By Lissa Alexander
Photos by Brian Argyle/Lissa Alexander
The little metal objects were glinting in the mall’s bright lights, as Lisa Hayward made her way toward the retail booth, eyes wide with anticipation.
“I actually ran out of my store, and I said, ‘What are you guys selling?’ Hayward explains. “And they said ‘Body jewelry’ and I said, ‘I have to be your manager.’”
Hayward was assistant manager of Randy River at Woodgrove Mall at the time. The booth being set up down the hallway from the store where she was working was called Culture Craze, and something about it completely intrigued her.
“Something was calling me to it, I can’t even explain it,” she says. “It wasn’t professional, I didn’t have anything planned. I just said, ‘I have to be your manager,’ and they just looked at me and said, ‘OK we’ll interview you tonight’, and the next day they offered me the job.”
The company was still in its infancy at this stage, and this was its fourth retail cart. Hayward remembers her friends and family thinking she was crazy at the time, leaving her job to work at a cart. But she was so excited about it; body jewelry was fairly new in the market, and Hayward loved its daring appeal and the opportunity for self-expression. “Something in my heart just told me I had to do it,” she professes.
That was the beginning of an epic journey for Hayward, filled with remarkable highs and daunting lows. As a young child, Hayward spent several years in Qualicum Beach, and now she has returned to the area and brought her company headquarters with her.
But before all that, her story in business begins at a children’s lemonade stand. It was there that Hayward fell in love with retail and understood what she could accomplish if she put her mind to it.
“She was doing combos or something out there,” says her dad Noel Hayward with a laugh, one of the founding partners of Quality Foods and the company president. He remembers Lisa as an ambitious child who would offer special deals at her childhood drink stands, out front of their house in Lantzville. “I think it was ‘Buy one, get one free,’” he adds. Lisa recalls one of her combos at an iced tea stand was ‘Buy two glasses of iced tea and receive a free flower.’
Lisa was born in Cranbrook, B.C. She moved to Qualicum Beach for four years when she was young, before moving to Lantzville. From the age of about six, she remembers heading out around the neighbourhood selling her drawings and popcorn.
Her first ‘real job’ was with her dad at Quality Foods. Things were going well until she decided to get her tongue pierced. She was only 14. “It was a shock,” her dad chuckles. “A little bit of shock value there for sure.” Apart from her not getting her parent’s permission, Noel told Lisa she would have to remove it as employees weren’t allowed to wear body jewelry.
“It was either I take it out, or stop working there, so I quit,” Lisa remembers. Her parents were more upset about how she went about it, she clarifies.
“She was pretty young to have it without parent’s permission,” Noel remembers. He also recalls Lisa being a leader among her peers, organizing beach parties for example.
Lisa credits her dad with instilling a good work ethic in her, and says he was always open to talking about business with her. Her parents didn’t offer her handouts, she explains, and her mom taught her the importance of family, and work-life balance.
Lisa was 20 when she started working as a Culture Craze manager. Although a year later she was having a great time, she figured it was probably time to head to university. However, another opportunity presented itself. The owners suggested Lisa buy a franchise, and within a few months, she was living in Edmonton.
Within two years she was running three stores, in Edmonton, Red Deer and Grand Prairie. The owners had grown their company bigger than they had imagined, and Lisa had big plans for its future. In 2007, she purchased the corporation from them.
“It went really well,” she says, explaining that she was able to pay back her loan within five years, as planned. She opened eight more locations, which were a variety of stores, carts and kiosks. She and her team created a new website, new inventory, and made some major improvements, she explains. “We were on fire. For the first eight years of business I didn’t go a quarter without making profits.”
At the height of Culture Craze’s success, Hayward had 24 stores open in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. And then the economy crashed. Alberta was hit hard, and Hayward had to make the difficult decision to close nine locations in that province.
As business dwindled, so did her enthusiasm and confidence. During the following years, as she fought tooth and nail to keep her remaining stores open, she found it difficult to be up front with staff about it.
“Losing money was one thing but not being a true leader was 100 per cent the hardest thing; not being authentic, and a believable leader. I wasn’t leading; I was dying.”
Lisa says she felt shame surrounding her business choices, until she “flipped the switch” and came to the realization that her business struggles were lessons. She began to think that she was lucky to have such a problem, and decided she must fight for her employees.
“I realized, wow, I have a company to save.” She was invited to give a talk at a local Daring to Share event by friend Scott De Freitas-Graff and says that helped her own her story, and bolstered her confidence.
Her next step had been a dream of hers for many years. To appear on CBC’s Dragon’s Den and snag an investment from one Canada’s most renowned entrepreneurs.
She made it through the auditions and flew to Toronto with her Mom and her girlfriend Lindsay Cake for the big day, which also coincided with her 35th birthday. As soon as she arrived at the studio, she felt like she was part of something big.
“My mom and Lindsay and I were in giggles that day,” she says. “Although I was stressed out, I was having a great time.”
Lisa’s pitch went well, the Dragons were very impressed with her and her passion for business, and she ended up persuading two of the female dragons, Manjit Minhas and Michele Romanow, to invest for a share in her company. Although all deals don’t necessarily go through, she is happy to have had the experience and the exposure, and says she’s optimistic about working with the Dragons.
And there was also a surprise during the show. Her girlfriend Lindsay proposed to her on the set. “I got in contact with one of the producers, Lisa had no idea,” Lindsay explains. “I was planning on doing it anyway, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity.” It was difficult hiding the ring from Lisa, since they share everything, Lindsay chuckles.
Lisa and Lindsay became reacquainted three years ago, and Lisa says they fell in love instantly. The two attended high school together but weren’t friends at the time. Lindsay says Lisa has the biggest heart. She puts everyone before herself, and she always sees the good in people, she adds.
Today there are 14 Culture Craze locations, four in B.C., six in Alberta, two in Saskatchewan and two in Manitoba. To be able to pull through when times were really tough and become more efficient in business is a great feat, says her dad Noel. “She’s very smart. I’m very proud of her,” he professes.
Lisa’s children Ava and Lorenzo LaFauci have begun following in her footsteps. Ava wants to set up a table next to her mom’s booth at the Summer by the Sea street market and create a Kid’s Club for colouring and crafts. Enzo wants to sell plants.
“Both of my kids are really into business,
and I really hope that one day they will want to work for me, but they will probably
think that tattoos and piercings are lame,” Lisa laughs.
SUPPORTERS AND ALLIES OF LGBTQ
Lisa believes it’s important to have a business mentor. She and her mentor, Kevin Armstrong, are part of group that meets and reports on business, asks questions and gives insight. That concept of learning and sharing business information is something Lisa says she’s interested in starting locally.
Her advice to new business owners would be to ask questions, don’t pretend like you know everything, and be vulnerable. “Don’t fake it ‘till you make it,” she says. “That is a waste of time.”
Lisa is looking forward to connecting more with the local community, sharing her business values, and being supporters and allies of the LGBTQ community. “I’m excited to use Culture Craze to create a warm safe place for people to be themselves. And of course, I’m looking forward to my wedding,” she adds with a smile.
Culture Craze in Woodgrove Centre is now located beside LUSH, near the Food Court. Lisa’s stores primarily sell body jewelry, but the Nanaimo store also has local clothing and accessories. For more information visit