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Eye on the profits

BY Sonny Orr Oct 18, 2023

At least once a year I venture out of our traditional territory to wreak a little havoc in the lands of our southern brethren, the Hurons. It’s not really to wreak havoc but to learn and trade information for business development, something that’s kept me busy for the last 30 years. This year it’s about the transfer or acquisition of businesses. Sounds a little ho-hum for some but for me, it’s fodder for discussion and argument. 

Who wants to buy their daddy’s business that he worked on until his dying day? On his death bed, he tells his son you can have this sardine cannery that kept our family alive for the last 10 generations. The son, not too keen about smelling like sardines for the rest of his life, kindly said yes, and then worked on selling the family heirloom business. 

Lo and behold, it seemed that not too many people think that owning a cannery is such a cool idea. They would rather fish using the latest technology and have their 26-inch prize-winning fish posted on Facebook, rather than having to filet millions of tiny fish barely the size of your middle finger. Aarrgh! Why didn’t daddy own a penthouse condo instead? 

As my training goes on, it seems that this is now a typical situation. No one really wants to work for a living. Being a business owner doesn’t automatically make you rich, however, unless the tax man assesses you and declares that you are worth a lot more than you think – so cough up buddy! I often reply, “Tax? What’s that?”

Another peeve of mine that has to do with buying out a business, is how is it that this business is worth so much today and a lot more in the future? It’s all about the belief that newer is better. But in the fish business, the same old fish will continue to make do forever, or so it seems. Nothing’s more reliable than having a fish come back to its spawning waters to replenish your bank account. I remember a similar situation when the cod nearly met its demise from overfishing. Being the number one fish for your palate does have its disadvantages.

Consider a case study in which you had to buy out an old, oily garage stocked with broken equipment, cases of tire plugs (a staple in communities without pavement) and a 1965 Dodge Charger rusting in the backyard. After analysis by us economic development people, it was revealed that the business was as worthless as the Dodge Charger. 

According to the valuation, it was fit for the pit. But to my trained eye, the Dodge could be worth $200,000 after restoration costs of 30 grand. So, I would recommend buying all the scrap and garbage for nothing and 10 months later profit from the sale of a shiny classic car. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

Our big problem up north is that there aren’t many businesses to buy. Maybe there’s a lot of chip stands, as poutine is a major money maker here. So I guess starting a potato farm might be a good idea. If you have a green thumb and enough land that doesn’t have rock or sand to eke out a small plantation from, you should be good in about 20 years. 

But today no one wants to wait 20 minutes, much less 20 years to make any money. Why bother when getting a job is a lot easier and far more profitable. That is if you are a good money manager or budget conscious enough to know that saving money today is good for tomorrow’s groceries, which is about what a paycheck can cover in these inflationary days. 

If you want to go into business the easy way, just buy one that’s up for sale,. Once you get tired of it, you can resell it for (most likely a loss) and relive your experience in the bedtime stories you tell your grandchildren. Or tell anyone else who wants to hear the large profit you made in the first three weeks of business before it crashed and before the bank took everything back because you forgot about the deposit for the 20th time. So have fun making a profit this year! 

Signing off from an informative workshop somewhere in southern Quebec, I remain still somewhat profitable.

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Sonny Orr is Cree from Chisasibi, and has been a columnist for the Nation for over 20 years. He regularly pens Rez Notes from the cozy social club in Whapmagoostui where he resides.