In this series, our collaborator Carolyne Brown meets the Local Talents—flagship stores in the heart of Mail Champlain. These interviews are all about sharing, sincerity and proximity. We invite you to enter their world and discover who they are.
Let’s meet Linda Goulet, President of Panda
My father was a shoe salesman. In 1972, he bought the Panda store; the next day, he brought me to the store. I started working at the store when I was 15 and continued through high school and into college. In 1974, we started the Panda franchise. I was in charge of purchasing and store openings. When I was 19, I opened my own franchise and in less than two months, I doubled the sales. I didn't want to work for my father anymore; so I decided to sell my store to another franchisee when I was 22. I then joined the team at the head office. After that, my brother took over the role of buyer and I was in charge of accounting. In 1983, my other brother joined the company to help open stores outside of Quebec. By 1989, we had 75 locations in Canada. In 2000, one of my brothers left Panda. We bought out his shares and I took over as president. My brother passed away in 2018 and I have been running the company ever since. I'm lucky to have my daughter working with me and she is my successor. This year, we are celebrating Panda's 75th anniversary, my 50th work anniversary and my 65th birthday.
What makes your brand stand out?
There is no other company that specializes in children's shoes like us. Children's footwear is difficult, because it requires a specific expertise. Often, our customers will go elsewhere, but they always come back to our store for the quality of our products and our service.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to face in your career as an entrepreneur?
I have faced several challenges since the beginning of my career, but the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most difficult.
What is the biggest lesson that business ownership has taught you?
For me, the biggest lesson is the human element: human resources, negotiating with partners, interacting with customers, etc. Communication is the key in business. You also have to understand the administrative side of things, all aspects of the business and the financial statements. Finally, you have to have confidence in yourself.
Tell us a funny anecdote or event from your entrepreneurial journey.
In 1987, I was 30 years old and I was a member of the Quebec Franchise Council. Commerce magazine contacted me for the cover of their special franchising edition. At the time, only men were on the cover of such magazines. So I became the man of the month for the April issue and I was the first woman on their cover.
First of all, the most important thing is to make a proper business plan! Owning a business doesn't mean that you make other people work and take it easy. You have to be committed and surround yourself with a good team. If you are not passionate, you will not succeed. In the early years, working is a way of life: you work 50, 60, 70 hours a week. In addition, retail is an unstable business. You can't launch a business with a minimal budget. You always need a safety net.
What do you hope that people remember about your company?
They trust us and appreciate our service and our expertise. Our customers always come back to the store, even to ask for a size check on shoes they bought elsewhere!
What are your most popular products?
The biggest period of the year for us is the kids’ return to school, followed by winter boots.
What is your best-kept secret?
I don’t have any secrets. I’m an authentic person, and I share everything with my team.
Good health so that I can continue to do what I love for a while longer, enjoy life and do the things that make me happy.