Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Chris Hobson, owner of Hobbs Pickles, located in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
When I started the business in 2017, you couldn’t find a good-tasting pickle on the West Coast. I’m originally from the East, which is where the best pickles are made, and I craved a New York or Montreal deli pickle. And when I opened the first pickle tasting bar in North America at Granville Island in Vancouver, I realized just how many people wanted the same thing I did.
Every week I get inspirational messages and phone calls from customers thanking me for what we do, even people on the street who say things like, “I’m never going back to Bubbies!” It’s amazing how many people connect with Hobbs Pickles, the brand, and the products; from a toddler's first pickle to the 100-year-old gentleman that stops by each month for his quart dills, we’ve developed a huge following.
Tell us about yourself
I had a very successful career in advertising and branding for 18 years; I also owned a web development business. And at various points along the way, I was a filmmaker, musician, DJ, a landlord. I have always been a student, always learning. And I have been lucky enough, and open enough, to experience such a broad mix of things in life that looking back, it all contributed to Hobbs Pickles. I get motivated when I see just how many people we reach with our products. I get calls from across Canada from people asking when we will be in their local grocery store. And when I can tell them that we are in a small town in Northern BC or coming soon to their province, there is this excitement on the other end of the phone, and that gets me all fired up.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
When I opened the first pickle tasting bar in 2017, we sold out in one week; we then doubled production and sold out again ten days later. It made me realize the power of a great idea and a great product.
Another big milestone was when I started the wholesale grocery business. We were in 3 grocery chains and a bunch of local butchers and independents. And I was doing sales, taking the orders and doing all the deliveries myself. At one point, I was driving all over British Columbia 7 days a week in a pickle van. Then the pandemic hit. I had to close two retail locations, temporarily lay off my entire staff, and put all my energy into growing grocery. I would arrive at stores with a van full of pickles, ring the bell at receiving, and it was like Santa arrived -- people get so excited when they hear the word “pickles.” So I kept building relationships and adding more stores until I had over 50 customers. Eventually, I couldn’t keep up, so I got a distributer to help me with it, which totally changed the game. Before I knew it, the business doubled. And today, we’re in over 100+ grocery stores in Western Canada, and I have a list in front of me for onboarding 100 more.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Doing absolutely everything yourself. In no particular order, here is a list of the job titles I have held at my own company at some point: retail sales associate, sales manager, bookkeeper, accountant, logistics, operations, delivery guy, order desk, branding (I did all the branding and design, logos, uniforms, the pickle bar, the website, the labels, named the flavors…), retail sales associate, social media manager, HR…the list is endless. But what I learned is that as a business grows, you meet people who can help. And little by little, it turns into a team that you like. However, you can’t replace the experience of doing everything yourself at the start. It’s invaluable. Now that I have surrounded myself with so many smart people, I’m doing a lot less than I used to of the actual physical work. I am more focused on scaling the business and building relationships with suppliers and customers.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Re-read my answer to the previous question.
- Start with a good idea. Is your idea for a business new and unique, or has it been done? We don’t need another Kombucha drink, coffee shop, Poké restaurant, or burger joint. But if you tell me that your idea is different, like, your coffee is only served in tiny cups because it’s so strong, or your burger restaurant is traditional in every way, but it’s entirely vegan, then you’re on to something.
- Focus on exercise and self-care. Don’t get so bogged down with your work that you can’t make time for yourself. If you’re not eating right, drinking too much, or not exercising, you’re doing a disservice to your employees, suppliers, your life partner, and yourself. I tell my entire team that health comes first. If you look after your body and your mind, you’ll be way more productive and a pleasure to be around.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I don’t think you can create something unique or interesting if you don’t have a good story and a good idea. They say that to be a great writer; you have to live. So basically, you can’t write, and you can’t tell a good story unless you’ve lived. I love pickles which is why I started this, but it took 40+ years of living to be able to write this story, build a brand, and create a national business. In five years, I will be in stores coast-to-coast and in two countries. I’m motivated every day by seeing the excitement on people’s faces when they try our pickles or thank me for creating this. It’s humbling.
Where can people find you and your business?
Visit the original pickle bar location at Granville Island Market in Vancouver, BC. Or find us in over 100+ grocery stores in Western Canada.
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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