We’ve all experienced that feeling: all packed for a trip away from home, we realize that we forgot something. Panic sets in with the prospect of turning all the way back for one simple thing. But those in rural western Canada no longer have that problem—Fields has made itself the one-stop-shop for the community. The retail giant’s CEO and president, Jason McDougall and Dean Petruk, spoke with Advantage about their working relationship, and how they are working to keep Fields an important fixture in the community.
You two have been in business on and off since you were teenagers. What was that like?
DEAN PETRUK: We both started our retail careers at the same time. I opened my first retail store when I was nineteen. Jason was one of my first vendors who came to sell me goods, and that’s really where our relationship began.
We’ve just really understood each other’s philosophies and been able to support each other along the way. It’s been a long journey, and it’s been exciting, positive, and challenging. We’ve had some forks in the road where we’ve had to take completely different directions because our businesses didn’t connect.
When the opportunity came from Jason for me to partner with him to buy Fields from Hudson’s Bay Company five years ago, it took me less than a minute to make the decision. While this process hasn’t been easy, we really need to know that we have each other’s backs. That’s been our success at the end of the day.
Stores across Western Canada
Years old-Founded in 1948 by Joseph Segal in Vancouver
Major product categories-Fields specializes in men’s, women’s, and children’s fashion; footwear; housewares; grocery; home fashions; sporting goods; toys; stationery; and seasonal
How do you two play off of one another to create initiatives at Fields?
JASON MCDOUGALL: I am more strategic and visionary, and Dean is geared more toward the execution and operations.
PETRUK: You could sum it up as Jason tends to be focused on things farther down the line, and I’m more about the immediate future, making sure the overall plan is being executed and is achievable.
MCDOUGALL: As an example, we initially bought Fields with the vision of eventually having our own distribution facility, and we made that happen about a year and a half ago. My strength came into play with the vision, but Dean executed all the things that made sure it came together.
PETRUK: We also take our life and past experiences into play. We really support each other and challenge each other. In our partnership, we’re constantly using checks and balances as a part of leadership to make sure that just because we’re doing something today, doesn’t mean it is necessarily is the right or best way for tomorrow. We know each of our comfort zones, and we also know where we need to be challenged.
Your goal is to ensure that Fields continues to be a major part of the communities it serves. How do you make sure that happens
MCDOUGALL: I’ll give you an example. We sent a bunch of Canada items to the stores to give away for the local Canada Day parade and the other events that were going on in the community. One of our towns built a new trail, and they needed park benches to go with the trail, so we sent those to them. We also supplied toys and water balloons for a local bible camp.
PETRUK: We recently had forest fires in Alberta in June that evacuated a whole city of ninety-thousand people. We had stores in that region that were directly impacted by that, and the stores became evacuation locations for those people. We acted with the community to find out their needs, and we deployed a team that actually flew up there and helped get the products to the people who were affected by the fires.
MCDOUGALL: We don’t do it for a particular reason other than that we think it’s great for the community.
PETRUK: We are also connected as a team. Our managers are in tune with what’s going on in the marketplaces, and they communicate back to us when our communities are in need. We reach out in those instances to supply support and goods to get the community through those difficult times.
“The best business model comes from asking how can you service your customer better. They determine whether you’re going to be successful or not.”
How do you use your backgrounds as farmers to complement each other and give Fields an advantage as you focus on rural markets?
MCDOUGALL: At heart, we are both farmers. I was born in small-town Saskatchewan, and raised on a farm even though I was allergic to everything there. Dean also had an upbringing where he was out on the farm. That’s part of our simplistic nature. We don’t have aspirations of fancy cars, houses, or planes. A lot of our strategy in targeting rural Canada has to do with being able to relate to our customers with that rural mentality.
PETRUK: It comes down to really understanding the needs and wants of the customer. We are not a one-size-fits-all company. There are some markets that have snow and really cold climates in the wintertime, and some get rain. We have to adapt accordingly to provide those goods and be able to support that. As a company, we’ve done a good job of not disconnecting customer needs and our business priorities.
We’re always challenging ourselves to really understand our customers and truly provide for them. That’s an ongoing challenge that we put front-and-center to make sure that those communities are supported with the proper merchandise and attitude. Our process, as we move forward,is really to focus on the rural markets.
MCDOUGALL: We’re in towns where we feel we can be an important part of the community, and it’s a symbiotic relationship. We’ll continue
to look at towns and move into places where that is the case. In the last
four years, we’ve closed or moved ten stores and opened fifteen. I think that speaks to how we strategically impact the community.
How have you two collaborated to create the best possible business plan for going into the rural markets?
MCDOUGALL: Continual testing. We also get out and talk to customers and to store managers who are in the communities every day. They give us the best clues to what is important. The best business model comes from asking how can you service your customer better. At the end of the day, they are the ones who determine whether you’re going to be successful or not.