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The small convenience store Lise Guénette and Jocelyn Dumoulin bought 28 years ago has been in a constant state of evolution since opening day. Located in St-Jérôme, QC, Toit Rouge employs 25 people from the community and offers a vast selection of craft brew, delicious take-away meals and snacks, as well as the full range of c-retail products such as frozen beverages, general merchandise and lotto. “When we started running this place, women were seldom coming in. Now, they come in as much as the men,” says Lise proudly. “Last year, we replaced the entire ceiling and installed LED lighting, in addition to renovating our coffee service area. This cost us about $200,000, but we must always evolve, stay in action.”
Fresh from the big kitchen
Lise prefers to refer to her store as a small market. At Toit Rouge patrons can find fresh bread, sandwiches, salads and hot meals, BBQ or fried chicken, as well as various platters ready to take home for a party or buffet. She reports that her kitchen staff of eight prepare nearly 900 sandwiches each week. “Last winter, we baked 2,000 tourtières (meat pies) and produced 10,000 meatballs. It’s fresh and it tastes good, because these are my recipes. I taste what I’m making. Our latest additions are two types of sausages, including a gluten-free one,” she says, noting that the kitchen cooks chicken, egg dishes and pasta in house.
Something to drink for any taste or occasion
Beverages are big business at Toit Rouge. Customers are free to choose from eight frozen carbonated beverages or ‘slush’, soft drinks or other beverages from many sections in the store and adults can choose from a selection of 28-feet of wine products and 500 varieties of beer. In fact, prominent Quebec newspaper La Presse describes Toit Rouge as one of the best beer stores north of Montreal.
“We have a young man, Jean-Michel, who handles our weekly beer tasting each Friday from 3:00 to 7:00 pm. He spends 40 hours a week taking care of our beer clientele. Jocelyn and myself, along with Nicolas, another employee, took the Étoile des bières training level one and two in Montréal, to better understand beer. We’re not experts but now we are better prepared to guide our customers,” explains Lise, pointing to the Toit Rouge Facebook page where connoisseurs and others can discover the latest arrival from any of the 50 or more microbreweries represented in the store. “It used to be that movie fans wanted to be the first to buy or rent the latest film. Now, craft beer fans want to be first to taste the new release from their favourite breweries,” adds Jocelyn.
Experience and creativity
“After all these years, I still love what I do. It makes me happy to come to work here,” says Lise. “We’ve been asked to open other branches. People who move away say they miss us. But we’d rather handle the challenge of running this growing business and serving our clients well than spread ourselves in different directions,” she says, remarking that both she and Jocelyn like to learn through trial and error.
“We enjoy experiences that may or may not work, says Jocelyn. “They’re not mistakes; they add up to great experience. If you don’t try, you don’t grow. We try something, and it may not work, so we try something else.”
- Step out from the routine. This is what distinguishes you from the competition. A stale store is as uninviting as stale bread. Make sure you would enjoy eating what you serve your clients and that they do not get bored with the same food, the same items all year long.
- Cleaner than clean is best. At Toit Rouge, someone has been hired to clean the store every single evening. His presence also makes sure that cashiers are more secure at night, says Lise.
- Offer a variety. Every lunch hour, a four-foot warm counter is filled with irresistible homemade food if customers want more than a sandwich or salad. People can come in every day of the week and have a different option for their lunch.
- Find employees that fit your business. It’s important not to try to hold onto employees who want a professional challenge that they can’t find in the store.