Calvin Johnson | Developing a Costco Home Delivery Service Company, Adventure Travel, and Building Great Company Culture

Calvin Johnson 10:36

really came out of likey. And we had a kind of a charity component to our business called Lucky for good. We did a lot of things locally, like Children’s Hospital, but we also did some things internationally. And long story I won’t get into now. But I was introduced to Nicaragua, and went down and built some homes there. So there’s an area in Nicaragua called Crystal Ray, which is an open pit garbage dump with about 10,000 people that live in extreme poverty. So through likey, we created a program where for every dollar we sold, we would donate a liter of sea, clean drinking water, and every piece of fruit we sold we would donate a piece of fruit to the food program. So through likey, for good, that was part of our tour. Also, some people came in wanting to understand how to do kind of grassroots giving. And, and then from the tours, people would say, Well, the next time you go down and build homes, we want to come Iovers, right. And then the era started bringing their teenage kids saying, you know, my kids need to see this. And so my friend came to my forum group. We thought, wow, this is kind of getting out of hand, like a lot of people really want to come. So we spun it off into this travel adventure company called ClubNeed, which, you know, today kind of really focuses around EO’ers and YPO hours and form groups and, and taking them down. Our signature trip is Nicaragua, to build some homes, but also see the rest of Nicaragua, which you know, there’s world class stuff there. And we’ve expanded it to other adventure tour companies now doing things for form groups, like we run like an amazing race style event in Maui. For four days, it’s like just insanity for these form groups.

John Corcoran 12:20

SO glad you brought it up. I was gonna ask you about that. Now. This is basically they don’t know what they’re doing. They just arrived in Maui. And do you own them for four days and talk a little bit about ours?

Calvin Johnson 12:31

Exactly. Well, what I have to say is the feeling, or the response that we get is like, all these ears, you know, they’re all personalities, they all want to be in control. So it’s the most uncomfortable feeling for them, not knowing what they’re doing, not knowing where they’re going, not knowing what’s happening next. So literally, you know, we don’t show up with a backpack. And there’s, you know, several events that they have to do as a group. If they don’t complete it as a group, usually eight people in the forum group, right? Then there’s penalties. So, prior to starting the trip, they each put up $2,500 cash. And if the group doesn’t complete a task, then they’re penalized in cash, which of course, every you know, every entrepreneur doesn’t want to lose cash. So we found that we needed the cash component, because it was too easy for them just to say, oh, you know, I’m afraid of heights, I’m not gonna propel down that waterfall. But instead, the group had to complete it as a group to complete the challenge or they get penalized, then it worked. It’s pretty, it’s pretty fun. It forms groups of tours and is the most memorable event they’ve ever done. 

John Corcoran 13:40

I have to say, You must be really good at sales because I asked you to remember when we did a call before if you had a video and he said, I don’t make videos of it. So you have no video? No website? People have to show up. They have no idea what they’re paying you extra amounts that they might lose entirely. Yeah. Sounds like a heck of a sales pitch.

Calvin Johnson 14:02

Yeah, yeah. When you put it that way. Yeah. But I mean, anybody listening that is in a forum group, you know, you’re desperate to find something cool to do if you’re the forum moderator and it’s your job to put on something as long as it hits your budget. And you know, they probably have got some references. They know it’s gonna be a great kick ass time. So. So now that I’ve sold my company, we’re gonna focus more on creating some new trips, a Whistler challenge and Nika challenge. And then we’ll keep the Maui challenge. So expand some of those.

John Corcoran 14:33

And speaking of travel, you were in Sri Lanka, doing workshops shortly before COVID Hit talked a little bit about that experience.

Calvin Johnson 14:42

Yeah, I was in India for an EO global event and then went to Sri Lanka for a forum or a chapter event. Those were great. And yeah, just flying back through Hong Kong and everybody’s wearing masks and in the airport, they’re taking your temperatures and. And so when I came back to Vancouver, I was telling people because I was really on the, on the early side of COVID and said, Yeah, this, this, this doesn’t look good. They’re like, Oh, no, no, it’s that far away. It’s not gonna affect us. I hope the same thing doesn’t play out with Ukraine, then when people say, Ah, it’s halfway across the world, it’s not gonna affect us. It’s like, I don’t

John Corcoran 15:19

know. And how did it affect your business? COVID

Calvin Johnson 15:26

Yeah, when when, you know, short story when COVID hit, you know, our sales tanked 85% 85% overnight. Yeah, yeah, march 17 ending. And we climb back to about 5050 60%, somewhere in there, over time. But luckily, in Canada, we had some subsidies, I’m sure my kids are gonna pay for it and taxes for the rest of their life. But, you know, we had subsidies that paid 75% of our payroll and 75% of our rent, and that kept us on life support. And, and, and so we, you know, we decided we were looking to sell, we actually worked with an m&a company, we were looking to sell pre COVID, we were all wrapped up and, and had some good ello eyes, and I kind of parked it, because we were really ramping on the office coffee side of our business, which has higher multiples, so we thought, well, we’ll just park it for a bit, we, you know, put the toe in the water and got some good offers, but we thought we could do better. And obviously, that didn’t pan out. 

