April 20, 2011
This week we feature a very special Buzz Talk guest. Gerald Yaffe started selling medical supplies while still in school (and we don’t mean university) and went on to found what is now Kit Care Corporation, a worldwide leader and innovator in the occupational health and safety marketplace.
We discussed the safety equipment every condo resident should make sure their building has, the best cities in the world to vacation, and the early days of Mr. Yaffe’s remarkable entrepreneurial career.
BuzzBuzzHome: What’s Kit Care Corporation?
Gerald Yaffe: Kit Care Corporation, which was formerly Safety House of Canada, has been in business for fifty years. We’re a manufacturer and distributor of workplace health and safety products to industry, government, condominiums, hotels, retailers, etc. We’re unique within the marketplace in that we not only provide the products but also educate users as to how to best use them, which in this business is essential.
BBH: What are some common safety concerns that you hear from condo owners and how can they best be addressed?
GY: Condo owners, being stakeholders in the building itself must realize that their facility falls under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Condo-owners themselves should be concerned with protecting what are, after all, their employees – whether they be contract of permanent – from accidents that may occur on the job site.
In addition to that, the owners should, in common, possess proper fire protection and medical equipment, including a first aid kit, a defibrillator, and oxygen. Very soon the Ontario Legislature will pass Bill 41, which will make it mandatory for defibrillators to be in all workout and health club facilities, which most condos have these days.
What condo owners should know is that in scenarios wherein they’re called to administer first aid, they are protected personally in Ontario by the Good Samaritan Act and, in regards to the use of defibrillators, by the Chase McEachern Act (Heart Defibrillator Civil Liability).
BBH: What should condo owners make sure they ask the property manager before buying?
GY: I think as a group condo owners should ask for a demonstration of how the first aid equipment works. Although the equipment is simple to use, there may still be questions and concerns that need to be addressed. I would think that a good property manager would bring in the supplier, like ourselves, to present the product to the stakeholders so that everyone understands how it is the equipment works, should it be needed.
BBH: So Kit Care Corp., is actually going out into the field and giving these presentations?
GY: Yes, its one of our three pillars of organization: the superior line of equipment, the maintenance of that equipment, and the education of users of that equipment.
BBH: What interests you about your industry?
GY: Well, what satisfies me is knowing that I’m protecting the lives and property of our customers. This is true: I go to sleep at night knowing that people working while I’m sleeping are protected and will go home the same way they arrived at work. In addition, there are business owners who know that their property is well protected and that their business will be there tomorrow morning.
BBH: Changing things up a bit, where is your favourite vacation destination?
GY: Busy cities: New York, Miami, London. I must be kept on the go!
BBH: So you’re not the kind of guy who likes to sit on the beach for a week?
GY: Well, I am, sometimes if that’s what the trip is all about. But my preference is to be kept busy in a new city.
BBH: We hear you’ve got a vault of amazing stories – Is there one specific story that you’ve told the most at dinner and cocktail parties?
GY: I started my company when I was sixteen years old, so as you can imagine I’ve got some great stories from the early days – most of which can be teachable moments for people starting their own business.
For example, I used to go to the vice-principal’s office over the noon hour to use the phone to call customers to take orders for what I called “the late afternoon delivery” – which actually consisted of me making deliveries with my father’s car after school. The vice-principal allowed me to use his office because I let him believe that perhaps there were some family problems going on (it helped that my first call would be to my Mom to get all my messages from throughout the morning).
All my supplies and inventory was kept on shelves in my bedroom. So whereas most of my friends had pictures of hockey players and cars in their rooms, I had shelves of inventory – boxes of band aids and things like that. [Laughs] My first warehouse! Once at about 6 o’clock in the morning one of the Lebovic brothers, who were big-time Toronto developers, phoned me and was surprised that I answered. They said “Wow, you get to the office early.” I said “Yes, I like to be the first one here.” They had their first aid kit by 8 o’clock that morning.
BBH: Did that happen to be one of your first sales?
GY: Well, actually I started off by pursuing sales at businesses owned by friends of my parents but then soon after decided that if I was to start at the bottom of the ladder – which I did – I may as well also start at the bottom of Toronto itself, so I drove my father’s car to the foot of King Street West and Dufferin Street and knocked on the door of a business called Amalgamated Iron and Metal Company.
I walked in and was greeted by a man named Mr. Goodman who told me, “Look, I don’t need anything in the way of safety supplies but my horse needs salt tablets and alcohol. Do you have that?” So I said, “Why yes, Mr. Goodman, that’d be our Veterinarian Division. You’ll have it tomorrow morning.” I left, went to a drug store and bought the salt tablets and a gallon of alcohol and brought it over the next day.
He was impressed by the speed I was able to deliver the stuff for his horse and said “Can I ask you a question, how long have you been in business?” “Well,” I told him, “I could lie and tell you many years but actually, when I came in yesterday I had been in business for about three hours. And if you look at the invoice I just handed you, you’ll notice its number 000001.”
BBH: No way!
GY: He disappeared into his back office area and came back about five minutes later and said “I want you to go to 5187 Dixie Road and ask for Mr. Albert.” I drove there on dusty roads through what was then farm country, worrying the whole way about how much of my dad’s gasoline I was using. Anyway, I got there and saw the biggest factory I had ever seen, all by itself in the countryside. I walked in and told the receptionist I was there to see Mr. Albert, and a few minutes later the door swung open and Mr. Albert strode in. He said, “you’re Gerald Yaffe.” I said “Yes.” He said “I was told you’d be coming. Mr. Goodman told me that from now on I’m to buy everything from you.”
This was like winning the lottery! [Laughs] The moral of the story is don’t depend on your relatives and friends – and bang on those doors!
BBH: Sounds like good advice for any young entrepreneur. . .
GY: Another story that comes to mind from those early days is when I stopped into the Toronto branch of Texas Instruments on a sales call. The gentleman in charge of their building said they were looking at adding and stocking a complete medical room. I was taken aback and asked them why. He responded that they had to have one under law. I explained that under the Workman’s Compensation Act they needed a first aid kit and a stretcher and two blankets because they had fewer than 200 employees on-site. It turned out that two other suppliers had told him that the Act said otherwise.
The guy was shocked. But eventually he thanked me for being honest and put in an order for what they needed. A week later he phoned me at 8 o’clock in the morning (of course, I was in the ‘office’) and he said, “We had a terrible incident an hour ago. A man lost his arm in one of our machines. And I know we only have 33 employees in Toronto and I know I don’t require a full medical room, but I want one and I want it fully stocked.”
It took me a full day to write out all the orders, and eventually the bill came to – keep in mind this is 1961 – $8700. That order bought me my first car – for about $2500 – which I paid for in cash. But to this day, I think it’s good business practice to sell the customer what they need, and not necessarily what they want.
Many thanks to Mr. Gerald Yaffe for taking the time to chat with us!