Recognize that there is learning that comes with every negative event. When you hit a low you have a tendency to want to beat yourself up about whatever caused you to get there. What did I do wrong? How did I get here? Lots of negative questions…. In the end, the key to success is being able to eventually step back from the mistake and recognize what you learned. Most importantly, one must apply those learnings in the future. When I was 25 years old, someone tried to recruit me to join a multi-level marketing company selling water filters. Water filters were clearly a hot commodity. Rather than join that company, I decided to start my own multi-level marketing company called “Clearbrook,” which also sold water filters that were manufactured in Birmingham, Alabama. The business exploded out of the gate, and we sold over $1million worth of water filters in our first 30 days in business! I thought I had made it big-time, however, little did I know that margins and commission structures of MLMs were things I really didn’t understand. Instead of making millions, we were living on cash flow and barely breaking even. The realization that I had not hit it big was certainly deflating, but I managed to pick myself up and reflect back on what I had learned in the process and carry those learnings forward to be able to launch another Multi-Level Marketing company in Canada. A little over a year later I connected with a company called Body Wise International in Carlsbad, California. Within a few months, I had a joint-venture partnership in place with Body Wise USA to open and run Body Wise Canada. Body Wise Canada quickly became one of Canada’s preeminent brands of high-quality, innovative products for good health, athletic performance, and weight loss.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Page, President/CEO and Founder of Stalco.
Any fulfillment company that wants to play in the B2C fulfillment space must support eCommerce from all sectors of today’s world. For fulfillment companies, that means marketing themselves in a way that underscores the most important services they offer to their eCommerce clients, such as same-day order processing, fast delivery times, and inexpensive/competitive shipping rates.
Stalco is a leader in the space with a broad service offering that includes fulfillment throughout Canada, the US, and globally. Its service offering is robust and as a one-stop-shop includes everything an eCommerce company may need to manage the logistics of shipping their products from the manufacturing source right through to the end consumer. Stalco achieves this by going the extra mile with clients and getting actively involved with the inbound logistics of picking up a client’s inventory from anywhere in the world and ensuring it arrives at our facility where it will be received, stored, and ready for day-to-day eCommerce fulfillment.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My entrepreneurial journey began at the age of 9 when I gratuitously took soda pop from my parent’s basement and sold it to my friends. In 1980, when I was 16 years old, I passed my driver’s license and started a courier delivery business which I ran successfully throughout my high school summers. My courier business earned me a lot more money than my friends who had “real jobs”. My entrepreneurial journey continued throughout university when I started selling home supplies — like toilet paper and paper towels — door-to-door. The success of this experience led me (and my partner) to ultimately build a network of student franchisees who were assigned to different districts and who we trained to sell in the same way. We ran this summer business for several years, and after graduating, we set up a year-round home supplies company that serviced all the customers we had accumulated through our student franchise network over the previous years. My days were spent running our warehouse and distribution center, and in the evenings, I called customers to solicit orders. We sold the business to a company that continues to operate it to this day. In subsequent years I started partnering with established US brands to help them reach Canadian consumers and build out their Canadian distribution. This experience laid the foundation for me to ultimately build out a Canadian warehousing and logistics company.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
In 2010, a contact, who works in the call center business, asked if I would be willing to help a client who was having trouble shipping products to Canadians. This posed a conundrum: I had the expertise and infrastructure to easily assist this company with Canadian shipping, however, I only offered shipping and fulfillment to brands that I held an equity stake in, and whose Canadian sales I profited from. Now I was being asked to accept a fee for service. After mulling it over, I realized that I could leverage my existing distribution overhead to take this company on as a fee for services client, rather than taking an equity stake. I took on the client and set up a turnkey service for them where my company would take care of everything related to importing their product, regulatory approval, fulfillment, and shipping, leaving the client to focus on what they knew how to do best — sell.
