The survival of Purdys Chocolatier is instructive for any business trading on heritage: A good story must include more than just your history.
Purdys was launched in 1907 on Vancouver’s high street, Robson, by barber turned chocolatier Richard Carmon Purdy. In the first half of its life, Purdys endured economic turmoil, near bankruptcy and several ownership changes, but since 1963 has been owned uninterrupted by the Flavelle family. From that first Robson store, Purdys now counts over 75 shops across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.
For anybody who grew up in B.C., the Purdys story is well-known. But as the company pushed aggressively eastward in the past decade, management realized that a rich history didn’t translate across borders. “We’d been this traditional chocolate shop in the West – a fantastic service-oriented company that made terrific chocolates,” says president and “chocolate scientist” Peter Higgins, who has been with Purdys since 1998. “But everybody is a foodie today, and everybody wants to know what’s special about their food, where it came from, how it was made.”
“QuantumShift™ was a really great experience, not only for the connections made in Ontario, but also for being able to step away at a critical point and think about where the next growth opportunities were…”
Higgins enrolled in QuantumShift™ in 2012 – just as he was assuming the mantle of president and was deep in the throes of Purdys’ ambitious expansion and strategic rethink. “QuantumShift™ was a really great experience, not only for the good timing and the connections made in Ontario, but also for being able to step away at a critical point and think about where the next growth opportunities were for our business.” In 2012, Purdys had eight stores in Ontario; by 2018 they had over 26, with plans to open several more.
Key to success in Ontario has been rethinking the story Purdys tells, says Higgins, and focusing on the particulars of their chocolate. “We have 1,200 employees across the country, and we’ve worked with them so that everybody can become a chocolate expert – a connoisseur,” says Higgins. “The connection with customers has become so much deeper. Now, when we’re talking to customers about the Himalayan Pink Salt Caramel, we can say where the Himalayan pink salt came from, what’s unique about it, how the caramel is made.”
As Purdys continues to expand, Higgins says he continues to lean on the case studies and peer learnings he gathered from his QuantumShift™ days. One of the big initiatives Purdys is working on now is the use of sustainable cocoa in their chocolates (“Doing the right thing is making a difference for our farmer partner communities”) and continued growth in the digital space, which represents Purdys’ fastest-growing channel.
Whatever the channel (and Purdys only sells direct to consumers, be it retail or online), Higgins says the company’s competitive advantage, 111 years on, remains quality. “It’s in the ingredients, in the art and science of how we put our chocolates together. There’s huge competition, but we have to be smart and quick to respond to the changing needs of our customers.”
A rigorous five-day executive development experience offered through The Ivey Academy, QuantumShift™ annually challenges forty of Canada's most promising entrepreneurs to improve their leadership style, inspire their business partners and maximize their growth opportunities. QuantumShift™ is for CEOs whose businesses are past start-up. They're innovative, insightful business leaders. And they're ready to shift a thriving enterprise to a whole new level of success. Candidates are nominated through KPMG Enterprise and participants are selected by Ivey Business School's Pierre L. Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship.
As QuantumShift™ turns 15, we check in with some of the more than 550 Canadian entrepreneurs who have graduated from the program to see what the experience meant to them and their business.