What does it take to achieve your dream?

Becky McKinnon: Never give up — No. 10

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It’s 1990. Both men and women sport long hair, the economy has little steam and it’s not cool to drink coffee. Not for long, bets Becky McKinnon, president of Timothy’s World Coffee. As she sees the coffee renaissance percolating just over the horizon, she prepares for a little daredevilry. She’s venturing into New York City. There, other Canadian companies have failed horribly.

There, high rent is really high rent. The risk and the big bucks unnerved McKinnon and her management, so for months they mulled over whether Timothy’s should emphasize its fancy espresso drinks, Starbucks-style. It’s a debate they don’t take lightly: the company was founded in 1975 by Timothy Snelgrove on the premise that people would, if given the chance, savour fresh-brewed coffee as if it were fine wine. “We debated a long time about de-emphasizing the brewed coffee,” recalls McKinnon, 54. “In the end, we decided we really should stick to what we know.”

Trust your instincts
Not giving up proved a smart move. The original New York City Timothy’s did such killer business that she added another store six months later. And long term? Despite tight competition from Second Cup and Starbucks, Timothy’s now has 160 stores across Canada and the U.S. (two-thirds of which are franchised), 500 employees, its own coffee-roasting plant and annual revenues of $49 million.

McKinnon’s determination, like her company, wasn’t born — it evolved. When she joined Timothy’s in 1979, she had no intention of sticking around for long. As a mom with zero business experience, McKinnon agreed to help out family friend Snelgrove by doing some part-time bookkeeping.

By 1985, idea-oriented Snelgrove itched to start another company. But when a buyer offered to take over Timothy’s, McKinnon, by then a one-third partner, said no. Instead, she and her family raised the cash to buy out Snelgrove and McKinnon stepped in as president. “Sometimes you just have to believe in something enough to see it through.”