It’s a conversation Kerry and Lynn Davison will never forget.
“Our daughter Jenna had been working for three years for a company that did integrated pest management,” recalls Kerry Davison. “One day, she came to Lynn and I and said, ‘I don’t think I want to do this for the rest of my life. Have you given any more thought to the cheese idea?’”
It was October 2009. Jenna Davison was 22 and her sister Emma only 20. Their parents had been kicking around the idea of making cheese from the Jersey cows next door (owned by Kerry’s brother Kevin) ever since a busy commuter road opened beside their formerly isolated Maple Ridge, B.C. acreage a few years earlier.
With Jenna in another career and Emma about to head off to nursing school, the ‘cheese idea’ had been put on the back burner. But that changed in a heartbeat, says their dad.
“I brought my daughters together and said, ‘Lookit, you can wait until I get old to get your inheritance or, if you want, I’ll sink everything I’ve got into this right here and now – if you guys are on board with it.’ And the answer was a resounding ‘Yes.’”
Golden Ears Cheesecrafters (cheesecrafters.ca) opened in August 2011 and has lived up to its promise of soaking up a good part of Kerry and Lynn’s life savings. (The 5,500-square-foot operation includes a large production area and three ‘caves’ for finishing cheeses, as well as an extensive retail area, demonstration kitchen, and gourmet food section.)
But Jenna, head cheese-maker, and Emma, director of sales and marketing, have made it a roaring success. The company unexpectedly turned a small profit in its start-up year (albeit with Kerry and Lynn working for free) and two of its cheeses, a Brie and Havarti, are finalists in the prestigious Canadian Cheese Grand Prix.
With sales and recognition coming much faster than expected, Kerry says that he’s immensely proud of his daughters, but not surprised they’ve done so well. After all, he carefully and dispassionately considered the abilities of both of them before making his all-in offer.
Kerry and Lynn had first considered a cheese operation eight years ago when their daughters were running a blueberry stand from the family’s 12-acre property. Once on a dead-end gravel road, the acreage – also home to Kerry’s part-time hedging cedar operation – is now next to the Abernethy Connector that sees 8,000-plus commuters go by each morning and evening.
“I was really quite amazed at the dollar sales from the blueberry stand and I thought, ‘We have to do something to capitalize on that,’” says Kerry, an electrician and refrigeration specialist.
After the conversation with their parents, Jenna went to work at a cheese operation in Agassiz and Emma switched from nursing to business school.
“Jenna is one of those steady persons, always focused and with a great work ethic,” says Kerry. “She moved to Abbotsford so she could be closer to her work and never missed a day. You could just see how dedicated she was.”
Emma showed the same kind of passion and commitment, he says.
“She got thrown into the whole marketing and sales thing, but she has a real gift for sales,” he says.
Given their youth and that this was something entirely new, there were lots of question marks about how things might work out, but Kerry drew on his own experience. When he was still a teen, his father exited the dairy business and gave each of his five children their inheritance – a share of the property. It was a show of faith that had a profound impact on him, says the 53-year-old, adding he wanted to do the same for his children.
“As parents, there are always those issues about loosening the apron strings and all that,” he says.
“Sure you worry, but you have to take a chance. And you can’t be a micro-manager. I stay out of my daughters’ way. If there are things that I don’t think are going right, then I’ll ask questions. But other than that, I let them do their job. When you’re not looking over their shoulder all the time, you’re showing your faith in them and that’s very important.”
Kerry has some simple advice for parents who have trouble doing that.
“If you’re worried about your kids, listen to what other people say. The assessment of my kids when they worked for other people or dealt with other people was always glowing praise. I have huge respect for the youth of today. Why wouldn’t you give them a chance?”
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