Sue Stanfield doesn’t think that she has to toss the whole notion of work-life balance out the window with the bath water but perhaps it’s time that she takes a closer look at how she measures her time. For the last eight years she has been doing what more and more women are doing every year and walking the tight rope of being an entrepreneur, mother and partner.
As the never-ending conversation about women’s roles and rights marches on, the question of whether or not women can have it all still hangs in the air like dirty laundry. While she recognizes that she now lives a privileged life she still has been faced with some tough decisions on how she self identifies and what she needs to live a full and happy life.
“Balance does not have to be measured daily,” says Sue from her office in Truro where she operates Take it Outside, one of the fastest growing lifestyle stores in Atlantic Canada. “I’ve learned to believe that over time we can all find balance. Some weeks I kick ass as a Mum but I am a substandard leader. Other weeks I rock as an entrepreneur and I am okay as a Mum and partner, but that’s life.”
Believing that women should go for what they want and take risks has landed her in the midst of one of the greatest journeys of her life.
Ten years ago Sue packed up her bags and moved to Vancouver. She was only a few years out of University with a degree in Recreation Management. She had spent some time down under working in a Scuba Dive Shop and hotels in New Zealand and Australia before returning to Nova Scotia and taking a job as Manager of Recreation Services for Colchester County. She was a Nova Scotia girl but had grown up in Dartmouth, so Truro still didn’t feel like home and itchy feet got her moving again. With the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver just around the corner she thought that she would find new opportunities, challenges and sense of place in one of Canada’s top adventure cities but surprising to her she felt a tug back to Nova Scotia. Four months after moving to the west coast she realized that she had left a little piece of her heart in Truro.
When Sue returned to Truro she accepted a role with the Stanfield’s group of companies. A change from her field of recreation but she felt the synergies with the Stanfield’s brand
and adventure lifestyle. The offer came from Jon Stanfield, the man who would eventually become her husband.
“I have always been very independent and I had a plan to some day work for myself. My dream was to operate high-end remote spa destinations and here I was back in Truro. I had to work hard at re-associating myself with Truro. This wasn’t part of my life plan. I had always expected that I was going to explore the world and here I was putting down roots and I was barely 30 years old,” says Sue.
A year after moving back to Truro, Sue and Jon were married. She was enjoying her work with the US-based companies owned by Stanfield’s. The experience gave her a chance to dust off her customer service skills that she had learned while working abroad but also to see the other side of business. “I was learning about marketing and branding and selling to the retailer. It was neat to have the experience from the manufacturing and sales drops to understanding consumer needs.”
While she might not have realized it at the time Sue was laying down the bricks to build the foundations of her own business.
In 2010 when Sue and Jon celebrated the arrival of their first child Gabrielle, Sue was also gestating ideas for her own retail operation in downtown Truro. With infant daughter on her hip she started to look at a few locations and build her business plan. Baby number two didn’t take long to follow and in the last few months that she was carrying her son Jaxon, she convinced her husband to become a business partner in the former Margolian’s building on Inglis Street and she launched her business.
“I had a new baby and a toddler,” says Sue remembering those days not really all that long ago. “I wasn’t sleeping so when I was awake through the night with babies that were not sleeping I put my energy into my business plan.”
In August of 2012 after a lot of soul searching and research Sue opened Take it Outside. She will joke that the business name was the only one that her husband Jon didn’t hate; however, her sole mission right from the days she started her degree was to get people outside and be healthy. “The core of my being is travel and being outside so it was natural to open up a store than enables people to have this type of lifestyle. It is a perfect fit for me.”
Sue says that she likes having husband Jon and the history and tradition of the Stanfield’s brand on the fringe of what she does. “Jon is my volunteer CFO when I have questions around budgeting or any big decision; I bounce things off him.”
Surrounding herself with successful people has been part of Sue’s modus operandi. She makes it a practice to meet with successful business people, many of them women, where she keeps her ears open and asks questions. “I am very fortunate to have an abundance of inspirational women in my life on a daily basis, all of them who I look up to. I am attracted to strong personalities and find my own strength through their success. Whether I am talking to a girl friend with a home-based business or another who is winding down from a role of managing partner of a law firm, our struggles and success, fears and triumphs are similar. I learn from them all.”
