A unique arrangement between Community Futures Alberni-Clayoquot and Coombs Country Candy will ensure that an iconic Alberni Valley business stays open as its founders retire.
Community Futures purchased the candy-making business from owners Murray Lawlor and Lenore Bailey this fall to run it as a social enterprise, CFAC executive director Lori Camire said. A percentage of profits will be committed to initiatives that benefit the community.
Lawlor has more than 50 years of candy and chocolate-making experience. Originally from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Lawlor honed his candy skills over five decades of owning and operating several businesses in Canada and the United States. Coombs Country Candy was originally located beside the Old Country Market in Coombs, famous for its goats on the roof. Lawlor eventually put down roots in the Alberni Valley and relocated his business to the entrance to Port Alberni.
Lawlor and Bailey will stay on and train apprentices until Feb. 1, 2021.
“We are more than happy to help with the transition,” Lawlor said. “We want to thank all our customers for their many years of dedication and support. It’s been a very rewarding experience for us.”
Leanne Hewitt, who has been with Coombs Country Candy for 19 years, will continue to manage the store.
“We are thrilled to be able to continue doing what we love and have a reputation for, and to give back to the town that supports us so much,” Hewitt said.
The sale’s success is two-fold, Camire said. Not only is it ensuring an established, well-run business continues seamlessly, but it is offering Community Futures a guaranteed revenue stream—much like they are touting to other charities and not-for-profits. The CFAC is funded primarily through Western Economic Diversification, with some provincial funding depending on what programs they are running. Coombs Country Candy will be their second holding company—Venture Connect was their first, putting them on the cutting edge of Community Futures offices in western Canada.
“We have a very entrepreneurial group of people within our office,” Camire said. They recognized the number of baby boomers who are looking to retire, coupled with younger people wanting to run their own businesses. They also see charities and not-for-profits struggling for smaller and smaller pots of funding. Employees with CFAC thought a profit for a non-profit would be a steady way to ensure revenue.
“It was a win-win-win for all we could see.”
Coombs Country Candy had been for sale for a little while when Community Futures started looking at it as a revenue generator. It was identified as an outstanding business ideally positioned for CFAC’s new venture due to the years of efforts and dedication of its founders. It is profitable, and with e-commerce and technology there is potential to expand. Camire said the business is not changing hands due to COVID-19, which is a real threat to many small businesses right now.
“This is in some way a pivot, not due to COVID but due to revenue structures,” she said. Community Futures took possession on Nov. 1, 2020 and expects Coombs Country Candy to operate during its regular hours of operation throughout the upcoming holiday season.
“Most people won’t see change—the same staff, same food. To the outside world it will stay as good as what Murray and Lenore created,” Camire said. “Coombs Country Candy is a great business.”