You may know Bruce MacGillivray as the man behind Barrie’s Instant Imprints, a business that specializes in custom branded apparel, signs, and promotional products. What you might not know, however, is that Bruce only opened the business two years ago. So what was he doing for the many years before that? Well, here’s his story.
Bruce is a Barrie guy through and through. Born and bred right here in the city, he’s an alumni of Barrie Central Collegiate, which, though now closed, was the oldest secondary school in Simcoe County.
After graduating from Central, Bruce started to zero in on career options. And here, the age old struggle of a young adult feeling around in the darkness for a career path comes back. At first, Bruce thought he was cut out to be a computer programmer. He had an interest in computers and design, so he enrolled in a college program.
But one thing he left out of the equation was the math involved. Like many of us, Bruce was not a fan of calculating those square roots and carrying those 2s, 3s, and 4s. So Bruce began reconsidering and figured he could see himself as a businessman. He enrolled in Georgian College and, three years later, emerged with a business diploma, ready to cannonball into the workforce.
But some unexpected family health issues arose, which obliged him to return home and quickly find a job in order to pitch in. He found one at The Brick, working as a retail salesman. Though not his ideal, corporate dream job, working at The Brick still put money in his wallet.
So Bruce stuck with it for five long years and he learned an important lesson in the process. He wasn’t cut out for sales or accounting like he had previously thought. Instead, he wanted to be a marketer.
“After working for five years, I got a much better idea of what appealed to me in business and what didn’t,” he said. “I found I’d rather be moving forward in marketing than anything else.”
So, after a five year break from school, Bruce became a Georgian student once again, returning to the College to obtain his marketing diploma.
But even armed with both a business and marketing diploma, Bruce was still unable to break into the industry.
“There weren’t many opportunities in the field,” he said. “I went back to The Brick; worked part time and then transitioned to full time as a way of paying the bills.” To any of you who have still struggled to find jobs after getting a full education, I’m sure this sounds familiar.
Bruce wasn’t destined to work in retail forever, though. After putting in his fair share of time at The Brick, an opportunity arose to work for an American-owned plastics manufacturer in Brampton. He was offered an inside sales position and leapt on the chance immediately.
As it turned out, however, working in Brampton and living in Barrie was not Bruce’s groove. After all, is a 200 kilometre commute both ways really anybody’s groove? I don’t think so.
So Bruce began looking for other opportunities in Barrie. Commuting to Brampton every day ended up having some good results. Having the sales position on his resume highly boosted his employability and, before long, he was flooded with job offers.
“I ended up getting more and more into sales jobs,” he said. “I was working locally here in Barrie. I held a sales position with an office products company for a few years, and from there an opportunity arose to work for Moneris.”
This was Bruce’s biggest career breakthrough yet. Moneris is Canada’s largest financial tech company that specializes in payment processing. When you tap, swipe, or insert your credit or debit card at the store, chances are the electronic funds are processed by the multi-million dollar company.
And, in 2006, Bruce started working as a salesman for Moneris. Covering North-Central Ontario, he had a massive sales territory to work with.
“My sales area stretched from south of Newmarket, up to the Manitoulin border, over to Thunder Bay, and then to Kinkardine and Keswick.”
With all that ground to cover in his first few years, Bruce was quite the travelling salesman. He’d make trips out to the company’s bank partners, help service their clients, and meet with branch managers. But as time went on and technology continued to evolve, Bruce started spending less time on the road and more on the phone.
“Beforehand,” he said, “since it was such a large area, I’d have to schedule with clients when I could travel out to them. But oftentimes, people are working on a tight schedule and need things on a quicker turnaround time. For example, signing documents became much easier when the technology around it advanced. Instead of traveling out to the client, they could sign the papers via DocuSign.”
But deep down, Bruce knew he wouldn’t stay in sales forever. His dream to become a marketer was still alive and well within him. He was just waiting for the opportunity to bring it out.
“I think as I was working sales, I realized that it can be very rewarding or very worrying,” he said. “It’s very results-oriented. So when things are going well and you’re making sales, everything’s great. But when there’s a rough quarter or something, things are tough. Organizations may decide to move on.”
This kind of thrill may be enticing for the young and excitable junior salesman, but after a number of years, the day-in-day-out pressure takes its toll. Bruce was at the point where he wanted to move on.
“At that point, I was worried about the reliability of the role. You want to have control over your career and have some idea of what the future will bring. So something that was in the back of my head for a long time was becoming more entrepreneurial and starting a business of my own.”
And so it was, in April 2019, that he left sales and Moneris and bought an Instant Imprints franchise in his hometown, Barrie.
“As I had gone along in my sales career, I came across the Instant Imprints franchise,” said Bruce. “They have over 60 locations in North America, and I saw a lot of synergy or similarity between experience and the business that I could draw from. A lot of business-to-business service, which is what I did with finance for a number of years. And it involves networking, you know, meeting with people working with small businesses, all things that I had done and areas that I really enjoyed.”
It was a connection that simply clicked. Plus, with Bruce’s education in marketing, he knew he’d be able to manage all angles of the business. But that’s not to say it didn’t come with its share of challenges.
“There’s been ups and downs, and that’s no surprise. I went from having a paycheque coming in regularly to not knowing if I’d make a profit with my business every two weeks. And the benefits and everything that you’re used to when you work for someone else? You don’t have that when you’re starting a business.”
These are the normal hurdles that entrepreneurs must face when starting their own business. Any entrepreneurs reading this are probably nodding their heads in complete understanding of Bruce’s trials. But there was one thing that Bruce never planned for when he opened Instant Imprints: a global pandemic.
“I went into the business with a plan and a strategy, and I thought I’d be able to look ahead to the future and see things getting easier after I got settled. And then Covid hit just a few months after opening and threw a wrench in everything.”
Pivot. That became the name of the game for every business owner on the planet. For Bruce, that’s meant lowering his growth expectations and trying to get by as best he could.
“We’re not at the levels we had projected to be when we first opened, not knowing Covid would hit,” he said. “But looking at other industries and how it’s affected them, we’ve been comparatively fortunate.”
When the pandemic hit, Bruce shifted Instant Imprints’ focus to relevant industries, such as branding PPE (personal protective equipment) and other items that boomed in production.
But now, with reopening, some of the more traditional services industry businesses are coming back. And that’s Instant Imprints’ wheelhouse.
“With the reopening, I think a lot of these businesses are looking at how they can rebrand themselves,” said Bruce. “They’re looking for new uniforms and a new look overall. They’re just searching for ways to tell their customer base, ‘We’re back and we want to serve you better than ever.’”
And it’s that focus on branding that Instant Imprints does so well. Custom apparel, embroidery, signs and banners, promotional products, print services – you name it. “That’s our area,” said Bruce. “That’s where we try to help our local businesses grow their presence and team unity.”
It’s proven to work, too. Statistics show that promotional products are one of the most effective ways to keep customers coming back. And, within a business, staff that wear good-looking, branded apparel lends an image of professionality. It’s a simple philosophy: When everyone looks good, everyone works better.
So, whether you own a business or just want to get some customized apparel made, Bruce MacGillivray, the man behind Barrie Instant Imprints, is your one-stop destination for all your branding needs.
Written by: Peter Wilson