As important as it was to learn from other people’s experiences, success and failure Sue says she often felt that there was a momentum that just kept everything moving forward. Less than a year after opening in Truro she expanded into the city market with a new store in Dartmouth Crossing and the following year in Historic Properties with storefronts for Take it Outside and women’s active wear brand Lolë.
“I was a new Mum, flying by the seat of my pants with all of these decisions but loving every minute of it. It didn’t occur to me not to keep trying.”
With four locations to keep afloat Sue had to manage the amount of time she was on the road and away from home base. She credits her great team with the ability to work around her children’s schedules and still have opportunity to carve out a little time for herself and her husband. “It definitely has been busy but that’s the way I like it.”
Just as she was finally getting her rhythm, Sue was approached to purchase the Trail Shop, a well-established lifestyle store on Quinpool Road. “ Taking over a business with 50 years of history was a whole other bag of challenges. Just after the purchase we were celebrating 50 years of business. Take it Outside shoppers were also Trail Shop customers. Like every retail business the success comes from the loyal customers and I am very grateful for the Trail Shop following. I am excited to see an increase of customers who are proud to support local, independent business and understand the value of shopping at home. We need to support each other so retail can grow in Atlantic Canada.”
Because the two stores were very close in what they offered she decided to close the Historic Properties store and start to focus on the purchase of the Quinpool location.
This spring Sue will take another leap of faith and she hopes that her customers will follow with a move that in essence takes the Trail Shop outside. Sue believes that the business will blaze a new trail in the revamped retail space in the Keep Building a few blocks away from the old location. “It will be the old Trail Shop but an entirely new experience that I think everyone will love to explore,’ says Sue who believes that the future success of store-based retail has to be innovative customer service.
Competing with the ‘Amazon’s” of the world is a daily battle for most retailers like Sue. She never takes for granted her customer base and believes that it always needs to be growing and changing with shopping trends.
“My next business will be to invent a crystal ball so all retailers can be armed with the data to master their market.”
Sue is only half kidding when she makes this statement as she is already testing a new retail app that she has helped develop that is intended to change in-store experiences. “Checkmate is a platform to relay information from consumers to ensure retail success,” she says. “Retailers need to be creative with their offering, have an ecomm presence and promote their strengths through various mediums.”
Owning a business that sells to the ‘work hard, play hard’ set, Sue says she does her best to be true to herself and return to the outside as often as she can. She says that she does her best thinking when she is outside and it’s often the place where she finds the answers to her most important questions. With women’s issues capturing the headlines almost daily she reflects about her own role as a woman in business and the world where she hopes both of her children will feel free to explore equally. “I certainly believe that it is important to be your own person and stand up for yourself. Women should always be respected, have equal opportunities and be empowered by their leaders and their peers. I am not certain every women wants to be her own boss but they should be equally valued in any role or position both in a corporate structure and in personal relationships.”
Sue accredits most of her daily accomplishments to momentum, however, she cherishes the moments that she can slow the pace and switch gears to other important objectives in her life. Prior to having children she made volunteering a priority, something that she is happily returning to as Gabby and Jaxon are growing up. She takes pride in being able to make donations to local charities and is currently on the I.W.K. Foundation Board of Trustees and a member of their development committee. “The I.W.K. is such an important place to my family and to our region. Almost everyone I speak with has a story about how the hospital has helped their family. It’s amazing to be part of something so vital to women and children’s health.”
A healthy lifestyle, chances to explore the world, purpose as an entrepreneur, mother and partner are all things that would seem to solve the equation of having it all but she doesn’t take any of these elements in her life for granted and knows how quickly the values of that equation can change. She believes that she is the sum of all of these parts and intends to work hard and set her intentions to be the best version of herself that she can be so everyone knows what is on the inside and outside of Sue Stanfield.