Leadership

The best advice I ever got

Written by Susanne Ruder
Manjit Minhas

President
Mountain Crest Liquors Inc.
Calgary

Xchange asks Canada’s leading businesswomen to share their most meaningful business lessons. Each issue brings you the advice that has helped shape the lives and companies of these winning businesswomen.

Manjit Minhas is president of Calgary-based Mountain Crest Liquors Inc. Founded in 1999 by Minhas and her brother, Ravinder, the firm produces and distributes wine, beer and liquor. Brands include Coco Beach Coconut Rum and Royal Crest Canadian Rye, as well as Mountain Crest, Minhas Creek and Lakeshore Creek beers in direct competition with Molson and Labatt. In 2004 Mountian Crest’s revenue reached $8.7 million.

Best advice: Don’t be scared of the big boys

Faced with huge competitors that are seemingly unbeatable? Don’t get fazed—take action. “It’s important to keep that in mind, because when you’re going up against multibillion-dollar companies and you only have a few thousand in your pocket, sometimes you think, ‘Oh, they’ve got more people than I do, they’ll have more at their disposal in terms of marketing and advertising, product promotion and development.’ So in your mind, you think it can’t be done,” says Minhas. “Sure, they have lots of money, but they don’t always have the quickness, the efficiency, and they don’t always have the best brains behind them.”

Minhas’s mother gave her those words of wisdom when she and brother Ravinder launched Mountain Crest in 1999 to supply value-priced beer and liquor to Albertans. With giant Canadian brewers Molson and Labatt dominating the market, it would have been easy for the then 21-year old to get discouraged. “This is a zero-growth industry,” she says, “so every can that I sell has to be taken away from somebody else.”

Far from being intimidated, Mountain Crest splashed into each market it has entered with a unique marketing campaign including free contests and product giveaways. Today the company sells nine brands in Alberta and six brands in Manitoba and claims a market share of about 7%. The company entered Ontario last May, when it rolled out Lakeshore Creek beer. “Competitors weren’t so happy that we are coming into the marketplace,” she boasts. “They’ve seen what we’ve been able to do in Alberta and Manitoba.” Minhas hopes to grab about 10% of Ontario’s retail take-home market within two to three years.

Success, she says, has come by leveraging the strengths of small players, such as speed and agility. That means making decisions in hours or days, versus weeks when responding to market opportunities.”The less bureaucracy the better,” says Minhas. Mountain Crest also avoids management by committee. “We give our general managers a lot of freedom,” says Minhas. “It doesn’t take five people to say ‘yes’ to something. When someone’s on the ground and they see that something needs to be done, they go do it. We have the edge of timing.”

© 2005 Susanne Ruder

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com