House of Knives: Education and innovation

First established in 1979, House of Knives is a successful independently-owned retail business that offers a broad selection of quality products, a high level of customer service, and a sharp focus on product knowledge.

House of Knives President Andre Eng established his strong work ethic growing up on the family farm. While still at high school, he began a culinary and retail career, helping his brother Allan grow House of Knives from a single location to 15 stores. Thirty-four years later, Mr. Eng and his wife own the business, which is now vertically integrated to produce kitchen and sporting cutlery and accessories. The company focus is on growing the business by inspiring through education, investing in both stores and online, corporate sales, and design and manufacturing. Mr. Eng spoke with The Canadian Business Quarterly about the journey from owning a single franchise to buying out the brand, the focus on education that drives the company’s vision, and the importance of investing in quality long-term products.

Specialty store

“We’re proud to say we’re the largest independently-owned cutlery gift store chain in the world,” Mr. Eng says. “There aren’t many similar stores to us, simply because we’re a bit of a Frankenstein specialty store.”

Stores frequently receive comments from customers amazed by the number of items the brand sells outside of knives. The company’s name can be confusing, but House of Knives is a lot more than merely knives. From wet shaving, kitchen gadgets and multi-tools there is something for everyone.

Mr. Eng’s connection to the company began thirty-four years ago, when his brother bought an independent House of Knives franchise store.

“Back in the 80s, when the House of Knives concept started in Canada, there were close to 50 stores across the country. They were owned by the Minit Corporation, and they franchised the concept. My brother owned one of about 10 locations that were franchised in Canada.”

After finishing his studies at culinary school, Mr. Eng teamed up with his brother Allan to start running the franchise, growing the business, and eventually acquiring the franchise rights for British Columbia, with corporate running all locations east of BC.

In 2008, after many years working together with his brother, Mr. Eng and his wife purchased the company from Allan.

“Fast-forward to 2011. Minit had been closing their locations, and just closed their last location in Alberta. At that time, we negotiated the rights to the name and acquired it so we had our freedom from paying royalties, and then we could control the brand and grow it as we saw fit.”

The company’s current footprint includes 15 locations across Canada – 12 in British Columbia and 3 in Alberta. The Alberta factions all opened after 2011, when Mr. Eng acquired the rights to franchise outside BC.

“[Acquiring the brand] was a natural state that had to occur, because you know the way the business world works, every percentage of margin counts. So, the cost of doing business and having to pay royalty on top of it was not a long-term plan that was going to work.”

As Mr. Eng’s franchise grew over the years, it had increasingly moved away from the corporate mindset adopted by other stores under the brand, with many customers noting differences between Mr. Eng’s stores and those operating in the east.

“Because we’ve always been owner-operator, we’ve always made a dedicated effort to have a much larger selection of products, a greater focus on customer service, and carry a much larger variety of goods than corporate did.”

Customer education

Within such a competitive retail environment, the company has worked hard to differentiate from larger chain retailers selling similar products. This is especially difficult in the modern climate of larger stores selling a wide variety of products.

 

House of Knives has 15 locations across Western Canada – 12 in British Columbia, and 3 in Alberta

 

“For us, it’s always about the education and the product knowledge,” Mr. Engs explains. “Our vision statement is to improve the lives of those we encounter through education and innovation. Through my 34+ years in business, I still make routine visits to the vendor factories on a yearly basis.”

Mr. Eng is about to make one such trip to visit their many vendor partners’ factories in Germany, which he has done a number of times over the years. This is important to stay connected with changes in the industry as well as to nurture their vendor relationships.

“We like to stay on top of the current trends as well as understand the manufacturing nuances behind what goes into making our products, and it’s that kind of information that we can articulate through our salespeople to our consumers.”

The company also puts a lot of work into progressing and changing, particularly in terms of how it serves its customers. Much of this involves knowing everything about the products it sells, and showing customers how best to use them.

“It’s no secret that online is having a tremendous effect on all industries and all businesses, and with everyone being so time-starved these days, everyone is trying to find ways to gain back time, and online definitely does that.”

The way the landscape has been affected by the rise in online shopping has meant that physical stores must find new ways of giving customers the best possible service, and providing something online retailers can’t.

“We’ve had a greater focus on creating better experiences within store. Currently if you walk into one of our stores, you can actually try out a large variety of our knives by cutting up potatoes, so you get a better sense and feel of how they work for you. That’s one way we really try to differentiate ourselves, that’s an experience you can only get in store.”

