|Her Cookbooks Cook Up Huge Sales|
Anyone who looks in the cookbook section of a bookstore will wonder how so many cookbooks can sell. They may well say: what this country doesn't need is another cookbook! Nevertheless, Jean Pare of Vermilion, Alberta expects to sell a million or more in Canada every year.
"And that's a fairly conservative estimate. We now have 14 books out and sales in Canada alone exceed 5 million copies."
Jean was born in a small rural town named Irma in eastern Alberta. She got into the cookbook industry after running her own catering business in Vermilion, Alberta for 18 years.
"I volunteered to cater to 1,000 people at the 50th anniversary of the Vermilion School of Agriculture (now Lakeland College). I really didn't know what I was in for. It was just a challenge and I enjoyed it. As a result of that, since it was a success, people began asking me to cater weddings, anniversaries, school graduations, business meetings.
"And over the years I began to collect an enormous number of recipes. People would ask me for them and I never turned them down and I also got some in return. I still get recipes in the mail.
"Then people started to say I should write a cookbook. I thought about it but it was really my son Grant who encouraged me. He saw the potential. I said if I wrote a cookbook it would be three feet thick and Grant said to concentrate on one thing and get that out. So I wrote "150 Delicious Squares" and within two weeks of its publication I knew I had to give up the catering business. "
Jean's business was so successful she had to move into an 800 square foot office and warehouse from her test kitchen in her home. Soon she had to move to a larger place with 2400 square feet.
"Then we moved to Edmonton where we had an 8,000 square foot office and warehouse and thought we were really fixed. No way! We built our own 24,000 square foot building and we can build on to it."
Meantime the books, all under the "Company's Coming" series, were selling like hotcakes in other countries.
"We have distributors in the U.S., England, New Zealand, Australia,
Singapore, the Philippines, Barbados. And I'm sure every English-speaking person in Saudi Arabia has a copy of all of our cookbooks! Where we don't have distributors we get group orders for cases of books. We now have versions in French and we sold the right to a Mexican publisher to publish them in Spanish."
I asked Jean what she sees for the future?
"We're doing two books a year with no end in sight. I never plan to retire. In addition, our 'Company's Coming Snack Bars' are doing well. We're franchising them and they're now coast to coast. We're on the Alberta Stock Exchange and hopefully we'll soon be on the Toronto Stock Exchange."
'Company's Coming' is a real family business. From the beginning son Grant Lovig (now vice-president) worked with Jean, then daughter Gail (western marketing manager) and son Lyal joined the firm. Were there problems with having family in the business?
"My only problems are good ones! I can only wish that every family is as fortunate as I am. My children get along so well. I think one reason is they are not working side by side on the same thing. There is no arguing over whose idea is the best. Their ideas relate to what they are doing. I only wish my grandchildren could become more involved but they live too far away. Some of the older ones do come and help out when we are busy with a new release."
Jean keeps ahead of the cookbook game by taking note of what her customers want.
"We have a tally sheet in the office and when someone requests a book on a particular food, we mark it down. Pasta was very high on the request list so we brought out a book on Pasta. People seem to want to entertain at home more nowadays, which is one reason cookbooks are so popular. Also, I think there is an enormous amount of pleasure derived from making a nice looking dish, an appetizing dish. I have a lot of cookbooks myself. While it's been said that a cook will count it lucky if she uses one recipe repeatedly out of a book she'll not begrudge the price, I am overwhelmed by the letters we get from people who say they use my recipes over and over. In our next sales of 200,000 copies of our new book we expect half will be pre-ordered. They have such faith in these books that they buy them sight-unseen."
Of the 14 books available from Company's Coming in 1990, what was the most popular?
"In these low-calorie and health-conscious days where salt and sugar are no-nos, you might think 'soup & sandwiches’. But no. The number one bestseller is the first book we did: 150 Delicious Squares!"
Jean Pare's goal is to place a cookbook in every home in the English speaking world. A big goal? Not for the gentle lady from Vermilion, Alberta
who proved that you don't have to live in a big city to have big ideas. She's another Canadian Achiever.
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