Systematic growth

With 11 mergers in the past seven years, Britec Computer Systems continues its expansion to Victoria, while Wannawafel tries its hand
 at the franchise game.

Britec Computer Systems Ltd. has been in “growth mode” for several years, and now Victoria stands to benefit from its aggressive strategy.

After merging last year with Kelowna’s Browen I.T. Solutions Inc., Britec has opened an office at 1175 Cook Street, just north of Fort, and could employ up to 11 staff. Four began setting up the office in May and at least four more hires are expected this year, says president Roger Katarey, who spoke with Douglas on a conference call from Calgary.

Britec is a privately held provider of not only computer hardware and systems, but also enterprise resource planning (ERP) software for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from the likes of Sage and Microsoft. ERP software helps manage and integrate internal and external information in areas such as financials, human resources, corporate services, sales, and operations/manufacturing.

Founded more than 20 years ago by Katarey, Britec has steadily expanded from its original base in Edmonton to Vancouver, Red Deer, Calgary, Toronto, Kelowna, and now Victoria. In March, it merged with London, Ont.-based MBCSolutions — its 11th and latest acquisition since its founding.

“In about 2002,” says Katarey, “we made a conscious decision to grow the company. We felt that in order to be a valid contender in providing systems, we had to grow. So we were always looking for likeminded companies to come together with.”

Britec now has more than 800 SME clients across Canada, some 140 in British Columbia, and around 50 in Victoria. The company’s annual revenue tops $5 million and it employs 55 total staff across Canada. Because of its emphasis on providing, implementing, and servicing ERP programs like Sage’s widely used Accpac and BusinessVision, Britec employs several CMAs, CGAs, and CAs in addition to its complement of IT specialists.

{advertisement} After the merger with Browen, finalized last year, Tom Burzuk, Browen’s former CEO, remained with Britec as British Columbia district manager in the aftermath of the merger, but has since moved on. Browen executives Brendan Gibb and Desmond Hamp have stayed. Gibb’s new title is British Columbia district IT manager; he’ll be based in Victoria. Hamp will remain in Kelowna as account executive/senior consultant.

“The key in Victoria is finding the most talented people to bring onboard,” Katarey says. “We’re looking for implementers of information systems [because] all commerce, all business, runs on systems.”

Not wasting any time after the merger, two Browen staff initially relocated from Kelowna to Victoria, where they worked from home temporarily before office space was secured.

Britec has worked with SMEs in a wide variety of sectors, including retail, oil and gas, distribution, even quasi-government, so expanding into a vibrant, multifaceted business environment like Victoria makes a lot of sense, Katarey believes. As president of the company, he plans to remain in Calgary, but will be visiting the Victoria office frequently.

“There’s so much energy here — we’re going to grow in Victoria,” Katarey says.

Britec’s Victoria location is being set up with an on-site classroom with six computer workstations where clients can come for training on systems before they’re installed at the clients’ workplace. The classroom will have advanced teleconferencing capabilities so Britec can draw on the expertise of staff at its other locations across the country.

Britec, says Katarey, puts great emphasis on setting up all-inclusive, end-to-end, “dynasty” systems for SMEs that will stand the test of time. In a dynasty system, he explains, individual hardware components will have to be replaced as newer-generation models come along, just like in any other system, “but the functionality of the software and the system as it was originally conceived is still in play and is still working today. That’s a dynasty system.”

With 23 years and counting in the volatile IT sector, Katarey should know a thing or two about what it takes to build a dynasty. He came of age in a time before the PC revolution, when computing was still being done on massive mainframes, and his parents questioned the wisdom of pursuing a career in computers. Since then, he’s seen an exponential leap in the computing power of those giant machines and just as big of 
a decrease in their size.

“We’ve been up and down, we’ve gone through revolutions,” he says. “The mark of being around for so long while continuing to grow and keep many of our original customers … it really means something.”



If you’ve spent any time strolling along the Inner Harbour Causeway the past two summers, you’ve smelled it: the unmistakable aroma of freshly baked, Belgian-style waffles wafting from Wannawafel’s bright-yellow mobile cart. Creator Renaat Marchand shot to fame last year when he and son Arno were featured on CBC’s hit show Dragons’ Den. Marchand, who emigrated from Belgium 11 years ago, spurned the Dragons’ offer but soon found a local investor and partner in business coach Richard Larkin. Now Wannawafel has a year-round presence thanks to a Market Square storefront, and it’s going national with cart franchises rolling far and wide to markets including Moncton; Halifax; Peterborough, Ontario; Ottawa; Calgary; Red Deer; Edmonton; Grand Prairie, Alberta; Kelowna, and Penticton.

Franchisees — who each paid $25,000 in franchise fees and close to $30,000 for their carts — came to Victoria in early May for training and to pick up their carts and materials (see our web feature for more about the Wannawafel franchisees).

Marchand says the waffle cart concept was a “very simple model to sell. We received more than 3,000 inquiries after Dragons’ Den.” So many, Larkin adds, that they had to hire an assistant just to screen all the applicants.

Larkin, along with his wife Kerry Brown, owns and operates SuccessBizCoach, and he saw in Wannawafel not only an investment opportunity, but also a chance to bring a coaching component to a franchise model, something he says is “kind of unique.” Coaching, he explains, is about making your business support your lifestyle — not the other way around. The implication being that profitable franchisees tend to be happy franchisees.

“We care about having profitable franchises, not just selling franchises,” he says. “If they are profitable, they won’t mind writing that royalty cheque.”

Marchand is confident his time-tested family waffle recipe will be a hit across the country. “It has existed for hundreds of years,” he says, “and we are going to change the way waffles are eaten in Canada. People are going to copy us, but I see a waffle ‘movement’ in the next five years.”