The client’s business exploded in Canada and I realized that I had a lucrative business model sitting in my lap. I could be a service provider, and at the same time, I could amortize my existing overheads related to the products and brands in which I had equity. This was a pivotal moment for me. I realized there was a huge opportunity to set up a Third-Party Logistics (3PL) company to provide turnkey services to American companies wishing to expand into Canada. This was the birth of the Stalco brand and the origins of my 3PL business. In essence, I successfully took a distribution platform that I had in place since 1994 and leveraged it to build out a service-based company that offers comprehensive 3PL services in Canada.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I believe I am a natural-born entrepreneur. From a young age, I was resolved to finding ways to make money without actually having to go out and get a “real job” and work for someone else! I think it was this drive that ultimately fueled me to think outside of the box and find creative ways to make money.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
My grandfather, through his actions and his (many) words of wisdom, had a huge impact on me. However, it was a discussion he had with me when I was 14 years old, that I will forever remember as the fuel that set my entrepreneurial spirit on fire. My grandfather was a serial entrepreneur who had been into all sorts of different businesses before he ultimately built (at the age of 50) and later sold (at the age of 67) his home-run business — a novelty and giftware company that manufactured and sold goods to department stores throughout Canada.
My grandfather’s goal in sitting me down at 14 years old, was to have me appreciate his journey and to understand that it was his many trials and tribulations, and successes and failures that ultimately led him to succeed. The key message of our chat was that absolutely nothing should ever stand in the way of going after what I want to achieve in life. Brush off the nay-sayers, learn from mistakes and failures, push forward and keep going. Over the course of my career, I encountered plenty of bumps and setbacks. It was the words of my grandfather from years ago that served as a beacon and guided me along my journey.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Outside of our very unique turn-key service offering that allows entrepreneurs to maintain their focus on sales, it is the incredible drive and determination of our leadership team and staff members that truly make us stand out. With the exception of December 25th, we work around the clock -24/7- to fulfill and ship our clients’ e-commerce orders throughout Canada, the USA, and internationally. Our clients have come to depend on our relentless efforts to get their orders out the door as quickly as possible, taking full advantage of our fast delivery windows and competitive rates.
Executing our strategy takes months of planning to ensure that we can handle peak season spikes with ease, as well as increased volume spikes forecasted throughout the year by our clients. However, managing these spikes in the midst of a global pandemic, when e-commerce volumes were growing exponentially, and social distancing rules challenged our operational efficiencies, was no easy feat!
Due to the dedicated planning efforts of our management team, who worked closely with our clients to forecast increases in volume, we were able to beef up and then maintain appropriate staffing levels to ensure our promise of same-day order fulfillment. But, as Murphy’s Law would dictate, even the best-laid plans get sideswiped! Eight months into the pandemic, without a single employee testing positive for covid-19, the unthinkable happened — 10 days before Black Friday we had an outbreak in our warehouse. Out of an abundance of caution, we sent home almost 70% of our warehouse staff leaving only a skeleton crew to deal with everything from receiving goods from inbound trucks to shipping out tens of thousands of orders each day. By the time Black Friday arrived, we had a backlog of over 50,000 orders to fulfill, a seemingly monumental task given that regular orders continued to flood our fulfillment desk at a rapid pace. Those ten days felt like 10 years, but thankfully our staff had started to return to work, and we put a heavy-duty action plan into place to quickly dig out of the backlog while getting new orders out the door, same day.
Thanks to the resiliency, hard work, and incredible dedication of our senior leadership team and our warehouse managers and their teams, we pushed through this inconceivable challenge and were able to rise above the storm to see sunshine again.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I would say the three character traits that were most instrumental in my success are Persistence, Drive/Desire & Self-awareness
Persistence: When I was 25 years old, someone tried to recruit me to join a multi-level marketing company selling water filters. Water filters were clearly a hot commodity. Rather than join that company, I decided to start my own multi-level marketing company called “Clearbrook,” which also sold water filters that were manufactured in Birmingham, Alabama. The business exploded out of the gate, and we sold over $1million worth of water filters in our first 30 days in business! I thought I had made it big-time, however, little did I know that margins and commission structures of MLMs were things I really didn’t understand. Instead of making millions, we were living on cash flow and barely breaking even. The realization that I had not hit it big was certainly deflating, but I managed to pick myself up and reflect back on what I had learned in the process. Most importantly, I kept going.
