Kari Martene - MeleKare

Tell us about yourself

I grew up in a small town in Huron County.  My father was an carpenter and my mother was a registered nurse.  They both were small business owners. My father operated an orchard, and a summer drive in restaurant.  My mother invested into rental properties, with my father maintaining and repairing the properties.  So my understanding of entrepreneurship was something that I grew up with. 
I moved to London in 2008.  I live with my 4 children ranging in ages from 24 to 10.  I am an animal lover, owning 1 dog, 2 cats, 4 budgies and 1 rabbit.

Tell us about your business

I opened my business, MeleKare, in 2012.  I’d seen a need for a home medical supply store that really listened to their clients and was able to offer product knowledge, compassion, and dignity - when the bigger, franchise type stores can not offer this. MeleKare offers clients products they need to live an independent life, while dealing with medical issues that can impede upon mobility, toileting, feeding or dexterity.  We are able to research and possibly supply new products that are innovative to the industry.  I have one employee, and I outsource my deliveries. 

Has your business been impacted by COVID-19? If so, how have you adapted?

COVID-19 has had a small impact on my business.  When the pandemic first happened, my delivery person could no longer deliver.  They live in a group home, with support staff, and the agency that runs the group home could no longer allow their personnel or residents to leave their residences.  I have been delivering the daily deliveries. 
I have a small number of products that are for rent.  The ability to rent products has been suspended.
We have had a lot of inquires for masks, and in the beginning, there were no masks available for customers.  It was quite stressful to hear the desperation in the caller’s voices. My business has regular orders for medical supplies, and the delivery has changed to delivering to the front porch/door, ringing the bell or knocking, and walking.  The ability to personally communicate with the customer has stopped.  We implemented curbside pick up, where the customer needs to pre-order and pre-pay.  Our credit/debit machine is not mobile, so we are only able to offer credit card, or etransfer payments.  We prefer not to handle cash, but if we must, we have a bucket that the cash can be placed into to minimize unnecessary physical contact.
It is our hope that in time we can offer in-store pick up, where the only part of the store that is accessible would be the front counter for payment and collection of the order.

What led you to start this business?

When I first moved to London, I had a job at another home healthcare store.  At the time, I was content to help customers, however, management began to modify the customer’s ability to receive personalized service, and it was something that I could not see as being helpful for the customer.  I would constantly be concerned with the service, or lack of personal service, and I imagined how if I owned a similar store, how I would treat the customer better.  In 2011, I found myself without my job, and I was concerned with the customers and their needs.  It was then that I began to research opening my own establishment, and I found the SEB program, and the London Small Business Centre.  Without the SEB program, I would have found the process much more difficult, both for financial help and business advice.

My parents were entrepreneurs in their own way.  They would supplement my mother’s nursing income with small business opportunities that my father, as a retired contractor, could operate.  We lived on an apple orchard, so in the fall my father would be busy with the orchard, and the by-products of the apples (such as making cider, and apple butter).  They also owned a drive-in restaurant that operated during the summer months, and they owned many rental properties.  My older brother is also a small business owner, running an office supply store, and a clothing store.  I believe that watching my parents take the opportunity to be a small business owner, I was able to believe that I was able to operate my own small business.

What were some of the challenges you faced getting started and how did you overcome them?

My biggest challenge was more personal than business related.  After 3 years in business, I found myself in the middle of a marriage breakdown, and I needed to personally deal with the upset that it caused.  It was actually my children and the drive to keep my business successful that helped me deal with the personal upset.

As a busy entrepreneur, what do you like to do when you take a break?

I travel regularly to visit family, and friends across the province and across the country.  I also have refused to have access to the business email and phone number on my cell phone.  I have set up one laptop at home that has access to the email and phone line.  That way, I am somewhat disconnected; my employee can reach me personally, but I am not constantly ‘on the call’.  

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received and why? 

The best business advice that I received that I always try to remember, came through the SEB program and the London Small Business Centre.  The advice that was given was to always market my business to my target market. Fulfilling the customer’s need is what drives the business. If there is no customer, there is no business.

What advice would you give to someone starting a small business today?

Find someone that you can count on to always have you and your business’ best interest at heart.  Finding that one or two employees that are loyal and functional is important.  You will always find a customer.  Do not focus all of your energy on the disloyal customer.  Keep it for the ones that have remained loyal.  It makes it easier to have a large cash flow and capital investment, but it is possible to start up without.  Stay strong - while finding your target market is difficult, once it is found, the business cycle is easier to maintain.  Do not expect to make money in the first 5 years, however, if you do, awesome.  Be prepared to pay your employee before you pay yourself.

Click here to learn more about MeleKare.

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