Written as part of Ignite Fredericton‘s Business Profile Series while employed as Economic Development Intern (June-August 2014)
Chris Hotchkiss, Owner & Founder – Hotchkiss Home Furnishings
While some young people feel they need to exit New Brunswick in search of jobs, Chris Hotchkiss came here to create his own opportunities.
“I think Fredericton is growing, it’s in the middle of a little boom,” says Chris, who is the owner and founder of Fredericton business Hotchkiss Home Furnishings, a retail store that specialises in furniture and mattresses. Originally from Halifax, Chris worked for a furniture company while going to school and was eventually promoted to managing a large furniture store in Calgary. After the 2008 recession, times were hard and Chris wanted to make a change. Unlike many, he returned home to the Maritimes from out west where friends encouraged him to make a career move into the real estate industry. He decided against it and was determined to follow his passion, which was to open his own furniture store.
“Fredericton was a community where I could see my wife and I starting a family,” says Chris. “It was the first place we got a really great vibe that made us think hey, we could really settle down here… It could be a great place to grow our business and our family.”
After doing his research, Chris and his wife concluded that Fredericton was the best place in the Maritimes to start their family friendly business.
“That’s one thing about Fredericton, there’s lots of opportunities here… lots of room for innovation and exploration,” says Chris. “Things have already been done in bigger cities.”
Though there were some initial struggles, Hotchkiss Home Furnishings opened in September 2010 and since then, business has been booming.
“You can’t fund a business with good ideas alone, you need to be knowledgeable, passionate and able to prove to people that you can do it,” says Chris, who experienced difficulty when trying to move his startup off the ground, the biggest of those struggles being financing. Chris was turned down when he first applied for his SEED loan, but that further motivated him to re-evaluate his business plan, which was accepted on his second try.
“I’m an entrepreneurial spirited guy … and then finally with the help of places like Ignite, I was able to start up on my own,” says Chris, who then found another willing investor and was able to use the money he had raised to leverage more finances.
‘“This is where I can relate to people who are trying to get started. Us entrepreneurs are full of ideas about our businesses but really have no idea how to raise the money to start them.”
“There were a lot of closed doors, a lot of NOs, and lot of adversity. There was even one time where I almost walked away, but I kept pushing through, and it all worked out in the end,” says Chris.
Since opening in 2010, Hotchkiss’ business has met and exceeded all expectations. In 2012, they opened another location in Grand Falls, NB and are currently in the process of expanding their Prospect Street location to include appliances and a downstairs clearance centre. On opening day, Chris had only himself, one employee and the help of friends and family. Since then, the Hotchkiss team has grown to 14 individuals with plans to hire another three in coming months.
Because they are a younger generation of furniture stores, Chris says Hotchkiss Home Furnishings was really able to adapt to the new way of furniture shopping with an active presence through social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
“Fredericton is such a great place to network and build relationships with like-minded people, as opposed to bigger cities where you can easily get lost in the shuffle. You can really get out there and be an active member of the business community which allows you to leave your mark on this place,” says Chris, who describes Hotchkiss as a family business that treats people like family. “We want to build relationships with our customers, not just make a quick sale. We want these customers for life and look forward to interacting with them in the community.”
Although business is good, Chris says people often drive by and assume they’re just a little store. To rectify this, the business has rebranded, changing their signage and logo to better reflect their size and compete with big-box stores. Their goal is to eventually expand and make Hotchkiss Home Furnishings a true Maritime shopping destination.
“From being a sales manager at a furniture company to now running a business, there were a lot of things I needed help with, and Ignite played a monumental role in getting Hotchkiss Home Furnishings off the ground.”
Not only does Chris network with potential customers, but also he is an active member of Fredericton’s thriving and supportive startup community. He says he has made a lot of great contacts and friends who often meet up to discuss and help solve their own unique challenges.
“I think New Brunswick is a great place to do business, and find that work/family life balance,” says Chris. “It feels good to be a part of it.” “It’s amazing!”
BY: Nicola MacLeod, 2014 ED Intern