Path to ownership
It was a life lesson both Gauvin and Dumas learned growing up in Quebec’s Lower St. Lawrence region. Born and raised in Rimouski, Gauvin moved to Matane, an hour’s drive east, to study to become an electrician. He also moonlighted there at a local McDonald’s—the same restaurant where Dumas, who grew up nearby, got her first job in the mid 1980s.
Despite an eight-year difference in age, the two hit it off. Over the next 20 years, they worked in several McDonald’s restaurants (often side by side in managerial positions) in Quebec, New Brunswick and Maine.
In 2004, they settled in Victoriaville, where Gauvin was named general manager of six restaurants owned by a local McDonald’s franchisee.
The franchisee, however, was reluctant to hire a married couple. In turn, Dumas ended her 18-year career at McDonald’s and got another job as an office manager in a swimming pool company across the street from Dépanneur Le Garde Manger.
Both businesses are located on rue Girouard, a residential area next to Highway 116, which is a busy commercial artery in the southern end of Victoriaville and home to the region’s biggest shopping mall, La Grande Place des Bois-Francs.
Eager to have a business of their own—one where they could keep working with the public and get their daughters involved—Dumas and Gauvin approached the owners of Le Garde Manger and offered to buy the business.
“We really liked the fact that it was an established independent store with a good sales volume,” explains Dumas. “The deal happened very fast.”
The first thing new owners did was to build a staff room in the back where employees can eat or get away from the hustle and bustle out front.
“That was critically important,” says Dumas. “Employees need a clean break so they can refresh and reset during work shifts.”
She and her husband also developed a McDonald’s-inspired hiring and training program—they recently learned it’s being cited by a local college business professor as an example to follow.
“It really starts at the initial interview,” says Dumas. “We look for people who have a pleasant demeanor and a nice appearance. It’s important because every employee has an impact on the entire team.”
Perspective employees then receive 20-plus hours of hands-on, in-store training with an experienced employee. “They learn to handle the cash registers and how to deal with customers,” says Dumas. “That includes giving every person who walks in the store a friendly greeting.”
Employees are also trained to offer to help customers look for products, while people looking for craft beers are offered recycled energy drink boxes to carry products in.
“We used to throw those boxes out,” said Gauvin. “But that was wasteful and time consuming. Now they’ve got a second life. And people really like using them.”
Store employees also always offer to carry beer to customers’ cars. “We insist on it,” said Dumas. “It’s part of our core philosophy of being friendly and helpful. People appreciate it and it gives them another reason to think of us when they go shopping for beer.”
In addition to increased sales, the couple’s dynamic approach to business has earned them accolades within Quebec’s vibrant c-store industry. In September, Gauvin and Dumas received an entrepreneurial award from the Association des Marchands Dépanneurs et Épiciers du Québec.
Gauvin says one challenge that comes from the store’s popularity—especially on Friday nights and weekends—is limited parking. “We only have 14 spots. They can fill up fast.”