Chris Emery and Larry Finnson are a lesson in business perseverance. The high school pals and co-founders of the Clodhoppers and OMG’s brands of chocolate confections brought their story to the Yorkton Chamber of Commerce Annual Business Dinner October 2.
Amie Zamonsky, president of the Chamber, said she was very pleased with the presentation, which she characterized as “entertaining and funny,” but with a very important message for business people.
“You can succeed at anything if you put your mind to it,” she said. “They made me feel like I could do anything and have fun while you’re working as well.”
Chris and Larry first gained the national spotlight back in the late 1990s. The genius of their marketing efforts was their ability to turn their personalities and story into millions of dollars worth of free publicity.
The Clodhoppers brand was born in Emery’s garage from a recipe Chris’ grandmother, Edith Baker, used to make as a family treat.
They told the full house at St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Parish Cultural Centre how appearances on CBC’s Venture program and other shows, some high-risk financing, a chance meeting with Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott and investment by a Winnipeg venture capitalist allowed them to build the company into a multi-million dollar business and their product into one of Canada’s top candy brands.
Unfortunately, in doing so, they lost control of the company. The board decided to sell in 2006 having made them some money, but their investors much more.
After a few years of kicking around doing other things, Larry decided it was time to take another kick at the can and convinced Chris they were better together and the confection business was where they needed to be.
OMG’s was born, but once again they needed capital and publicity, so they turned to their old contact at CBC, Diane Buckner, which led to their now-famous appearance on Dragons’ Den.
Larry told the audience at St. Mary’s that they almost didn’t do it for fear of being ridiculed by Kevin O’Leary, the hit show’s bad boy greed-head.
“Then we thought, if we’re not willing to go on TV and make fools of ourselves, maybe we shouldn’t be in business,” Larry quipped.
Sure enough, O’Leary did not disappoint, attacking the partners over their valuation—$250,000 for a 30 per cent stake in the fledgling company with no sales. Three other dragons followed suit, but Arlene Dickinson—the one they were after in the first place—saw the marketing potential of both the men and their product. She offered them the quarter million for 50 per cent of the company.
Within months of making the deal, they had a manufacturing facility operating in Winnipeg and OMG’s was in Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaw stores across the country.
Juanita Polegi, executive director of the Chamber, said the learning opportunity for local businesses is just one of three elements of the annual dinner. It is also a chance to network and share the camaraderie of a good meal in a social setting. In all three respects, Polegi was satisfied with the event.
“I thought it went over very well,” she said. “Community support of the Chamber is much appreciated.”
The Chamber also continues to grow. In her opening remarks, Polegi welcomed nearly a dozen new members that have signed up since the organization went on summer Hiatus June 1.
She also sees visits by guest speakers as an opportunity to promote Yorkton. Earlier in the day, she and representatives from the City’s economic development department took Larry and Chris on a tour.
“They were very impressed by the city and its amenities, the light manufacturing and the beauty of the city,” she said. “They seemed to have a very genuine interest in the city. When these business leaders come to town, the City and the Chamber need to let them know we are open for business.”