Drive/Desire: From the moment I started my journey as an entrepreneur I have always had a burning drive/desire to succeed. Despite failures, and bumps along the road, I never envisioned any end game other than the one I desired. This was not always easy, especially during challenging times, however, I believe it was this burning desire and ability to visualize the outcome I wanted (long before it was achieved) that ultimately made a huge difference in helping me get there.
Self-awareness: I believe that recognizing one’s strengths and one’s weaknesses, is an absolutely critical component in building a successful business. There is no room for ego. My core strengths are vision, strategy, business development, and sales. While managing operations is something I can comfortably do on a smaller scale, I recognized I would need to bring in serious operational talent in the form of a COO and Director of Distribution if I truly wanted to build my vision and get Stalco to the scale and size I desired. Today we are a company that ships millions of packages a year and employs over 120 people.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
In 2000, I had the vision to open a very hip chain of retail stores that would not only sell a huge selection of reputable and professional vitamin brands but one that would also provide professional guidance and individual recommendations to customers by way of in-store, natural health care professionals. I founded “elements” — a “before-its-time” concept in the natural supplements world, earning accolades by industry professionals, as well as a design award for our retail store concept. Three retail locations were quickly erected in high-traffic areas in Toronto. The “secret sauce” was that each store was anchored by an in-store natural health clinic where customers could discuss their unique health needs with our naturopaths, who could then make recommendations of products that were sold in the store — a one-stop-shop and first of its kind. In the development phase of elements, I was exploring the idea of launching with our own brand of high-quality supplement formulations — products that would be available exclusively at elements and would drive customer loyalty and recurring sales. One of my strategic advisers was adamant that creating our own brand would be a mistake out of the gates as we would not have the trust required to successfully build the brand. I reluctantly listened to the advice and never went ahead with creating and launching our own branded formulations. I believe this was a fundamental error that played a significant role in the failure of that business.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
- Don’t take yourself too seriously! Maintain a fun and positive work environment that your team members will enjoy being a part of.
- Encourage and recognize input from all levels of your team. Recognize and reward leadership and hard work.
- Do not create an ivory tower environment that encourages politics and backstabbing.
- Work with your management team to create strong Core Values that everyone is aligned with and that is instilled throughout the organization
- Take ownership and follow through on what you say you are going to do.
- Under promise and over deliver for your customers!
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Lead by example. Building a solid company that provides a valued service, brings with it a certain degree of credibility and authority in the industry to which it services. In this regard, we have always been open and proactive in our communications and strategic discussions with industry players, including our closest competitors.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
I think building relationships and trust within an industry is something that is essential. Individual companies sharing information and resources is something that unquestionably benefits the industry as a whole. Collectively, we are far stronger as an industry than we are on our own. A perfect example of this took place when COVID hit. There was no playbook — everyone was making it up as we went along. By networking with other industry players, having open discussions and dialogue, and sharing helpful information, we were all able to learn from each other’s failures and successes in navigating this immense challenge.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Mistake: Thinking you can do everything and not letting go and building a team around yourself.
What can be done: Recognize that you are human, and you will need to build out a team to help you successfully execute your vision
Mistake: Underfunding the business
What can be done: Be super conservative in planning out your business capital requirements. Things always take longer than you think and cost more money. Be sure your business is properly funded when you launch so that you have a fighting chance to build out your vision
Mistake: Hypergrowth BEFORE you have the infrastructure in place to support it
What can be done: Do not let the horses out of the gate and go full steam ahead until you are confident you have the team and infrastructure in place that is required to support the business in Hypergrowth mode. Under normal circumstances, you only get one shot at building trust and credibility. If your systems crash and you are unable to meet the service objectives you have committed to, then your credibility will be significantly damaged and will be very difficult to earn back.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
There is no doubt that the entrepreneurial journey is filled with highs and lows no matter where you are on the journey…at least it certainly has been from my perspective! An entrepreneur puts their heart and soul into building their company, so it’s only natural that every single bump, detour, positive event, deal opportunity, setback, etc., carries extreme emotional reactions. One minute you are on an extreme high, riding the wave as the result of something great happening (or looking like it will happen), and the next minute you are reeling with anxiety over something big (or little) that might set things back. From my experience, this is just the ebbs and flows of being an entrepreneur. Many times throughout my journey I questioned how much easier my life would have been if I had a job and the security of a paycheck. But then I would quickly come back to the reality of knowing that life was not meant for me. That is not an environment I could ever thrive in.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
I can share a couple of examples of some of the highs I have experienced along the way. When I launched the chain of retail stores called elements that I spoke of earlier, I remember the feeling of walking into our first built-out, award-winning retail store (we actually made the cover of Retailer Magazine!). I was speechless. I was overwhelmed that from an idea in my head I was now walking around this beautiful store, and innovative retail concept, thinking “I did it”!!! That was certainly an incredible high for me.
