A Labour of Love – Convenience & Carwash Canada Celebrates 15 Years
BY Meline Beach
A dash of curiosity, a sprinkle of resilience, and a load of determination and tenacity is Brenda Johnstone’s recipe for success with the introduction of Convenience & Carwash Canada magazine, launched in June 2008.
That year, American swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt dominated the Beijing Summer Olympics; Canadians voted for the Conservative party, which led by a minority government; Barack Obama made history with his victorious win in U.S. politics; and Coldplay released its first number one hit in the U.S. and Grammy Song of the Year with “Viva La Vida” – which, in Spanish, is an expression of “Long Live Life”.
“Long Live Life” – a fitting term for Brenda’s journey as an employee to publisher, producer, entrepreneur, and trailblazer. Not one to sit idle, Brenda has accomplished many great things since the launch of this magazine and forged too many-to-count positive working relationships-turned-friendships along the way. Read on to learn of her journey as we celebrate the magazine’s 15th anniversary.
Mission and Motivation
“I had been working within the publishing industry for many years and gained a vast amount of knowledge, including production and print processes,” says Brenda, whose husband owned a printing company in Toronto at the time. “I worked at a small publisher in Toronto where I sold advertising space and design work. My first big account was a government contract that those that I worked for at the time “allowed” me to go pitch. That was in the days of storyboards where you stood at the front of a room and talked about what we can do for you while presenting a series of messages that mapped out the concept. In another scenario, I had done cold-calling about design projects and this woman said they were looking for a new company to do creative work. So, off I went on a wing and a prayer, made my pitch, hit it off, and landed the contract.”
After years of working for someone else, Brenda felt she could do better and set off to “steer her own ship.”
“I wanted to publish a better magazine that provides readers with the information they could use to grow their business.”
She took her savings and began the journey of creating a publication that would inspire retailers to do better in operating their stores and offering their customers the best product and services they could.
Her mission has served Yvon Bourgeois of YB Sales Inc. well. Yvon has been advertising in Convenience & Carwash Canada since the launch of 5-Hour Energy in Canada many years ago.
“Convenience & Carwash Canada is our go-to magazine to let our customers know what new flavours or new products we are launching in Canada,” says Yvon. “Brenda has helped us launch new products, raise brand awareness and generate sales.”
Evolution since Inception
“When I launched Convenience & Carwash Canada my vision was to offer the industry a publication that was second to none. We began by offering people in-depth articles about hot topics such as tobacco, new laws and regulations, labour relations, and technology,” says Brenda. The magazine quickly became a trusted source of information on sometimes controversial topics, often contributed by key industry professionals and subject matter experts – published in both digital copy and print on a bi-monthly basis. “As I became more entrenched in both petroleum and carwash, I decided to offer more in-depth topics in this area and developed our Forecourt Insights series that Ed Kammerer covers in every issue.
Brenda met Ed through Darren Wight, who works for Dean Houston & Associates and represents OPW, PDQ, Belanger, and more.
“Through the years, Darren has introduced me to many new companies and has helped educate me on everything from leak detection to carwash success, and so much more,” says Brenda.
This type of networking and friendship building is a common occurrence for Brenda. Her friendly and professional disposition makes for a comfortable working relationship – so much so that her roster of advertisers, writers, and designers remain loyal to her and the magazine for many years.
Krista Anderson, founder and chief executive officer of ESSTAR speaks fondly of Brenda for her dedication to supporting her company and its mission through advertising opportunities and industry introductions.
“Brenda has the heart to elevate female founders and their businesses for the greater good of everyone,” says Krista, who has benefitted from referrals and new contacts from her involvement with Convenience & Carwash Canada. “If you’re looking to develop brand recognition or create a path for change, this magazine will help you execute that.”
In addition to her great networking skills, part of Brenda’s success is also based on her collaborative style.
“When we prepare our editorial schedule each summer for the next edition, I call retailers from across the country and ask them what they’d like to read about or learn in upcoming editions,” says Brenda. “By asking readers what they want, I believe that they will have a vested interest in the magazine’s content.”
Both Doug Coates, a long-time graphic designer, and Angela Altass, writer/editor of Convenience & Carwash Canada, share a testament to Brenda’s collaborative style.
“Being a member of Design Professionals of Canada I have spoken with other designers and the one thing some have shared that I haven’t experienced is design direction being forced from the top down, meaning publishers or editors direct the visual feel of the publication,” says Doug, who’s designed over 90 issues so far. “In the case of Convenience & Carwash Canada, each of us on the team respects the others’ area of expertise, not that we don’t provide feedback or suggestions. I think it’s the collaborative environment that makes it work. so well.”
Angela concurs: “Brenda and I met when we worked together at another publishing firm in Toronto over 25 years ago. When she reached out to me, as a freelance writer, to write for Convenience & Carwash Canada, I was thrilled to reconnect with her again and have been writing for the magazine for over 12 years. I would describe working with Brenda and the team at Convenience & Carwash Canada as a very collaborative experience in which it often feels more like a family than just a work relationship.”