There has been a big change in food and lifestyle over the last few years, with the way we consume food and think about cooking being influenced by many different factors, such as social media, celebrity chefs, and the rise of food delivery apps. This has seen a shift in the retail landscape as well.

 

The company focus is on growing the business by inspiring through education, investing in both stores and online, corporate sales, and design and manufacturing

 

“We do knife skills training with high school students, and part of the message to them is that eating out all the time, eating processed, packaged foods, is not a healthy lifestyle. Any nutritionist will tell you that the best thing you can do for your health is to cook for yourself! I think there is a movement going back to basics, where people are more conscious of what they’re putting into their bodies. Part of that starts with healthy cooking.”

These sessions are designed to teach young people basic knife skills, having started with a focus on using the right knife for the right purpose, but evolving to empower people with the skills and knowledge to work more effectively in the kitchen.

Often it’s a shame that people don’t eat healthy simply due to a lack of knowledge on how to perform a certain task, like filleting a fish, or mincing garlic quickly and cleanly.

“Here, locally, we teamed up with BC Chicken [marketing board] this summer and we’ve produced a series of videos, empowering people on how to use their knives as a proper tool, so they can carve, spatchcock, or section a chicken.”

These videos are designed to inspire people to save money while learning how to cook and eat healthier. Buying a whole chicken not only saves you money, but you also have the benefit of using the bones and carcass to make stock so you can create soups or sauces! For some, soup just comes out of a can!

“It’s all these little nuances in terms of empowerment. It’s like the old saying goes: ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’ So by empowering them to use the tools properly, we truly do feel that everyone will not only eat healthier, but will live a healthier lifestyle as a result.”

Community programs

Like all retailers, the company looks to have a proactive business and to continue growing into the future. It has launched a number of initiatives designed to raise its profile, especially in this age where fewer people are travelling to physical stores.

“If they’re not going to come to us, we’ll go to them. We’ve started doing more community efforts in the last couple of years, working with non-profits, which go into elementary schools and teach kids as young as in kindergarten all the way to grade 7 not only how to cook, but understanding the whole farm-to-table movement, where food comes from.”

This teaches children respect for and understanding of healthy eating. Even young children use knives, and it is just as important for them to learn from an early age how to use them safely and efficiently.

 

House of Knives has worked hard to differentiate itself from larger chain retailers selling similar products

 

“It’s all about community and collaborations,” Mr. Eng says, “working with these non-profits that in turn create healthier lives for all these kids. That’s just one segment that we’re working towards. The other one is, we’ve just launched our corporate gift program.”

The company has been fortunate to have decade long relationships with some of the world’s finest tool companies like Victorinox Swiss Army and Leatherman.

“Gone are the days where companies just put their logos onto any trinket and give it away. People are so conscious about the environment and what the footprint is. Nobody wants to give a gift that’s going to last for a week and then end up in a landfill somewhere. So to give something of quality, like a Swiss Army knife that you know is going to last, is invaluable.”

“When you make an investment in something that’s going to last forever, over the long run, it’s actually less expensive. I always tell people, think about the thousands of dollars you’ve spent on the many gadgets for your kitchen that you never use, like the juicer, bread machine, or blender. But when you invest in a high-quality set of knives, there’s no better value as you’ll use them 365 days of the year, two to three times a day – guaranteed.”

With its focus on community, edge-u-cating, and empowering everyone on how to use their tools properly, House of Knives is poised for future growth. Find out more about House of Knives by visiting www.houseofknives.ca.

Admedus (ASX:AHZ): The small-cap medical company disrupting aortic heart valve technology

Since taking the helm of Admedus Ltd. in 2017, CEO, Wayne Paterson has steered the ASX small-cap company into a real contender for disrupting the global transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) market. Its innovative ADAPT® technology not only slashes surgical and recovery time but also enhances valve longevity and durability, which are critical issues currently plaguing the cardiac surgery industry.

The Canadian Business Quarterly speaks with Paterson about how refining the mission of Admedus has been the driving force in its bright future. He also reveals how he intends to leverage his executive experience in healthcare to help Admedus make its mark on the multibillion-dollar heart health industry.

Shaking up the TAVR industry

Focusing all its recent energy on producing a single-piece 3D aortic valve using improved tissue science and unique valve design, the structural heart company is now poised to transform cardiovascular medicine with its ADAPT® technology platform. As the only technology of its kind in the industry, ADAPT® helps physicians offer life-changing procedures for a broader spectrum of patients, ranging from infants to the elderly.