Most recently on December 31st, 2020 when the sale of Stalco to Canada Cartage (one of Canada’s oldest trucking companies) closed, I sat back from my computer and took a deep breath, and fully teared up. Memories of my late grandfather overcame me and his profound words from so long ago rang so true. I achieved my dream — something I had been shooting for my entire life. I built a great company, with a great team of people, and realized a life-changing exit for me and for my family. That is high that I am still feeling to this day.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Earlier, I talked about the high I felt when I first walked into my newly completed retail store — elements. Just 1.5 years later, I exited elements on what I consider to be one of my all-time low points. With a private equity firm backing us, elements were primed and ready to expand to 85 locations across Canada exactly when the .com explosion hit the world. Suddenly my super-cool chain of bricks-and-mortar stores was considered an antiquated concept as money started pouring into the .com space and running away from the mortar and bricks space. For this and a variety of other reasons, we were unable to raise capital to expand, leading to my exit and the ultimate failure of the concept.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
After the failure of elements, I was very deflated, but my desire and dreams were still burning strong. I considered the successes and challenges that I had experienced along my journey and decided to go back and focus on what I knew best: Bringing successful American direct-to-consumer brands into Canada. I wanted to take the learnings, both positive and negative, from my journey to date and apply them in a manner that I felt very confident I could successfully execute. In this regard, I started aggressively researching successful US /international direct-to-consumer brands, and before I knew it, we were working with a variety of companies including Suzanne Somers, Chanoine Cosmetics & Shark Tank inventor, Kevin Harrington, to name a few.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Don’t Take the lows personally. Hitting bumps or major negative events along the road must not be taken personally as this serves no benefit whatsoever and will only drag you down and slow down your recovery period. Try as hard as you can to step away from the situation and evaluate what you did right, what you did wrong, and what factors were simply out of your control.
- Surround yourself with talented board advisers & a management team. 3 years into the growth of Stalco, our business was booming as we had quickly become the go-to company for turnkey fulfillment in Canada to health and beauty product marketers. Part of our success was driven by the creation of our white label on-demand inventory platform wherein our clients could purchase health and beauty products on-demand, that were compliant and approved for sale in Canada. We had no competition. When I found out that a large US fulfillment company was launching and duplicating our white label model in Canada, I can remember my stomach literally dropping. I thought that because of their sheer size, they would come into the market and undercut all our prices and steal our clients. I set up multiple strategic sessions with our team to evaluate the situation and strategize on what we had to do from a pricing perspective to stave off this 1000LB guerilla! At the end of the day, we strategized that rather than focus on price changes, we should devote our focus to what truly makes us different — our strong regulatory expertise. We changed our positioning and made it impossible for the US-based, 1000LB guerilla to compete with the local expertise we possessed. Our business continued to thrive and dominate, and we never lost even 1 client in the end. Having a group of smart, talented, objective advisers was a critical component in helping me step back and drive this strategy.
- Having a supportive spouse/partner/network- I cannot even imagine how difficult it would be to succeed as an entrepreneur without a supportive spouse/partner or network. My wife, Shawna, has been 100% behind me on everything I have ever done, and I am incredibly grateful for that. A perfect example of her unwavering support was when elements closed down and I was re-evaluating my next move, Shawna was right in there helping me think through my next steps. Successful in her own right, she comes at things from a different perspective and is a great sounding board and idea generator. Having been an entrepreneur herself, Shawna fully understands what makes me tick and is able to appreciate the ups, downs, and stressors of owning and running a business.
