Q&A: How a Toronto fur business has lasted four generations
There was never any doubt in Dan Kahnert’s mind that he and his brother John were going to end up in the fur business.
The family’s fur legacy was set in motion four generations earlier when his great grandfather immigrated to Canada from Germany in the late 1800s. Two generations later, in 1957, Kahnert’s dad established their retail operation on Avenue Road in Toronto, where it’s been ever since.
Now, as condo development has pushed the small family business up the road into a new location, Kahnert reflects on his 30 years in the business and the values that have made Kahnert’s Limited a success.
When did you decide you wanted to follow in your father’s footsteps?
Growing up I remember coming in on Saturdays when I was in school and working in the little factory in the basement where we cut and sewed some of our own fur coats and did repairs and alterations. I certainly grew up in the business but it was in Grade 12 or 13 I decided to seriously pursue it.
When did you father pass the company off to you and what was the transition like?
He passed the company to us in 2000. He had diabetes and he had lost his sight in one eye but that year he lost sight in the second. He was 73 years old and still working. He retired and lived for another 5 years before he passed. He had provisions written in the will for the business. It was a very easy transition — we knew where the future was going. We don’t have any other staff so it’s a very hands-on, small business with just my brother and I.
What sort of advice can you offer to a family business hitting that transition phase and looking to preserve their legacy?
My father was very open and listened to my ideas whether it had to do with marketing or products to put in the store and he was always very willing to give me that room to work in. I think every new generation has new ideas and you have to give them room to explore those ideas. Always keep the lines of communication open. And also, even though it’s a family business you have to cover those legal aspects with the transition, as far as shares and transfer of shares in the future and how it’s going to fall into place when that generation moves on.