By Brandon Gillet
He may not have taken an obvious path for a communications grad, but Adrien Lavoie (BA ’13) credits his uOttawa degree with helping him jumpstart a profitable e-commerce career selling running shoes.
“In building my brand, I’ve put a lot of emphasis on communicating clearly,” he said. “And that goes a long way toward earning the customer satisfaction that’s essential for any successful business.”
Lavoie now runs a million-dollar business with 85% annual growth in sales. Earlier this year, he was named Le Droit/Radio Canada personality of the week. He already has been recognized twice by eBay, where he operates as BoardshopW and has a 100% positive feedback rating. The e-commerce site recognized him in 2013 as its young entrepreneur of the year and in 2016 as micro-multinational of the year.
“About 85% of my sales are outside Canada, and I think eBay wanted to show that small companies can sell anywhere in the world,” said Lavoie, who has customers in 45 countries.
It all started when he was a uOttawa student working part time at a bicycle store in Hull, where he got an on-the-job introduction to e-commerce and a taste for entrepreneurship. “I was lucky to be there at a time when the owner was exploring e-commerce, so we all learned it together,” he said.
Once he had mastered the basics of selling online, Lavoie began doing so on his own to earn extra cash while still studying and living at home. He began with bicycle parts and photography equipment, operating out of his parents’ basement, where he could store the merchandise. He created a website, but conducted 95% of his sales through eBay.
“I learned how easy it was to ship anywhere in the world and gain access to the international market,” he said. He branched out into skateboards, but now focuses on footwear and apparel, which are less bulky for long-distance shipping.
Carved his own path
After finishing his degree, Lavoie decided to leap into his online business full time, creating his own job rather than searching for one. He poured most of his income back into his “e-tail” venture, building his inventory and outgrowing his parents’ basement.
Four years ago, he opened a store on St. Joseph Boulevard in Gatineau, in large part to gain the storage space he needed for his flourishing online business. He still conducts most of his sales through eBay, Amazon and his Wooki.ca website, but now also employs four part-time staff.
“It gets to a point where you can’t do everything yourself or you’ll be working 80 hours a week,” he said. “And after you figure out how to delegate tasks, it’s wonderful to have people you can count on.”
For students interested in following in his footsteps, Lavoie suggests taking advantage of every chance on campus to learn entrepreneurial and startup skills. “Learn about those, interact with people and companies, ask questions and never pass up a good opportunity,” he said.
And don’t be afraid to fail. “I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true: the most important thing is to try —and fail — sometimes. I’ve failed tons of times, but then it’s more rewarding in the end. Even if something is not fully ready, just go for it!”