- Recognize that there is learning that comes with every negative event. When you hit a low you have a tendency to want to beat yourself up about whatever caused you to get there. What did I do wrong? How did I get here? Lots of negative questions…. In the end, the key to success is being able to eventually step back from the mistake and recognize what you learned. Most importantly, one must apply those learnings in the future. When I was 25 years old, someone tried to recruit me to join a multi-level marketing company selling water filters. Water filters were clearly a hot commodity. Rather than join that company, I decided to start my own multi-level marketing company called “Clearbrook,” which also sold water filters that were manufactured in Birmingham, Alabama. The business exploded out of the gate, and we sold over $1million worth of water filters in our first 30 days in business! I thought I had made it big-time, however, little did I know that margins and commission structures of MLMs were things I really didn’t understand. Instead of making millions, we were living on cash flow and barely breaking even. The realization that I had not hit it big was certainly deflating, but I managed to pick myself up and reflect back on what I had learned in the process and carry those learnings forward to be able to launch another Multi-Level Marketing company in Canada. A little over a year later I connected with a company called Body Wise International in Carlsbad, California. Within a few months, I had a joint-venture partnership in place with Body Wise USA to open and run Body Wise Canada. Body Wise Canada quickly became one of Canada’s preeminent brands of high-quality, innovative products for good health, athletic performance, and weight loss.
- See the end game at all times- No matter what happens day-to-day or month-to-month, NEVER lose sight of your end game. Your ability to continually see yourself achieving the success you desire, no matter what challenges get in your way, will serve as a compass that will ultimately help you get there. From my own personal experience, it is amazing to look back at all the bumps, failures, highs, and lows and see how they were all an interconnected part of my journey. One thing led to the next and so on. When you add up all the experience, you can literally trace the roadmap to success.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
To me, resilience means being able to get back to your equilibrium when negative forces are all around you. Important character traits include persistence, positive attitude, motivation, flexibility and having the courage to take risks.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
Throughout my educational career, I was an average student at best. I actually think that not being a good student somehow made me more resilient as a person and in business. As one would expect, there is a natural amount of pressure to succeed in school that comes from parents, teachers, and society in general. While I was growing up, I could not ever seem to wrap my head around how grades in school had any connection to leading me to the financial success I desired. For this reason, I simply never took a school that seriously. This lack of focus in school served only to create more pressure from parents and teachers, which ironically made me more resilient!
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
It’s funny. When I was younger and first getting started in business, I found it fairly easy to maintain a positive attitude and to always see the glass as half full. As time went on, and I had a family to provide for, I felt a lot more pressure whenever something went wrong. In those days, I let fear and anxiety creep into my life, and it started to influence my attitude and the way I thought about things. I recognized this as an opportunity to do better so I quickly sought the help of a therapist who specialized in anxiety for people in business. It was a very interesting and helpful exercise, particularly because I was taught to use a behavioral modification tool, called a “Thought Record Chart”, which provided me with the ability to make realistic assessments about issues and challenges I faced. I was able to settle my worries, and channel the energy into more positive and creative thinking.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
A leader’s positive attitude undoubtedly has a huge influence on the attitudes of both their clients and their team. I believe positive and negative energy is totally contagious. To build a successful business it is imperative that your team is excited about the future and believes in what you are doing. Negative energy is de-motivating and not something that draws people to want to work hard and put everything they can into their jobs. As a business leader, I believe it’s absolutely critical to maintain a positive attitude and lead by example at all times. As far as clients are concerned, and as I already said, negative energy is totally contagious. If you and your team are not excited about what you are doing, how will your clients ever possibly be excited (or confident) about working with you?
What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
Richard Branson once said, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are too small.” This quote is reminiscent of my entire journey to date. As a serial entrepreneur, my life revolved around dreaming big. That meant pushing boundaries, ignoring the nay-sayers, and thinking outside of the box on almost every entrepreneurial venture I took. The status quo was never part of my reality. I instinctively knew that the distance between dreams and reality is where all the hard work comes in, and I also knew that a little progress each day, each week, each year, adds up to big results. It wasn’t a coincidence that as I gained experience and developed confidence in myself my dreams got bigger.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!