self-employed.
I really think that everything you are dealt in life is to make you stronger, said Hindy,
She is now healthy and happy and still running her sports and corporate wear outfit, Universal Corporate Wear. She’s even opening a third location to complement the ones operating at Stavanger Drive and the Goulds.
Though she hasn’t analyzed it this way herself, it’s likely the main reason her business was able to survive without her for part of a year was because she had established it on such a strong foundation in the first place, based on customer service and employee loyalty.
Hindy started the company seven years ago. From the get-go, the idea was to keep her customers happy. She had been working as a partner with a couple of other people, but it wasn’t working out. She wanted more control over how her customers were being treated.
Customer service is 150 per cent to me. That’s why I decided to go on my own”
With three children to feed, Hindy couldn’t afford to fail. A friend, lawyer Steve Marshall, helped her find her first location – a large room located behind one of the goal lines at Prince of Wales Arena. It turned out to be a near perfect location.
I had a desk and a couple of samples and basically hoped for the best. I knew customer service and had been good to my previous customers – I had called them and asked if I decided to go on my own would they support me and they said yes, wherever you are we will go.”
They were true to their word, a testament to how well Hindy had treated them. The rink brought in additional clientele.
I was delighted when I would see the hockey players coming in the afternoon. At that time, Avalon Minor Hockey was being run from Prince of Wales Arena. It was a great avenue for me because it really gave me a lot of hockey business. And then a lot of the parents started to use me for their corporate wear and it just kind of evolved… I definitely grew my business because I was in the arena. It surprised me how much business I was getting from that location. But then I was constantly getting the word out as to where I was… And I found that once people started using us, they were happy with their customer service and the prices we were charging. The repeat business kept us going.”
Hindy’s next big step was to invest in embroidering machines for imprinting logos on sportswear. Until then, she had been contracting that work out. Rather than install the machines in a cold hockey rink, Hindy figured it would be safer to situate them in a drier, warmer space.
So I decided to open up a second location, here in the Goulds, and I bought the embroidering machines. It was a good investment.”
But Hindy did have to learn how to use the equipment. Her task was helped, however, when her sister Marie Graham came on board to work with her as did her friend Helen Locke, who now runs the Goulds location.
“The best decision I ever made was to hire the two of them,” said Hindy. “They really care… They are very hard workers. I have a really, really, really good team, I really do. And they care about customer service.”
Hindy now employs seven people, along with herself. This past year she found out just how good her team really is: Last August, Hindy was diagnosed with colon cancer and had to receive an intensive round of chemotherapy. At the same time, she was going through a relationship break-up. Despite all that, her business survived, even prospered.
It was quite the shock”, Hindy admitted of the cancer diagnosis. “Within a week or two I had surgery and they had to remove 18 inches of my large intestine and they also took out my gall bladder.”
Hindy said she had had a feeling there was something wrong and went to the doctor and asked for a colonoscopy. She was diagnosed with stage three cancer. It had spread to five lymph nodes and was reaching towards her organs.
I didn’t know what I was going to do,” said Hindy, who lost her sister Joanne to cancer. “But I pulled on the inner strength that I’ve always had. I knew that I had to be strong for my children and I had to be strong for my co-workers.”
Hindy underwent 12 sessions of chemotherapy. At first she kept working, but after a while she was too drained physically to keep going into the shop.
I got through it with a lot of love and affection from my family and co-workers,” Hindy said. “My daughter Amanda was my rock. She kept me encouraged, she would do my grocery shopping, she’d do my cleaning, she always made sure that I ate.”
Even her customers cheered her on. They left cards and well wishes, even plants at the stores for her.
I had customers call me in the night time on my cell phone and say, ‘How are you doing today? How was your last chemo treatment?’ So many of my customers were there for me and they really cared.”
Just over a year later now, Hindy can’t help but marvel herself at how she managed to pull through it all.
It’s my will to survive and succeed and I really, truly believe that no challenge that I have been given is meant to wipe me off my feet, but (instead) make me stronger,”
As for business lessons that she has taken away from the experience and from being self-employed, Hindy lists a few. “You’re only as good as the people around you,” she said.
Learning from your mistakes and not repeating them is another. But the most important lesson?
Being good to the people who support you,” Hindy said. “Money means nothing unless at the end of the day when you’ve put your head on the pillow you know you’ve done everything you can for your co-workers, and your customers and your family. And it’s really not about money. It’s about surviving in life and being a good person.”
Meanwhile, she is as excited as ever to be running her own business. The opening of a third location is another milestone, a decision, it turns out, driven by her desire to provide customer service.
I just felt the need,” said Hindy. “My customers were so good to me and continuously coming back that I wanted to make it easier for them to have access to us.”
Hindy also feels a need to give back to her customers. One of the ways she does that is by sponsoring sports teams. She just signed on as the sponsor of the female Under-9 hockey league based in the Goulds. Her accountant tells her she’s crazy to be giving away product.
I will never be rich,” Hindy admitted. “I pay my employees well, or at least I think I do, and my main goal, because I have family and good friends working with me, is to make sure we all get a paycheque every Friday and at the end of the day we can all afford to feed our kids. My goal is not to be rich, I don’t even think about that… but sometimes I kind of wish I had started this when I was younger.”
Like many small business owners, Hindy has basically financed her enterprise on her credit card.
Since I have been in business on my own I have never paid one cent in interest,” she added proudly. “I didn’t even have a bank loan. Because I had previous customers, I thought that if they were going to continue with me I would always have cash flow at the end of the week.”
Hindy said early on she realized she wasn’t cut out for doing the bookkeeping in her business. So she has a person come in once a week to handle that chore and depends on a CA to make sure everything is done right at the end of the year. That’s part of the secret to success, she said, knowing your strengths and weaknesses and acting accordingly.
Customer service was my main strength so I didn’t want to be sitting down at a computer doing accounting when I knew that my time was better used servicing my clients.”
In fact, Hindy puts so much emphasis on customer service, she doesn’t even have a salesperson. Her entire enterprise is based on customer service. That’s why Hindy spends a lot of time at schools, hockey rinks and even swimming pools, where she sells Speedo swimwear to athletes.
Our strength is that we’re good to our customers,” Hindy said. “I tried a salesperson one time, but it just didn’t work out. I think we’re lucky that way because a lot of people in this business have to go out and make cold calls… My customers are everything to me. I know it’s because of them that my company has been so successful.”