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Lessons in success

The Carter Benette Group wins the CAMSC Small Business of the Year Award


January 8, 2018
by Michael Power

Isvar Prashad with his award from CAMSC. The president of the Carter Benette Group Canada took home the Small Business of the Year Award last September. Image: Isvar Prashad.

For Isvar Prashad, the journey to entrepreneurship began almost by accident. At the time, the now-president of The Carter Benette Group Canada ran a large, multi-million-dollar clothing company in Toronto when a friend who operated a cleaning company in Quebec asked him for advice to would help with expansion into Ontario.

“I was kind of intrigued,” says Prashad, who provided sales and marketing strategies to his friend for expansion. “Within six months his business went from nothing in Ontario to over $1 million.”

Prashad decided that entrepreneurship was a better fit for him than corporate life, so he jumped in full time. He bought out his partner and expanded the business across the country. This September the company, The Carter Benette Group, won the Small Business of the Year Award at the Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council’s (CAMSC) 13th-annual Business Achievement Awards Gala in Toronto.

And while the company specializes in janitorial and maintenance services, Prashad notes that it’s real mission lies deeper—space and the places that people work contribute to the top and bottom lines of a business. “Our tagline is, we help our customers create immaculate spaces for their customers to enjoy and their employees to excel,” he says. “We really pay attention to a lot of the details for how we do the business.”

Prashad’s involvement in supplier diversity was as accidental as his leap into entrepreneurship. He got a call from CAMSC one day and started his involvement with the organization soon after that. And while he had grown his business by himself until that point, the help that CAMSC afforded was welcome. “It was really great to have an advocate and somebody supporting me,” he says.

The Carter Benette Group has worked with CAMSC for about five years now, Prashad says, taking advantage of the roundtables, training, workshops and other opportunities that the organization affords. Many of those events are great opportunities to meet face-to-face with major corporations interested in dealing with diverse suppliers. It’s also a good fit because the janitorial business is often a natural entry point into the workforce for recent Canadians. “Ninety-nine percent of our organization is made up of people from diverse backgrounds,” Prashad notes.

CAMSC bridges the gap between diverse suppliers and major corporations and representatives from those large companies are always genuinely interested in helping vendors, Prashad says. But such events don’t always lead to new business. With help from CAMSC, The Carter Benette Group has landed business with large, multi-million dollar companies. But his organization still had to show its relevance. It wasn’t enough to be diverse and it’s still necessary to go through the sales cycle of sending emails and touching base with potential clients. Those large corporations are usually open to hearing from small, diverse vendors so long as there’s value behind what’s offered. “The big hurdle is just getting to talk to them, and organizations like CAMSC facilitate that pretty quickly,” he says.

For small, suppliers looking to break in with large clients, Prashad recommends keeping expectations in check. Suppliers must earn their way to new business, he notes. While a vendor may be diverse and can reach out to a large company, that vendor must still ask, ‘what’s in it for the client?’ “In all honesty, we have to make sure that we’re relevant to them,” Prasad says.

Prashad says that he prefers the term “recent Canadians” to the expression “visible minority.” The Canadians of today are coming from many different backgrounds and the time is perfect for the country—as one of the most diverse nations in history—to push for inclusion of people regardless of background, race, gender, or any other characteristic. “We can’t use that to evaluate whether you’re a worthy citizen,” Prashad says. “It’s really time for Canada to celebrate that.”