Paterson explains that the mainstream procedure for aortic valve replacement can stretch across 2-4 hours as surgeons crack open the chest, stop the heart and change the stenotic valve. The ADAPT® technology when used as a TAVR device reduces surgery time to just 45 minutes and uses a non-invasive procedure to implant the valve through the femoral artery. Hospital stays are reduced from three weeks to as little as two days.

Calcium building up around the replacement aortic valve presents another major challenge. According to Paterson, “Over time, an ordinary valve will calcify because it is foreign material going into the body. It degrades, and you are then back in a position where another valve replacement must be done. Therein lies the challenge but also the opportunity for Admedus.” While he notes that the problem has largely gone unaddressed, he believes Admedus offers a viable solution. Based on 10 years of clinical data, the ADAPT® material does not calcify nor degrade. There is also significantly less risk of graft failure or infections with the non-invasive procedure.

Wayne Paterson has been with Admedus (ASX:AHZ) since 2017

 

Valve durability and longevity have become critically important as an aging global population faces longer life expectancies. The ADAPT® tissue science delivers a stronger, more durable alternative to the current three-tissue valves sewn together on a frame. “Our valve design is single piece, 3D moulded, which much more closely mirrors the anatomy of the native aortic valve,” Paterson explains. The ADAPT® treated tissue is made from DNA-stripped bovine collagen. Since it is acellular, there is improved tissue growth and immune tolerance, making it more durable, versatile and safer.

“When you combine the tissue science of ADAPT® with its anti-calcification properties and the single-piece design of our valve, you create a more durable valve. Our data shows 40 percent less wear and tear than the conventional valves,” Paterson adds. “Based on the current requirements of the market that these valves need to last longer, we are right in the middle of what is a perfect storm with the right technology.”

A refined focus drives momentum

A publicly listed medical company on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) since 2004, Admedus has undergone an extensive business renovation in recent years. After taking on the board chairman position in 2016, Paterson saw the company’s potential being diluted by its diverse focus on infusion treatments, immunotherapies (drug development) and cardiac technologies. “The company has had a bumpy past which is reflected in the share price. It certainly had a choppy history as you often see with these small-cap companies on the ASX,” explains Paterson, who believes the different focuses caused the company to swing around in circles trying to accomplish a multitude of things whilst diluting capital across too many “blue sky” projects such as Immunotherapies. “Frankly, Admedus didn’t have a great sense of self or what business it wanted to pursue”

Admedus (ASX:AHZ) has been listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) since 2004

 

When he transitioned into the CEO position the following year, his first objective was to “divest the peripheral businesses to make sure the company could focus the capital that was being raised through cap raises and shareholders. It was not necessarily being used efficiently across the three different divisions,” he says.

Betting its future on its proprietary ADAPT® technology, Admedus has spent the past year divesting all other business interests. By further refining its mission to bring ADAPT® exclusively into the TAVR space, Admedus has recently completed a $35 million transaction to focus on engineering its superior single-piece 3D aortic valve. “Our company has technology that is, in fact, very well positioned to disrupt that particular market,” says Paterson, who estimates the global worth of the TAVR market at “around $5 billion to $8 billion with just a couple of big players. So, we’ve had the focus on really bringing that technology forward. The ADAPT® technology is quite unique and creates an unassailable moat around the company.”

Paterson is especially excited about the company’s decade-long data proving that its material does not calcify. “It’s very well published, and has more data than any other company out there,” he notes. “Clinical data is the most relevant thing to success when you are in a competitive space. I thought, ‘If we’ve got data right now that nobody else has, then what else have we got, what else can we do?’ That’s what led us to the TAVR space and now puts us beautifully in the middle of what is a very big opportunity.”

Industry experience advances global commercialization

Much of his ability to spot this opportunity is due to Paterson’s 25-year career in healthcare, which spans leadership positions at Roche Pharmaceuticals, Merck and Cepheid. His ever-increasing responsibilities in building and managing multibillion-dollar businesses moved him around the world, giving him valuable exposure to global operations, international commercialization and government regulatory policies.

Paterson credits this unique experience, along with many lessons learned, as an asset in driving Admedus forward in its mission to commercialize globally. A native Australian, Paterson has earned a world-class business education at prestigious universities in Australia, Switzerland, France, Hong Kong and the U.S. His work in China, South Korea, Japan, Canada, Australia and Europe introduced him to many therapeutic areas, including oncology, infectious diseases and cardiovascular medicine, while launching 36 drugs internationally.

