By Sharon A.M. MacLean
Grocery store tycoon Teresa Spinelli is a role model for women in business–- men, too.
I remember meeting Teresa for the first time nearly 13 years ago in the summer of 2002. We sat for coffee outside her famous Italian food store on the sidewalk and talked about business. She stole my heart that day because the business leader was so open about her challenges, yet, animated about possibilities for the future. It was surprising to me that we shared so many insights despite the largesse of her enterprise. Teresa had inherited the responsibility for running the Italian Centre Shop after the passing two years earlier of her legendary father, Frank. Her brother passed away in 1996 and it was left up to Teresa to carry on the family legacy.
Still, it was a bequest wrapped up in male machismo and tradition centered squarely in Edmonton’s Little Italy. Could a woman even stand a small chance of carrying on her thriving domain?
It’s not been an easy road for a daughter born with entrepreneurial DNA. Except, Teresa makes it sound like a breezy trip through the Tuscany Valley sipping a bottle of Chianti. Her long-time employees and father’s compatriots were accustomed to the old and trusted ways of doing business; they challenged her every step of the way.
This was Frank Spinelli’s daughter, though. Teresa Spinelli was intent on applying updated business techniques to a 40-year-old regime…re-inventing a management style to empower 370 employees from the ground up…reviewing merchandising practices that felt like they were engraved in stone…taking her marketing messages online for a new generation of shoppers…and taking financial risks that drove an old guard to criticize the female progeny of their hero.
It was obvious these men had missed how young Teresa kept up with her father’s quick pace on early buying trips. Father and daughter met suppliers together and she watched while Frank cut deals all day and night. Not to mention learning how to personally handle the sale of grape shipments for wine makers.
My respect for this woman in business runs deep—not least because she’s built a powerhouse enterprise. Maybe more for her continued openness, delight, and awe of the human spirit.
Today, the Italian Centre Shop boasts over $44 million in revenues per annum— nearly tripled in 10 years—by adding two grocery stores and a restaurant into the mix in Edmonton. A Calgary store is next to open during the summer of 2015 with her crackerjack team alongside. Here’s the link to her website. www.italiancentreshop.com
Yes, numerous laudatory stories have been written about Teresa Spinelli over the years. She’s been recognized for her business prowess by organizations throughout Canada, and she’s been feted by the food industry for championing Italian food and wine in various countries.
You think she might hold airs. Not Teresa. She can still be seen cashing at the register on a busy day or greeting long-time patrons with their first names in any of her coffee shops. And guess who’s cooking dinner for 50 members of her extended family and neighbours at the lake on Family Day. You got it.
Teresa doesn’t usually give advice—unless she’s asked. So, I probed her for some counsel on building a successful business. Here’s 3 tips for you:
- If you are working too hard IN your business, you have no time to work ON your business. If you want your business to grow, work ON your business;
- You cannot do it ALL. You have to ask for help;
- People, people, people. It is all about the people. Internal customers (otherwise known as staff) are as important as external customers.
Here’s a bonus tip from Mr. Frank Spinelli quoted 15 years after his passing at the 2015 Chamber of Commerce luncheon:
“It’s what you do in the good times that determine how well you perform in the bad times.”
Teresa says this about her father: “He was the best example I know of ‘the more you give, the more you get’”. She is her father’s daugher: I am a first-hand witness of how she keeps an eye on the inner-city kids in her neighbourhood. Those kids don’t always get a meal at home every night but they may get a warm dinner at Teresa’s place with her husband, Mike, and son, Massimo.
Luscious grapes don’t fall that far from the vine. They just transform into delicious wine. Like my friend, Teresa.
Life-long communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a traditional print magazine over 21 years for business people. She now applies her enhanced knowledge in digital marketing to the needs of her clients and believes in the value of combining the best of both worlds.
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