Milestones and Accomplishments
In its earlier years, Convenience & Carwash Canada was published in English and Korean, based on a partnership Brenda had established with the Canada Korea Business Association.
“I met wonderful people and even travelled to Korea on a trade mission,” says Brenda. “I’ve got great memories of various people I’ve worked with and enjoy spotlighting companies that are changing the landscape of the industries in which they work.”
Over the years, Convenience & Carwash Canada has been recognized with industry accolades, including a gold and silver Canadian Online Publishing (COPA) Award for Best Print & Digital Magazine in Canada for two consecutive years, a Silver COPA for Best Company Feature, and a Best Editorial feature from the Manitoba Publishers Association, as well as a few honourable mentions.
“It is very special to be recognized for the work that we all do,” says Brenda. “I’m not sure anyone knows the work involved in producing a magazine, beyond it showing up in their mailbox. We do what we do. It’s a labour of love.”
The magazine’s greatest impact is, in large part, related to its grass-roots way of doing everything.
“We invite people to write our articles from a hands-on perspective,” says Brenda. “I’ve always believed that those who work hands-on with any product is the expert who should write the articles.”
Take for example Amy Boudreau, chief executive officer and president, of The Yoga Cop Inc., who’s known Brenda since 2017, when she first wrote an article for the magazine on robbery prevention while she was working as a crime prevention officer for a large metropolitan police service at the time.
Amy says, “Through her magazine, Brenda has provided a platform for businesses to stay updated on emerging trends. She takes a cross-sectional approach from different industries to boost readers with tactical strategies and solutions to enhance their business.”
Many industry subject matter experts and dedicated freelance writers to Convenience & Carwash Canada cover a range of content from bathroom cleanliness, carwash chemicals, and safety awareness like human trafficking to innovation and technology, environmental awareness, and profitable foodservice solutions – content that convenience, retail petroleum and carwash owners and operators have come to rely on to be informed and educated on industry news, trends, and best practices.
Challenges and Opportunities
“Price increases with paper and postage are two of my biggest challenges, along with the struggle to raise my advertising rates with limited marketing dollars,” says Brenda. “The pandemic hurt everyone – many independent stores had to close and some were acquired, and many advertisers pulled out because they had to make serious cuts. There were also supply chain issues where suppliers couldn’t get products, such as equipment, and sales across the whole industry were down, except for convenience stores, as they were deemed essential services. We just kept doing what we do and published smaller editions but added additional editorial topics that focused more on safety and mental health. Thankfully, our readership remains steady with owners and operators of retail petroleum, convenience and carwash sites, coast to coast.”
In her 15 years of running the magazine, Brenda only received one negative message from a disgruntled reader, and that was to let her know how disappointed she was to have found a spelling mistake in that particular edition.
“I laughed at that and sent her a reply thanking her for taking the time to send this message to me,” says Brenda. “I let her know that in all the years of publishing more than 6,000 words per edition, she found one spelling mistake and that I am thankful for loyal readers like her.”
Brenda remains true to herself and others across all her encounters.
“A competitor once told me, when I launched Convenience & Carwash Canada magazine, that I’d never make it, that it was a man’s industry and I had no business in this business,” recalls Brenda. “What I say is, I’m very good at what I do, I work hard, and if you tell me I can’t do something, well, those who know me well would tell you ‘them’s fightin’ words’ to Brenda.”
Paul Romaniuk, operations manager-Alberta for Transchem Group has advertised in Convenience & Carwash Canadaon many occasions and remains fond of the magazine and his working relationship with Brenda forged over the years.
“Brenda has proven that this industry has incredible leaders in both genders and across all areas,” says Paul. “Her passion for this industry and its advancement comes through in every aspect of the magazine, making Convenience & Carwash Canada one of the premier periodicals in this industry.”
Brenda, who’s had to fight stereotypes and naysayers her whole career, is a trailblazer with a few startups to her name, including the semi-annual Women & Carwash Conference. She advises, “Never let anyone tell you you can’t do something when you know you can and you know it’ll be great.”
It’s not surprising that, with her tenacity and determination combined with a genuine personality, she’s influencing others.
“Recently at an event that I organize, a young woman told me that I inspire her and that she would love it if I would agree to be her mentor. That was something that I never thought about and have since added this to the bottom of my emails… “You may never know that what you do in your everyday life might be the inspiration that someone else needs.”
Small and medium-sized businesses are significant contributors to the Canadian economy, however unfortunately, many don’t survive beyond 10 years. Accolades to Brenda and Convenience & Carwash Canada for continuing to survive and thrive the test of time with a growing advertiser base and diverse readership with great editorial content ideas lined up for future editions.
Meline Beach is a Toronto-based communications practitioner and frequent contributor to Convenience and Carwash Canada. In addition to freelance writing, Meline provides communications and public relations support to businesses across Canada. She can be reached at www.mlbcomms.ca.