Paterson also recognises that his experience in C-suite environments taught him how to operate within a large corporate setting. “At Admedus, we look to do deals with the large corporates in the medtech space. It’s important that you know how to walk the walk and talk the talk with those big corporates if you are trying to get a deal done as a small company,” he says.

When it comes to the most important business lessons learned, Paterson cites cultural agility as being critical to the leadership perspective. Successful deals, he believes, are dependent on being able to rally people to a common objective in a way that makes sense to them. Failure happens when expat managers judge the local cultures for doing something differently.

CEO Wayne Paterson brings 25 years of healthcare experience, including leadership positions with Roche Pharmaceuticals, Merck, and Cepheid

 

“That history of how to drive an organization forward and rally people around a common cause has helped a lot with getting Admedus to where it is today,” Paterson explains. “This background puts us in a good position for getting deals made, for being able to articulate our opportunities to those big companies in helping them understand how we will help their business grow globally as well.”

Maximizing opportunities in the global space

Moving forward, Admedus is focusing on investing in world-class partnerships and acquiring strategic assets to develop its next-gen technologies. Along with attending top international cardiac conferences, the company has formed a medical advisory board of TAVR doctors who inform decisions and advocate for the ADAPT® technology.

Paterson says having its headquarters situated in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the global hub for medical devices, gives Admedus access to the biggest companies and brightest medical engineers in the industry. “The Minneapolis area is the global headquarters level where decisions are made on deals, so it’s most important we are here. Admedus is in the development phase, and we have so much talent sitting right here on our doorstep. That helps us drive our projects forward quickly and efficiently”

When discussing opportunities for investors, Paterson stresses that “what we have is actually novel and unique. There is only one ADAPT® process. It’s clinically relevant, and it’s very highly published. It also has the support of a lot of clinically relevant people, academics, scientists and doctors. It is primed to get in the middle of this multibillion-dollar space due to the novelty and the clinical benefits that this technology brings. There’s a ways to go, but it really does have the ability to disrupt this very large market space.”

Find out more about Admedus (ASX:AHZ) by visiting www.admedus.com.

Form3: Supporting environmental sustainability with innovative design

Since joining forces in 1997, Form3 partners Alex Feldman and Herb Bentz have led a team of innovators in the fields of industrial design and design engineering, and established themselves as the go-to design firm for many Western Canadian companies.

Alex Feldman and Herb Bentz each have over 35 years of experience in industrial design. Mr. Bentz has a Master of Industrial Design degree from the Royal College of Art in London, England, and is the author of Rationing Earth, a book on sustainability. Mr. Feldman, who has an Industrial Design degree from Carleton University, has taught at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design and is an adjunct professor at the UBC Sauder School of Business. Combining a shared passion for the environment, sustainability, and industrial design, they created Form3 with the aim of designing and producing better products.

Variety of products from concept to completion

As both Mr. Feldman and Mr. Bentz have diverse experience in architecture and industrial design, they have been drawn to a wide variety of projects. Over the years they’ve gained experience in all aspects of design, from the initial spark of an idea to providing their clients with the final production files.

“We do a combination of industrial design and design engineering,” Mr. Feldman says, “and we focus on product development from concept through to production. Our work also includes research to better define a problem that needs to be solved.” 

When generating concepts, the company draws from a broad range of talent and experience to generate numerous potential solutions, before narrowing down their best ideas. Once a design has been developed, successfully tested, and validated, all the necessary files are then handed to their client.

“We tend to brainstorm a wide range of solutions, and then refine preferred options through design development, prototyping, and testing. After validating the prototypes, we then proceed to design for manufacturing by completing documentation and 3D files used for production.”

Since 1997, Form3 have led a team of innovators in the fields of industrial design and design engineering. Pictured: Alex Feldman – Founding Partner

 

With over two decades of experience, Form3 is able to provide their services to companies of all sizes.

“We work with established companies looking to outsource or augment their in-house design development,” says Mr. Bentz, “and we also work with entrepreneurs and start-up companies looking to commercialize their ideas.”

Design for the long term

With a reputation for outstanding design work and dedicated service, the organization has grown steadily over the years. These days, the majority of their work is procured from repeat custom and word of mouth.

“Most of our work comes in through referrals, recurring work, and web searches.” Mr. Feldman explains, adding, “We’ve grown organically by concentrating on the local market.”

It is not unusual for the initial scope of a given project allocated to Form3 to expand from design services to other related areas.

