Life still grand despite store loss

“I wouldn’t touch a franchise in Ontario again,” he said, adding there’s nothing to protect the licencee. “What the law really needs is something to force the franchisee or to mediate their problems without having to go to civil court.”

The Barrie Examiner
January 2, 2002

Life still grand despite store loss
Grand & Toy takes back its Barrie outlets
Margaret Bruineman

Ron and Andrea Pilkey spent the last day of the year counting, preparing to forfeit their store to the corporate owner.

“There’s life after Grand and Toy,” said a resigned Pilkey.

For the past 16 years he’s been running the Georgian Mall store, the last seven as its franchise owner.

The corporate owner discharged 26 Ontario franchise owners Dec. 31, taking back the operations as part of a restructuring. That includes the store in downtown Barrie.

For Pilkey, it means an abrupt end to 32 years with the same company with little more than a handshake. He, along with 22 of the other franchise owners, are suing Grand & Toy, which is a division of Idaho-based Boise Cascade.

Grand & Toy says the licensing program no longer works for the company.

“I started Sept. 17, 1969, my 18th birthday,” said Pilkey. “I was going to work for them for a year before going to university.”

Pilkey stayed, moving from that Yonge and Bloor store through the chain, finally landing in Barrie in 1985 to establish the store in the Georgian Mall.

Seven years ago, managers at many of the Ontario stores were offered a franchise opportunity. Seeing no other job opportunity with the company in Barrie, Pilkey accepted and Andrea joined on.

Like many of the other franchise operators, the Pilkeys weathered the great storm of the big-box stores. The Office Place and Business Depot both opened stores in Barrie, now just Staples remains.

Pilkey said it was largely customer service with some inventory control that pulled him through. Now business is about back to where it was prior to their arrival - that’s up 30 to 40 per cent above the business the store was doing before he took it over.

The Pilkeys have had since last spring to re-work their future plans. He was aiming for absolute retirement by age 60 at the latest.

The hope was that in five years, at age 55, his daughter would be able to take over the store and he’d be heading into partial retirement.

Now he’s launching Pilkey Device Service - repairing lowering devices used to drop coffins into the ground. He’s been repairing the devices in his spare time for the past 10 years, taking over his father’s part-time business.

When he returns from a trip to Florida, Pilkey will begin turning this hobby into a business.

Whatever the future, says Pilkey, it won’t be in a franchise.

“I wouldn’t touch a franchise in Ontario again,” he said, adding there’s nothing to protect the licencee. “What the law really needs is something to force the franchisee or to mediate their problems without having to go to civil court.”


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