Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood is a place where many creative and innovative people congregate. It is also a hotbed for enlightened entrepreneurs, people such as Alex Winch who is a leader in solar power technology; Michelle Gebhart who not only runs two stylish restaurants but who also donates her time to a Toronto youth drop-in program; or Mary Lee from Spiagga Restaurant who regularly supports the arts community in the Beach. Many of the entrepreneurs in the Beach are not only consummate business people, but they also have a social and environmental conscience.
Andrew Howard and Rachael Smith are part of this enlightened group. After years of corporate achievements they started their own business and became the publishers of SNAP Beaches/Danforth, a free community publication that focuses on special events and good news around the neighbourhood. In addition, after a personal bout with breast cancer, Rachael and Andrew wanted to give something back to the medical community that helped them survive and overcome this horrific disease. They were ready to make a difference.
Andrew Howard and Rachael Smith
When I first arrived at Andrew and Rachael’s house in a quiet residential street at the east end of the Beach, I was greeted by two very enthusiastic dogs, and Andrew invited me upstairs into their loft office, a beautiful space right under the roof with lots of daylight. People who work that many hours might as well pick the best room in the house and turn it into a work space. Rachael had not yet arrived home, but Andrew welcomed me and started to fill me in on his background. I really had to sharpen my pen to keep up with the rapid-fire information and extensive facts that Andrew was throwing at me. I knew right away I was dealing with a high-energy individual who is a constant source of bright ideas and is used to implementing them in an action-oriented way.
Andrew Howard describes himself as “white bread”, having grown up in a family of British heritage in Etobicoke. He says he was fortunate growing up in suburbia, with two wonderful parents. He spent much of his youth outdoors, pursuing water sports, such as canoeing, swimming and sailing. Even today his connection to the water is strong: he enjoys living in the Beach because he is just minutes away from the location of his newest sport: kite-boarding. In addition, Andrew is a consummate athlete: he completed the Penticton Iron Man a few years ago which included a 4 km swim, a 180 km bike ride topped off by a 42 km marathon.
After high school Andrew went to Queens University to study commerce. Andrew’s entrepreneurial spirit became evident early: he took over a College Pro Painters franchise and also got involved in student politics and sports. After graduation Andrew went into the field of consumer packaged goods marketing and worked with Warner Lambert, handling such brands as Listermint, Efferdent, Schick and Rollaids. His corporate experience continued in a five year stint with Pepsi, right at the time of the Cola Wars. During his tenure with Pepsi Andrew created a teen radio show and a teen magazine, demonstrating his keen understanding of the teenage demographic.
Andrew spent the following eight years at Labatt as their Senior Director of Marketing and was in charge of a $140 million marketing budget. When Labatt was bought out by a Brazilian company, many jobs got reorganized. Despite having several options at Labatt, Andrew chose to strike out on his own. His wife Rachael was a critical junction in her life, and together they were ready to venture in a new direction.
So Andrew and Rachael did a lot of brainstorming and came up with 100 different business ideas. Along the way they came across the SNAP Newspaper Group Inc, an organization that specializes in the franchising of community publications. SNAP’s community newspapers cover 17 markets, most of which are located in Ontario with two of the franchises operating in British Columbia (Kelowna and Whistler). Andrew and Rachael purchased two franchises: the SNAP publication covering Toronto’s Beach/Danforth neighbourhood, and the SNAP edition for Peterborough, a sizeable town about an hour and a half east of Toronto.
The publications are photographically rich, free to consumers, strive to capture the life and entertainment and the overall spirit in every community in which they are published. SNAP’s business model emphasizes customer service & relationships, technology, marketing savvy and quality and aims to deliver a product that is relished by consumers within its respective communities.
Andrew admits he wishes he had come up with the idea for SNAP himself, but says that he loves the premise, the fact that the focus is on positive stories and community spirit. He knew he could sell the concept, and a year into this project he describes it as a success and as on target with his original goals. Andrew explained that he goes out into the community to cover special events and take photos, and he is also responsible for selling advertising to local merchants. The SNAP organization on the other hand handles the layout of the paper and the advertising design.
So far this would be an interesting entrepreneurial story in itself, but there is a whole other side to Andrew and Rachael’s life which took a dramatic turn almost three years ago when Rachael was diagnosed with breast cancer. Andrew describes this experience with the words “The floor just fell out. There was complete shock and disaster. We had no idea what to do.”
Rachael was going to fill me in on her own personal reaction to this shocking revelation in a little while. Andrew explained that Rachael proceeded to obtain treatments for her illness, and along the way both Rachael and Andrew decided that they wanted to give something back to the cancer treatment community that had saved them. After some creative brainstorming they decided that a link could be created between holding yard sales and donating the proceeds to cancer research. They came up with the concept for Yard Sale for the Cure, the perfect combination of harnessing grassroots neighbourhood-based activities and turning them into a charitable movement that they hope will one day span across the continent.
In addition, they also found a creative mechanism for recycling unwanted items and turning them into treasured possessions for a new family, exhibiting their commitment to reducing, reusing and recycling. Decluttering and getting rid of unneeded possessions not only adds to the resale value of a home; the quality of life and psychological well-being of the owners also benefit.
Andrew and Rachael knew that they wanted to turn this into a big venture, modeled after the Run for the Cure, which has evolved from having 1500 participants in 1992 who raised $85,000, to having 170,000 participants who raised $21,000,000 in 2006. Both Andrew and Rachael want to turn their non-profit organization into a charitable movement that will span the entire North American continent.
Their first Yard Sale for the Cure in 2005 was fairly small and included 350 residences in the Beach their own local neighbourhood. Because both Andrew Howard and Rachael Smith had spent many years in the marketing / advertising industry, they harnessed some of their professional contacts to help them promote the event.
Three major players came on board: