In the Spotlight: A Conversation with Terry & Nora McKenna, Andrew Bonnell and Heather MacAulay

November 1, 2022 · 5 mins

Nov 1, 2022

In January 2022, Andrew Bonnell and Heather MacAulay purchased Sterns Laundry (Sterns), in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Sterns is PEI’s only dry cleaner and commercial laundromat servicing the general public and clients such as hotels, restaurants, nursing homes and production plants. Sterns is one of Charlottetown’s longest-running operating businesses.

Confederation M&A was engaged as sell-side advisors, representing Terry and Nora throughout the process of selling their business which had been in their family since the 1960s. Selling the business was not a decision taken lightly given their family history and the legacy of Sterns that they would be passing on to new owners.

Trisha Mossey sat down with Terry, Nora, Heather and Andrew to see how everyone is doing since the transition of the business.

Trisha: Sterns carries such a long legacy in Charlottetown and throughout PEI. Can you tell us a bit about your family’s history with Sterns and the milestones throughout your family’s ownership?

Terry: My dad worked at Sterns while he was going through college to help pay for his education. When he graduated, he kept working at Sterns until he got married. Dad shifted gears and ran a funeral home for a while until they lost a son which would have been my second oldest brother. After losing a child, he wanted to get out of the funeral home business. Pick McCormick was the owner of Sterns at that time and offered Dad the manager position at Sterns – Dad began his full-time career there in the early 1950s.

Around 1961, Pick passed away from a major heart attack and had no family members interested in Sterns. Pick’s wife and dad came up with a deal to purchase Sterns – I believe the purchase price was $61,000.

Dad always said he instantly became a maintenance man, laundry washer, truck driver and bookkeeper. His motto was to be the first one there to greet the staff and customers and the last one to leave to thank the staff and customers. Back then, Charlottetown had 5 or 6 dry cleaners and Sterns was the only business offering commercial laundry service. Dad saw this as a growth opportunity and ended up buying out the other local dry cleaners.

Trisha: Andrew and Heather, you folks are a busy family of 5, and each have your own businesses prior to purchasing Sterns – what made you want to explore purchasing a new business?

Andrew: We always knew that we wanted to find an additional investment to complement our existing business portfolio. When Sterns was presented as an option it felt like the right fit and timing.

Trisha: Reflecting on your decision to sell the business to someone outside the McKenna family – I am thinking that was not an easy decision. What led you to your decision to sell your business?

Terry: The decision to sell was difficult as Sterns had been in our family for basically 60 years. But we knew that there always would be a time to look at selling. When Covid hit and Nora’s health issues came along we both knew it was the right time. We also knew that Sterns needed some new blood at the top to keep it going for another 60 years. After we met Andrew and Heather, Nora and I looked at each other and said ‘Jesus they were us back 20 years ago when we purchased Sterns from my father!’

Trisha: It’s been almost a year since purchasing Sterns – how has your first year been going? How was the transition between yourselves and Terry and Nora?

Heather: From day one, we planned to take the first year in stride to truly learn the intricacies of the business. We feel extremely fortunate to have maintained key staff members through the transition. We are also grateful for a positive relationship with the McKenna’s. We have an open relationship and feel comfortable calling for advice or guidance at any time.

Trisha: How do you hope the legacy of Sterns will continue into the future with Heather and Andrew?

Nora: The family legacy at Sterns I think is very important. We knew how important each customer was to Terry’s father. He worked hard each day to give great value and quality service. He never signed a contract throughout his years owning Sterns, all of his business was done on a handshake and we carried that on until the day we sold!

Trisha: You and Heather are a couple of months away from your first anniversary at Sterns! What have been some of your lessons learned so far?

Andrew: Every day we learn something new. The biggest lesson to date is to take everything in stride and be ready to roll with whatever comes our way.

Trisha: Terry and Nora, after almost a year – how does it feel to have a change of pace?

Nora: It has been close to a year now since being semi-retired and we still talk about our old business on occasion. We have had some communication with the new owners when they have questions. All in all, we are happy with our decision and know the business is in good hands with Heather and Andrew and with the great staff.

Trisha: What led to your decision to hire an M&A Advisor and how did you find the experience?

Terry: Our decision to hire Confederation M&A was finally made when I had a discussion with a good friend about selling the business. He told me not to go anywhere else, and to hire Confederation M&A right away, which I did and it was great advice. I have had discussions with a few other business owners who approached me on how we proceeded to sell our business and it’s a short discussion, call Trisha at Confederation M&A and set up an initial meeting they will take it from there!

Trisha: From a buyer’s perspective, how did you find the experience of purchasing a business through Confederation M&A?

Heather: The buying experience provided by Confederation M&A was superior. From the first call to the last call, we felt well-informed, and educated on the process.

Trisha: What advice would you have for anyone looking to purchase a business?

Heather: Wait for the right time and fit. Owning a business is a lifestyle and it’s important that the business aligns with your goals. Find a team of professionals to help you through the process such as financial, business, and legal advice.