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When should small business owners make major changes?

Customer feedback a common catalyst for rebranding or altering business focus
Pacific Yacht Charters' new owners bought the company in early 2014 and have just completed a rebranding | submitted

Business owners who buy enterprises face the same conundrum.

Is it best to immediately leave an indelible stamp on the venture with changes that alert the world that the business has new management?

Or is it best to maintain the status quo and wait a year or two while gaining a better understanding of what works and what needs to be improved?

“It all depends on the reputation that the business has,” said Rob Carol, a small-business coach who owns his own practice.

“If a restaurant is getting poor reviews, then putting a sign up that says ‘New management’ could encourage people to give it a second try. 

If the business is an ongoing concern, and people are used to having good service at a particular location, whether it’s a lawn service or a restaurant or a hair salon, they want to know that there is reliability and continuity of service.”

In most cases, he said, the best strategy is to wait.

Kim Galavan did not get coaching from Carol, but she acted in line with his advice when she bought a yacht-charter business in February 2014 with friend Bill Smith.

The two spent millions of dollars to buy Sunset Bay Yacht Group Ltd. from longtime owner James Hodgson.

The company was in a growing industry and faring well against competitors, such as Magic Yacht Charters, Vancouver Yacht Charters, and Accent Cruises.

Galavan had access to lists of customers who had previously booked cruises with Sunset Bay, and she and her team phoned them to find out what they thought about their experience and what they thought could be improved.

That communication convinced Galavan that what people wanted was an even higher-end experience than what was on offer.

She and Smith then spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to give their yacht a complete makeover.

Improvements included a new paint job, carpets, kitchen equipment and light fixtures. They also bought new dining room tables, linen, dishes, cutlery and other on-board essentials.

They hired Chefdbrown Consulting Ltd. principal Darren Brown to develop a menu, and Michael Earland came on board to be the executive chef.

Other new recruits amped up marketing, operations, sales and event organization.

Ballentine Media was then hired to oversee a rebranding campaign.

Galavan officially renamed the company Pacific Yacht Charters in May. She thought that name was more accurate given that not all of her company’s charter cruises were at sunset.

She knew that she would lose the brand recognition that Sunset Bay had fostered, but Galavan said a new name would let people know that there was a significant upgrade in the company’s on-board experience.

Ballentine Media designed a new logo for the company that conveyed high-end dining on a ship. It features an image of a porthole that doubles as a plate. In the middle of the porthole, which is between a knife and a fork, is a fish.

“Sometimes with a rebranding, you could look at 20 or 30 attempts to convey something and not get close,” Galavan said. “The logo that we chose was the first one that [Ballentine] showed me, and it was just excellent.”

Gaining top-of-mind recognition among wedding planners and others was Galavan’s next priority.

She invited hundreds of guests to a launch party in June. Next month, she is scheduled to host a dinner for the B.C. chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an organization that mentors and educates women in the culinary industry.

“It’s a matter of just letting people know that we’re here,” Galavan said.

“A lot of event planners or wedding planners are familiar with us, but sometimes they need to be reminded.”•

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