Philip Guy spent 12 years in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) with Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) and was injured in Afghanistan in 2008 when the Leopard tank he was in ran over an improvised explosive device.
As challenging as a career in the military was, running a small business, he says, has been 100 per cent harder.
“In the military, you knew exactly what you're doing, when you're doing it and how you're doing it. If you didn't know how, you asked and someone told you because someone else has done it,” says Guy, owner and operator of Noble Miniatures in Conception Bay South, a hobby store specializing in tabletop and collectible card games.
“There is no structure in this, except for whatever you put into it. It's on the fly. Things don't go the way you expect. I don't have that leadership or even subordinate use where I can go to my leadership as their subordinate and ask them, 'What do I do for this?' and I don't have people underneath me to help me do the jobs themselves. I'm rank A through Z.”
But thanks to his involvement with Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur (POE), a transitional program offered through Prince’s Charities Canada and its partners, Guy was able to turn his geeky passions into a successful small business.
“The program was good … the contacts are amazing,” says Guy, who participated in the 2016 cohort offered at Memorial University.
“I learned quite a lot while I was there, but the biggest thing I can say about it is the fact they tee you up with someone and even if that someone isn't right, they'll try to introduce you to someone who can help. Having that contact with them is incredible in that aspect.”
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the program, which was initially developed by Enactus Memorial (formerly SIFE Memorial) in 2008 as Based in Business. The name was changed in 2012 when Prince’s Charities, which supports the efforts of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales in Canada, brought together founding partners Enactus and Futurpreneur Canada.
The aim is to provide business education to members and veterans of the CAF to assist them in embarking on a second career as a small business owner, thereby generating economic and social impacts in their respective communities.
The program, the only one of its kind in the country, has since expanded to three other universities across Canada — Laval University, Dalhousie University and the University of Regina. Over 10 years, it has resulted in 473 veterans starting more than 250 business — 181 of those veterans took part in one of the seven-day boot camps at Memorial.
This year’s boot camp in St. John’s features 20 participants.
“Just like average Canadians, a certain percentage want to open their own business and be their own boss because after being in the military, in a very controlled and structured environment, they are looking for the freedom to go their own way and make their own decisions on the direction they want their life to go,” explains program manager Kathleen Kilgour.
She says veterans are well suited to entrepreneurial life because their military experiences have gifted them with a passion for a cause and the tools needed to be focused, goal-driven and results-oriented.
She lauds their training, their ability to plan and their level of organization, and notes that most aren’t particularly big risk takers.
“A lot of people are surprised that people who are in the military are not risk takers, but they don't see going into war as a risk because they're so incredibly well trained for it,” she explains, noting they’re much the same when it comes to starting a business.
“They want to make sure that they're very well trained, very well prepared and that they have their ducks in a row, and reached out to everything they need to make sure that they have the tools that they need to be successful.”
They’re also smart enough to recognize where they have knowledge gaps that could make a huge difference to the success of their endeavor.
For Guy, those gaps were around the social media marketing side of things and the importance of offering a clean and comfortable space to customers. The presenter told an anecdotal story about a shopping mall that increased sales by 30 per cent by investing in cleaner washroom facilities, thereby retaining more female customers who were turned away by less sanitary conditions.
“Whenever there's lots of geeks in here I'll turn on the AC, but I'll turn on the ceiling fans to make sure it doesn't get too hot because it gets uncomfortable and then someone comes in and gets hits with a wall of (body odour), so I'm trying to mitigate it as much as I can,” says Guy, who’s making a more inviting space for his customers by allowing them to bring in outside food and beverages when they stop by for a game night or a miniature painting session.
Guy opened the shop in November 2016, just a few months after graduating from POE. He has developed a loyal clientele, some of whom come for the gaming exclusively and others just to paint their miniatures or to take part in one of Guy’s painting classes.
Some of the clientele have even taken to organizing gaming events at the store in support of Extra Life, a North American charity benefitting Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Next up is a 24-hour gaming event.
“Come on in, pay a fee and we’ll geek it up and play games for 24 hours.”
To find out more about Noble Miniatures, check out facebook.com/Nobleminiatures/. For more on the POE program, visit princesoperationentrepreneur.ca.