MOVERS & SHAKERSS
Clive Hall - Directing Fate
There’s a long line of happy customers in Clive Hall’s life, but he might be wasting his time in retail. What he should be doing is pushing Anthony Robbins off the stage and telling the crowd what a truly motivational story sounds like.
For now, however, you can catch Hall working alongside partner Greg Patterson at 100 Mile Home, a Mennonite-crafted custom designed furniture and upholstery store off Guelph Line, north of the QEW.
We caught up with Hall on a sleepy Saturday morning in January, with perhaps seven people drifting into the Burlington facility over the course of the first hour. One couple wandered over to ask questions, at which point Hall excused himself. “I think we’ve found a one-stop shopping experience for everything we need,” they were overheard to say. They eventually made an $8,000 purchase. Score another point for Hall and Patterson’s no-pressure approach to sales.
It’s been six months since the 40-year-old Carlisle resident opened 100 Mile Home with Patterson, a veteran of the hotel industry who’s operated Pro Finishing in Burlington for the past 15 years. But it seems like multiple lifetimes since Hall’s unlikely story began back in Iron’s Mountain, a remote village about four hours inland from Montego Bay—a place he might still be were it not for fate.
“In 1969, my father stumbled across a couple of tourists who had gotten lost while backpacking,” Hall relates. “He brought them back to town, where the gentleman gave him a business card. A year later, when I was born, my father decided he wanted a better life for us and went down to town and called the gentleman. He sent my dad a plane ticket to Canada. My mom followed about five months later. Seven years after that, once they’d saved up enough money, they brought me over. My father still works for that man’s firm—Crosby, a forging and manufacturing company in Brampton.”
It wasn’t long before Hall was also entrenched in the local workforce. “I did paper routes and stuff, but my first official job was at Sears warehouse in Brampton at the age of 11,” he notes. Hall rode his bike four kilometres, where the foreman paid him a small stipend to fill an industrial trash bin.
Ever the entrepreneur, Hall bought a bicycle with his Sears savings and started charging neighbourhood kids 50 cents to tow them to and from school on a padded mechanic’s dolly that he and a friend had attached arms to.
“I always knew I’d eventually go to college, but I didn’t know what I’d end up doing,” says Hall—that is, until the day he met Iggy Kaneff.
“I was 17 and working on the maintenance crew at Streetsville Glen Golf Course, which Mr. Kaneff owned. I saw this gentleman drive up in his fancy vehicle, and I wondered what he does for a living and how can I get there? So I got on my bike and followed him home.
Hall was relentless, but eventually broke Kaneff down, earning a gardening job at the construction magnate’s residence, occasionally picking up advice from the man who came to Canada with a shovel and $200 in his pocket.
That November, Kaneff presented Hall with a challenge: Bring him $10,000 in one week’s time. “I had some money, but borrowed the rest from everyone I could—friends, my parents,” Hall remembers. “Mr. Kaneff said, ‘You know that Mercedes convertible out there? My wife loves that car, but I hate it. Give me the $10,000 and it’s yours.’
“I said, ‘I can’t afford the insurance or anything to do with it.’
“He said, ‘Do with it as you will.’
“I asked, ‘Can I keep it here?’
“He said ‘No.’ So I said, ‘Can I rent that spot, then?’
“He said, ‘Sure.’ So I rented space for a month for $25 to give me time to figure out a way to get rid of it.
“I was friendly with a neighbour who I was also doing some maintenance work for,” Hall continues, “so I said, ‘Daryl, Mr. Kaneff has just given me his Mercedes. I don’t know what it’s worth, but would you like to buy it?’
He checked it out with Iggy, who is an abrupt man, and Iggy said. ‘It’s Clive’s car. He can do whatever he likes with it.’
So the neighbour said, ‘I’ll give you $32,000 for it.’ And I said, ‘Deal.’
“Mr. Kaneff said, ‘OK, I’m done with you. Now go and find your own way, and some day, at some point in time, help out someone else.’”
A 17-year-old with an extra $22,000 in his pocket, Hall immediately enrolled in marketing at Humber College and turned his first real estate deal using the technique Kaneff had taught him—to find a condominium builder and buy a unit from the blueprint, then sell it before you actually take possession. Hall put his downpayment on a $47,000 unit at a new development near Square One in Mississauga, then flipped it for $55,000 a month before closing. And then he did it again, and again. “I took two years off school, stayed home and worked full-time, while making $20,000 on the side every six months flipping homes.”
Hall finished college, enrolled in economics at the University of Guelph and bought his first real home in Oakville that same year…at age 22.
After graduating, he landed a job at the Royal Bank, providing business loans to new immigrants, before moving on to a junior sales job at Purolator Courier. That’s when the entrepreneurial spirit kicked in again. “I thought, ‘I could do this for myself,’” says Hall, who had FedEx set him up with an account and founded Stork Courier, where he focused internationally, using connections he’d made at the Royal Bank.
After building the company for four years, another opportunity presented itself when Hall encountered a former client who had lost his job at Beaver Lumber. “He said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do—I’m 60 and all I know is how to make caulking.’” It was time to pay it forward, and Hall said, ‘OK, let’s make caulking.’”
Hall financed the entire venture, but was unable to break into Brampton’s tightly knit business community—“They had their business model fixed,” he says. “So I thought, ‘We have to do something different. Everyone’s making their caulking with asbestos. So we found a replacement and got government certification. But the homebuilders still weren’t interested. My product was better, cheaper and lasted longer. Then I realized it wasn’t the product they weren’t interested in—it was me. So I hired a couple cute Italian girls and my sales went through the roof.”
Hall’s changing interests soon turned to furniture, where he locked down Ontario rights to U.S. giant Lane Home Furnishings. “We built a 20,000-square-foot store in Vaughan Mills and 12,000-square-foot store in Mississauga. Then Lane went belly up,” says Hall, who took a $1.5 million hit on the venture.
His furniture appetite not yet satisfied, Hall has now hooked up with Patterson. Implementing their 100 Mile theme by decorating the store with the works of local artists and striking an exclusive deal to carry only high-quality, solid-wood Mennonite-constructed furnishings, the duo is now the captain of their own ship. “We’re the manufacturer, finisher and retailer of our products, so we have control all the way through,” says Hall, whose company is far more competitive as a result.
While some might question the pair’s decision to start a new company last summer given the economic climate, Hall feels differently. “A recession is the best time to start a new business venture. If you have the finances to support it through the lean time, the business will also be lean. Our negotiated rates for everything is lower, and we’ve locked in fixed rates on everything for 10 to 12 years. So two years from now, if rates start to go up, we’ll still be able to offer consumers the same great value—and they’re already telling us that our prices are 25-30 percent lower than the competition for the quality we sell.”
Life can be a grind with only Patterson and himself to run the floor, but it’s time worth investing, Hall believes.
“Something’s going to develop here,” he says confidently. “Maybe we’ll meet someone interesting and go off in another direction. I don’t know where I’ll be five years from now, but I’ll be selling something to somebody, and they will have fun, and they’ll make some money at it and I will make some money at it.”