“A lot of support work is required; assistance with product strategy, virtual analysis, testing, supplier sourcing, and packaging are often required by the same clients that get us involved in the original design efforts they had in mind, so the scope can often evolve.” says Mr. Feldman.

Their extensive project experience has allowed the firm to expand their network of production suppliers in order to assist with the growth and changing needs of their clients.

“Over the years we’ve built up a large network, including relationships with suppliers having specialized production capabilities.” Mr. Feldman notes, continuing, “This allows us to help our clients transition into manufacturing with suitable vendors, and to transition over time from low to high volume production.”

As expected from an innovative company, Form3 is always seeking to not only meet their clients’ needs, but to improve the quality of their products. Part of this includes producing multiple prototypes until each detail is perfected.

“We do a lot of prototyping. We have an in-house 3D printer, and we have significant experience with many types of physical modelling and rapid prototyping methods. We’ve procured varying quantities of custom components for marketing validation and performance testing.” Mr. Feldman says, “often we’ll assemble and test prototype components within our workshop, which in turn helps us to best evaluate the designs.”

 

Form3 have established themselves as the go-to design firm for many Western Canadian companies. Pictured: Herb Bentz – Founding Partner

 

Creativity through collaboration

Form3’s careful integration of talent and creativity within the company’s team, along with fostering a strong collaborative approach, has allowed the firm to solve complex problems on a wide range of projects.

“Our team has grown to over a dozen industrial designers and design engineers, which means we can provide flexible bandwidth, and integrate quickly into a company’s development schedule,” says Mr. Bentz. “We offer a rich blend of creative talent, technical skills, and knowledge. Companies are looking for fresh ideas, but they also need to work with an experienced design group with a grounded approach. We can provide innovative solutions while respecting constraints. After years of experience developing products which get to market, we’ve acquired a better understanding of how to resolve ideas and make them feasible as manufactured products.”

This approach has helped to strengthen their client relationships, while also boosting the design team’s morale as they witness their projects make it to market.

Wide-ranging skillset

With a broad range of skills, interests, and talents, Form3’s work focuses on technology products and high performance sports, although projects also include medical devices and custom architectural components. 

Mr. Feldman elaborates on a particular project they have with a sustainable development company: “In the agritech space, we are working closely with a local company, Ecoation. They’ve developed an AI technology to produce clean food by reducing crop loss, as well as the need for pesticide use.” he says, adding, “we designed the enclosures for their product to enable environmental and plant feedback sensing, machine vision, and processing functions, as well as the mounting solution that attaches to devices used within greenhouses.”

Our company is constantly gaining new experience, as Mr. Bentz explains, “We’ve been involved with several startup companies to help develop lithium-ion batteries for transportation and marine applications. We’ve gained a lot of experience dealing with very demanding requirements for technology products. We’ve helped solve some difficult problems related to safety, heat buildup, limited space, and waterproofing requirements. This has provided us with skills that have been very useful for other technology projects.”

With a broad range of skills, interests, and talents, Form3’s work focuses on technology products and high performance sports, although projects also include medical devices and custom architectural components

 

Emerging innovation hotspot

Vancouver is quickly becoming a hotspot for technology and outdoor recreation industries. There are many top universities and colleges in the area, producing the next generation of scientists, designers, and entrepreneurs are likely to join and enhance existing companies, or form their own. The attraction to Vancouver can only benefit Form3, as the city provides all the creative opportunities any prospective new team member could want. As Mr. Bentz states, “Work/life balance is important to people, and Vancouver offers an exciting environment for designers to join a firm involved with leading companies in technology and sports sectors, while enjoying the rich outdoor activities on the West Coast.”

Future design opportunities

According to Mr. Bentz, there’s a significant opportunity for growth in the area of clean technology, such as renewable energy, energy storage, and energy-efficient lighting, “We have decided to focus more on clean tech and outdoor sports in the coming years.” Mr. Bentz adds, “Clean tech relates to our overarching concern for the environment and our passion for outdoor sports leads to an interest in developing high quality sports products.” Mr. Feldman adds, “It’s an area we are naturally drawn to – we ride to work, we ride in the mountains, we ski in the back country and we kayak in the ocean –  we feel well designed solutions that encourage outdoor activities and lessen environmental impacts should also be the focus of our company. These products can reduce dependence on motorized transport and passive entertainment, both of which tend to be resource intensive. Also, products that are better designed tend to be used longer.”  

Find out more about Form3 by visiting www.form3.com.