John Corcoran 16:25

So there must have been some time there where you’re like, Okay, this is where it comes to it, like 30 years of building this business. And it’s gonna go put,

Calvin Johnson 16:35

yeah, yeah, we were right. My wife worked in the business. That’s an interesting story in itself. All good. But a lot of ER workers are asked, How do you make that work? Yeah. But, you know, my wife and I sat down a year ago and said, Okay, well, we really have two paths, we have to go back to the market to the people who got otherwise from it a bit of a tale of Gen X, and try and get a deal done. And at the same time, talk to bankruptcy lawyers. So we’re either gonna bankrupt it, or try and get a deal done. And, and, you know, long story short, that, luckily, the heavens opened up and, and one of the Fortune 500 companies that had come to Canada, and we’re doing a massive roll up, even pre COVID. And when they looked at us, we just weren’t quite the right fit. So they’re Worchester money they spent on other other companies, my buddy, he was bought, he had a similar business. And, and so in 2021, when I called the CEO back and said, hey, you know, any opportunities and, and basically, on the phone, he’s like, how much do you want? Throw the number? He goes, Yeah, okay, let’s just get this thing done.

John Corcoran 17:51

Like, compared with a number, did you just kind of,

Calvin Johnson 17:54

I did, I kind of just tweaked the multiples a bit, you know, and I was gonna be prepared to argue that, you know, let’s not talk pre us, let’s not talk COVID numbers, let’s kind of talk pre and post COVID. And, and argue that point. And it was a bit of a haircut of what we were going to market for pre COVID. But not far off. And, you know, we had good assets. And, you know, there’s two sides when you’re selling to that, you know, what does the other side want? And now, in retrospect, looking back, what did they want, they wanted an instant plug and play company, you know, they knew we had great high culture, they took all our people, you know, we had great customers, because we had great customer service. So it was an easy plug and play acquisition, in comparison to that CEO, I think has done like 3040 acquisitions across Canada. And I’m sure some of them were just painful. And ours was just ready to go. So we talked to him, you know, in kind of March last year, and we had a signed deal money in the bank by May, May May 17. Well, the deal was done in three months.

John Corcoran 19:04

Wow. Now you had a mountain of different pivots in this business where it kind of changed from one thing to another, but still selling your business is one of those big things that you often only go through once or twice in your career. You mentioned you had a friend who’d been through it before. What was it like going into that experience? Not having I don’t think having been through selling a business certainly of this size before and And who did you lean on? Was it that friend, were there others that you leaned on that were helpful in guiding you through it?

Calvin Johnson 19:37

Yeah, you know, I got great advice right off the bat that kind of shocked me is that you know if you want to sell your business you really need to start two three years in advance and you know, all the reasons for that probably the one of the biggest ones was that you know, whatever your whatever your EBITDA is, you know, times your multiple is kind of your money in your pocket. So you want to Be on this hockey stick kind of curve in the right direction, you know, when you’re ready to sell, don’t, don’t try and sell in a panic mode. So I’d spent a couple years prior to that, just preparing and learning and asking, and again, you know, back to, you know, asking my mates and other people in EO. And it’s not hard with entrepreneurs or as a pretty small clicky group. So you just need to throw it out there on LinkedIn isn’t who’s sold a business, I need to talk to you. And I got tons of great advice from you know, your m&a lawyer is probably one of your key guys and clean up your books, and, you know, make sure you get the right type of accounting and all those all those good things. So when we did go to market, like I said that first time, we were, you know, pretty prepared. And that’s the reason why when I came back to the market and called that CEO, you know, we had everything ready, ready to roll?

John Corcoran 20:54

Yeah. And was there a part of you that was just kind of ready to move on and do something new? Yeah,

Calvin Johnson 21:00

100%, you know, I had my 50th birthday, and I went to Denmark to study happiness in the workplace. And then I went to Bhutan. And, you know, when I came back, I’m like, Yeah, I’m just not happy doing this. I’ve been doing a long time for another, another chapter in my life. You know, there’s a neat statistic to that, that only 30% of businesses that try and sell actually sell. I remember reading that one time, so even if you want to sell, and a lot of times, I found in that number, though a lot of times it is because the owners, the entrepreneurs, they pull it off the table. I know, oh, my god, what am I gonna do? This is my identity. You know what, what’s my next chapter? I don’t have anything to do, I don’t want to retire, I’m too young. So a lot of times they pull it off, and then keep going.

John Corcoran 21:44

Well, and one of the hard parts about selling is that you put all this effort into building this culture, whether you like it or not, the culture is probably going to change somewhat. There’s gonna be changes afterwards. Were there any parts of you? It hasn’t been that long since you sold? But were there any moments? 24 hours later? A few weeks later you were like, What did I do?

Calvin Johnson 22:04

Yeah, no, I mean, you know, you take COVID into perspective. So I was like, Thank God, I missed the, you know, dodged a bullet on that one. But I think in regular times, yeah, it probably would have been a little scarier. Right. You know, in, in everything you’ve built and how it’s gonna get how it’s gonna get changed out. So, we were just lucky to get a deal done. So I didn’t go there.

