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When a School Teacher Bought a Boat Club, Being a Constant Learner Kept Her Afloat

It turns out an appetite for new ideas translates to endless new opportunities.

This story appears in the July 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Sheila Stanley has a background in education — and a career in educating herself. After working for four years
as a teacher, she held jobs that included running a small business, working for the federal government, and even working in HR for an education facility. In 2018, she teamed up with her husband and son to purchase a Freedom Boat Club franchise in Nova Scotia. It's a members-only club that allows members to use boats for recreation. The pandemic challenged the business in some ways, but Stanley says she was able to stay afloat — in part by always learning and trying new ideas.

Courtesy of Freedom Boat Club

After such a varied career, what gave you the confidence to become a franchisee?

Confidence really comes from the fact that you have learned the kinds of things you need to know in order to be able to operate a business. Knowledge and experience in business are definitely important. A passion for the business you're getting into is also important. My husband, our son, and I have always had boating as a key part of our leisure activities.

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Was it challenging to go into business with family?

We went into it somewhat blindly because we hadn't done this before. But it's been a really positive experience because each of us has different strengths. We each respect our own areas of responsibility within the franchise. Our son takes care of the boat acquisition and maintains the fleet. My husband takes care of the operations side of the job. I've been doing the membership executive and reservations work. It's actually been a strengthening thing from a family perspective.

You opened the first Freedom Boat Club in your area. How did you go about spreading the word?

One of the first and most important things we got was support from corporate. We were able to tap into those resources for marketing and have done various things, from open houses to local mail drops to advertising in the newspapers and radio ads. All those things are important. But one of the big things — and this is something you build over time — is support from our club's members. [For prospective members], there's nothing quite like hearing about the benefits of being a boat club member than from someone you know.

How have you gone about building a community among your members?

It's been a bit of a challenge with COVID. A lot of it is communication, obviously, through text or social media or newsletters to our members. But we can't have in-person socials. We haven't been able to have social spaces where members can get to know each other.

Related: An ER Nurse Opened a Curry Up Now Franchise Right Before Covid-19: 'I Couldn't Abandon Either Responsibility. That's Not My Ethics.'

What skills from your previous jobs have especially transferred well into franchising?

In terms of being an educator, you're naturally curious. You're always learning new things yourself and loving to share those new things with other people. I also ran my own small business for a while, so I certainly understood the finances and how to keep books and keep things organized. Working in employee relations, you learn a lot about what's important to employees, and if you're operating a franchise, you certainly need to make sure you have good staff as well as good hiring and management practices.

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