It’s been a downtown Hamilton institution for decades, driven by an entrepreneur whose civic pride and commitment to the core has made him a shining star in the business community. He’s the good Dr., Mark Furukawa, owner of Dr. Disc on Wilson Street in downtown Hamilton. Michael Marini from Hamilton Economic Development recently spoke with Mark about his business journey and thoughts on entrepreneurship.
You have been part of Dr Disc for over 20 years. In your opinion, what has changed in Hamilton throughout your time on this street?
In 1991 I came to Hamilton to open Dr. Disc from London, where the first Dr. Disc store opened, after getting my B.A. at the University of Western Ontario. At that time when I told friends and associates that I was moving to Hamilton, their reaction was nearly universal: a look of horror on their face followed by, “Why are you moving to Hamilton?!” And at the time I did have some reservations myself. The downtown, when scouting possible locations for Dr. Disc, appeared, in a word, underwhelming. There were vacant properties everywhere; no new development; and the mood that permeated the core seemed to be rather cynical and not very optimistic to say the least!
Fast forward to 2010 or thereabouts, after two decades of hard work and perseverance (and being honestly too dumb to quit). The downtown hadn’t changed much in physical appearance as there was still next to no new development – banks weren’t even giving mortgages to those wanting to invest in property downtown at the time – but there seemed to be a shift in thinking and outlook, primarily among younger entrepreneurs, artists and creative types. Instead of waiting for approval or following someone else’s model, the new generation just started doing their own thing. Rents were very affordable so if someone wanted to start a small, independent business, it didn’t require a lot of funding and it was easier to make a profit or at least stay open another month. And that’s exactly what happened.
Since then the success of these independent businesses, plus other initiatives such as the monthly Art Crawl, Supercrawl, as well as consistent promotion by the Hamilton Economic Development, Hamilton Tourism and the City of Hamilton itself, have succeeded in revitalizing the core even more and have spurred on new businesses, development and investment. Some may say that these advancements are negative, but I feel that the worst thing that can happen to Hamilton, or any other city for that matter, is stagnation where nothing at all changes or even regresses. And for a while during the 2000’s this seemed to be just the case. Downtown Hamilton was not a desirable place to be and only the most stubborn and resourceful businesses managed to stick it out here.
What is your advice to other business owners?
Hamiltonians tend to be down-to-earth folks who steer away from disingenuous things, so if you’re starting a new business here, the best advice that I can give (especially if you are not from Hamilton) is to get to know and understand the community and become integrated within it. Locals will go out of their way to support you if you demonstrate integrity, honesty and a desire to not only have your business succeed, but to make Hamilton a better place as well.
General advice that I would give any business owner is to stick to your vision and your goals. Don’t try and be all things to all people as this will only serve to dilute your focus and drain your energy. Make sure you have certain goals – not purely financial – of how you want to grow and shape your business, and always keep them in the forefront of your mind. You may have to tweak your business model on occasion (and well you should!), but the basic heart and soul of your business should always remain intact. Additionally, if you’re not having fun, it’s time to move on.
Some specific advice to promoting and growing a business here in Hamilton is that using social media is absolutely essential. Hamilton has extremely strong community engagement online as I have found firsthand while maintaining the Twitter account for Dr. Disc. Twitter, along with Facebook and Instagram, have been a very effective methods for us to let people know what we’re all about, and it has come to the point where we take more orders via social media than we do by phone or email! Of course, we cater to a younger demographic that is more apt to use social media, but any business needs to have a presence online these days.
What is your all-time favourite record and why?
This is a question that I get asked often, and it is one that is impossible for me to answer! Of course I have some “desert island discs” that I always come back to, but these can also change with my mood or mindset. The closest I can come to answering this question is to pick an era of music which means the most to me personally, and that would be the late ‘70s and early ‘80s as this era really helped shape my identity. The music (post-punk and “new wave” genres in specific) made me realize that being different was okay, and more importantly that being unique was a strength, not a liability. If it wasn’t for the music I don’t think I would have been an entrepreneur and certainly wouldn’t have chosen my career path which I still love and treasure to this very day.
Interview as told to Michael Marini as part of the 3 Big Questions, 1 Small Business series. Marini is the Coordinator of Marketing for the City of Hamilton’s Economic Development Office. He can be reached at @hamiltonecdev and @marinitweet.