John Corcoran 22:27

Right. We’ll talk now about your focus on ClubNeed and Culture Kitchen and what you’re excited about with those items with those two initiatives?

Calvin Johnson 22:37

Yeah, yeah, definitely with ClubNeed, you know, really ramping up, I think that travel is going to be a big boom, moving forward, things are slowly opening up. So it might take another year or so. And just really excited about, you know, tying in our charity, beside impact charity, and bringing people down and showing them how possibly they could create doesn’t have to be Nicaragua. But I think the most gratifying experience that we’ve had is, business owners and showing them how they can create, you know, purpose in their business and translate that to their staff by creating something of value in the charity side. So we’ll keep that going. And I love working with form groups and ears and wipr so cackle wrong there.

John Corcoran 23:28

And then on The Culture Kitchen side, that’s your workplace happiness research, speaking, coaching, workshops, retreats,

Calvin Johnson 23:34

yeah, my biggest fear there honestly, has been, you know, I’ve collected all this information and you know, it’s a big passion of mine and if I don’t do something to keep talking about it, and sharing that, then I’m just gonna lose it, I feel I have a lot of value to give. So you know, I don’t know if it’s not a huge business by any means. You have no single public speaker kind of thing, maybe write a book or something, but kind of a collector of ideas sort of. I feel like there is a lot of value there. So the few companies that I’ve worked with, I think I’ve seen great value. So you know, people need a little happier workplace I think especially now with the great migration or whatever you want to call it. I think there’s really challenging times for business owners right now. You know, everything from supply chain to hiring and so if you can get even one or two little tips and tricks from myself or anybody I think it can be a game changer sometimes.

John Corcoran 24:32

Yeah. And speaking that now you have a wall of books behind you different books that you probably recommend for someone who’s listening to this as a business and wants to build a happier workplace and wants to invest in a better culture. What do you say to them? What do you tell them to get started with?

Calvin Johnson 24:52

Yeah, you know, of the books you see behind me. You know, any business that isn’t run Sorry, how do I say this, you know, without pissing people off, but you know, every business needs to be organized. And the people that come to work for you are, you know, expecting consistency. So I think the best place to start I mean, Happiness isn’t about free fruit, and nap rooms have nothing to do with that. And sure, it has to do with respect, and all those other great things too. But it’s just consistency. I’ll give you an example, my 18 year old son, and he’s working for a company. And he’s just had his three month review. And he’s like, Dad, like, nobody’s approached me, nobody’s come up to me and said, hey, when do I get my three month review? I’ve been here three months, and, and I just keep working every day, like, I don’t know, what should I do. So consistency in a business. And in the EO world, people talk about Rockefeller Habits, which is a great book, and out of that is called Scaling Up. So if you look up scaling Up, and then there’s also another one called Traction. And basically, if you read those, I’d kind of suggest Traction, it’s probably a little bit easier. But basically, it’s just a rhythm in your business, that the whole company understands what’s going on. And a great little test would be when we had these tours come through our business. We kind of had mentioned this, I said, you know if you can pick the person that’s been in our business the least amount of time, maybe they just started two weeks ago, and you walk up to them and say, Hey, what’s going on in this business? What’s happening in this business? Of course, the worst thing you’d want them to say is like, Hell if I know, like, nobody tells me anything. Imagine that you’ve been there. 20 years, sometimes you get that crotchety old guy, right. Sure. Yeah. So that was always a benchmark for us so that at any stage everybody in our company would know, you know, what’s happening in the business, what’s happening with them personally, what’s happening with them and their team and a lot that goes back to this communication like huddles, having huddle every day, having a all hands meetings where everybody attends. So I think happiness really ties down to the first one you know, just great communication that people know why they’re coming to work. And then you layer purpose on that. Why am I coming to work if I’m coming to work just to pick orders? Or am I coming to work? Because you know, every dollar we sell, there’s a leader of safe clean drinking water for somebody Nicaraguan and I know all about that charity and the people there and why they’re so important. So creating purpose and communication are two great ones.

John Corcoran 27:28

It’s great, Calvin, this has been really interesting. Journey. Love hearing your story. And I look forward to what the next chapter looks like for you. Any final thoughts? Any words of wisdom that we didn’t cover? Because you, you, you work on so many different things?

Calvin Johnson 27:46

I don’t know. Right. Right now I’m thinking about just Ukraine.

John Corcoran 27:51

Yeah, I mean, there’s a lesson in that right. You know, how difficult it can be to put one foot in front of the other when world events seem to be spiraling out of control.

Calvin Johnson 28:02

It’s a small, small world as everybody’s very interconnected together. So we just have to remember that.

John Corcoran 28:07

Yeah. Calvin, where can people go to learn more about you and connect with you?

Calvin Johnson 28:13

So That’s my speaking site and would be for the adventure travel, and I’m on LinkedIn, Calvin Johnson on LinkedIn is a great place to reach me.

John Corcoran 28:25

Excellent. Calvin. Thanks so much. 

Calvin Johnson 28:26

Hey, great.

Outro 28:27

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at And while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast.