Sarah Velasco: As chief retail officer at Laura Secord, what is your schedule like? What does your job entail?
Raj Sharma: My schedule is pretty hectic—between visiting our Stores, Supplier Meetings and running the Office on a day-to-day basis, it keeps me pretty busy. I like to spend at least one day per week in the Stores—that’s where the business happens so it’s crucial that I understand what is happening in the Field.
My job entails running all facets of the Laura Secord business from ensuring that product is on the shelves to making sure that the stores look great at all times and that there is a happy, positive customer experience.
Sarah Velasco: How did you get in this business?
Raj Sharma: I really worked my way up—I started working at 14 at McDonald’s and didn’t leave until I finished University. The experience at McDonald’s left me with the thrill to run a business—I moved on to Starbucks after University and then to Indigo for a long stretch before moving to Laura Secord.
I have worked at every level of Retail Operations—and I think that has really given me the perspective to be a great operator today.
Sarah Velasco: Can you tell us a bit about the company? Why is Laura Secord more than a brand for chocolate and ice cream?
Raj Sharma: As many people probably know, the company started in 1913 and was founded by Senator Frank O’Connor—he wanted to honour Canada’s greatest heroine, so he named the company Laura Secord. Senator O’Connor owned the business for many years before it changed ownership to many prominent companies, including Labatt’s, Rowntree and Nestlé. We are now owned by two brothers from Québec City—Jean and Jacques Leclerc. Together, they have almost 60 years of experience in food manufacturing and have had a positive impact on the business since their purchase in February of 2010.
Laura Secord is more than a brand because of our loyal customers—Laura Secord has really become an institution in our great country and we continue to maintain our customer base while growing it with new Canadians and younger customers.
Sarah Velasco: Is there a #1 best seller? Has this always been the case?
Raj Sharma: Our French Mint Bars and our Miniature Boxed Chocolate products have always been the #1 sellers in our business. They are truly our two most iconic products.
Sarah Velasco: Has Laura Secord changed of the years? What has changed, what has stayed the same?
Raj Sharma: Like any company, there is always the need to change and evolve to improve yourself as a business. Unfortunately, the biggest change that has been a part of Laura Secord has been ownership changes. We are now in the hands of the Leclerc family and hope to create this as a longstanding part of their family, as they have done with their other family businesses.
The good thing is that many of those iconic products have stayed the same—the French Mint bar will always be the French Mint bar.
Sarah Velasco: What makes Laura Secord different than other companies?
Raj Sharma: Our point of differentiation is definitely our heritage and the loyalty of our customers. There aren’t many Canadian companies that have the following and brand recognition of Laura Secord. Our job now is to continue to grow that great brand recognition with our new customers.
Sarah Velasco: Are there any new products that will be coming out?
Raj Sharma: In the future, we are going to continue to flood our stores with Peanut Free products as well as looking to anti-oxidant rich products to offer an alternative to our customers.
Sarah Velasco: Any advice for someone wanting to get into this industry?
Raj Sharma: Having the ability to make your own manufacturing plant is a huge advantage. It allows you to control quality and to produce the freshest product possible. Our ownership structure has provided many benefits—but that has been the greatest advantage, by far.
Their website: www.laurasecord.ca