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September 15, 2012
EDITOR’S NOTE: Twice a month Shawn Brown will write a column that will, in his words, ‘engage the reader on a journey of (business) discovery’ by using his real world experiences from the beginning of his corporate career to his transition to entrepreneur and business owner. Each column will eventually be a chapter of his book Rules of Behaviour. The book will be available in 2013.
EDMONTON, AB, Sep 15, 2012/ Troy Media/ – To this day, the years spent at my new company in Saskatoon and travelling to Regina to ‘guest’ bar tend at my best friend’s live music club stand out as among the best of my life.
My developing business and personal relationships, which often intertwined, greatly influenced my business and life, attitudes and strategies.
Each night, before Bob and John Vancise and I went to open The Venue and prepare the club for the evening’s ‘events’, we would always start the evening ‘strategizing’ at the North Keg, which was kitty-corner to The Venue. While the staff at the Keg was really good to us, and even though I thoroughly enjoyed the hour or two there before we opened the club, I often wondered why we would spend time and money there when we could be doing the same at the club they owned. One night I asked Bob that very question.
His response was simple: Aside from the fact that they really were good people, The Keg closed a couple of hours earlier than The Venue. Often its guests, whether in the restaurant or lounge, would ask where they could go next, and Bob wanted to always make sure that his club was front and centre of their response.
And it was. You could always tell when the Keg closed, because everyone headed over to our place. Brilliant. Lesson number one – in any type of retail business, know your neighbours, and know your competition. Both can actually do you a world of good, and often be a great ally.
The second key lesson came from all of the time we spent with The Tragically Hip. We got to know them through the club shortly after the release of their first independent album, and then even more after their landmark first and second full-length, major release albums, which sent them firmly down the path of Canadian rock stardom.
They loved playing The Venue, spending as much time there as they possibly could while developing a large and tremendously loyal fan base throughout Canada.
First, a bit of Tragically Hip trivia, which very few people know. The Hip’s second full length release, Road Apples, was originally titled Saskadelphia for their two favourite spots at that time – Saskatchewan (mainly because of Bob and John and The Venue), and, of course, Philadelphia. The record company ultimately nixed the title as they thought it might affect the band’s image and album sales. The band responded to this bit of nonsense with the title Road Apples. But maybe the record company was right because the album went on to sell millions of copies.
The second piece of trivia concerns the opening line of their huge hit, Wheat Kings. I often used to give the band a hard time about playing in Regina so much, and not Saskatoon – which I always referred to as The Paris of the Prairies. Front man Gord Downie thought the reference was great and asked if he could use it in a future song. Of course I said yes, and I couldn’t have been more proud than when it became part of the opening line of Wheat Kings, which has a direct reference to a major event that occurred in Saskatoon a long time ago.
Aside from many, many awesome nights spent with Gord and the rest of the band, I didn’t realize until years later the number of valuable lessons I would learn from them, about business in general, and most certainly about being in a business partnership.
Although Gordie wrote the majority of all Hip lyrics, and even though he was the enigmatic front man of the band, it was always at his insistence that each member of the band share in all earnings equally. It was his belief that no one person was greater than the whole of the object, and that they all won, or lost, equally.
The second was the importance of sticking together, through all of the tough times. For anyone not exposed to the music industry, the road to stardom is almost always a long and hard one. Playing small clubs in the middle of nowhere, often flat-broke, cold and hungry, it’s a long, hard, tough grind. Add to that any other multitude things that happen with the band and living on the road and it’s easy to throw in the towel when times are tough. Especially when there really doesn’t appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel at all.
The Hip experienced all of that and more. And through it all, they believed in themselves, what they were doing. And where they were ultimately headed. I didn’t know at the time how important those lessons would be.
Shawn Brown is the Founder and President of Forest For the Trees, a boutique business advisory service headquartered in Edmonton, AB. http://www.forestnow.com/
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