Cover Story: Christine Magee
Living Life on her terms
By Cece M. Scott www.cecescott.com
Close to 25 years ago, Christine Magee had a stable career at a bank. Many people would have been content, but Magee decided to embark on a new trajectory and seize an opportunity. Magee had worked with both Stephen Gunn and Gordon Lownds on previous financial transactions, when they invited Magee to join them as a third operating partner in the launch of a new mattress retail concept. “There were some very attractive industry fundamentals, and we felt that none of the existing mattress retailers were doing a good job of servicing the customers’ needs,” says Magee.
For Magee, it wasn’t just about selling a mattress, a pillow or a sleep accessory, but rather helping a customer get a restorative, better night’s sleep. “We also identified that as the demographic was aging, the awareness around the importance of sleep was growing,” says Magee. “And there was an opportunity for us to service that need – along with providing exceptional customer service.”
In 1994, it wasn’t an easy decision for Magee and her husband, Allen, to quit their jobs, sell everything and move from Toronto to Vancouver. From a purely conventional perspective, those who were looking at this new adventure from an outside position, didn’t understand why they would leave good jobs to start a new company. “I stopped telling people what we were going to do, and thought it was better if we just went out and did it,” says Magee. “We certainly had to weigh the pros and cons of that decision. Now when I am asked what lessons I have learned, I talk about the importance of the notion – what would I do if I were not afraid to fail? I hope that if I want something bad enough, I will make every effort to go out and make it happen.”
A Dynamic Campaign
The start-up business plan for the new company was an aggressive one, with 88 stores scheduled to open in the first five years. Four stores were launched in lower, mainland Vancouver, and by the end of the first year of operation, 12 stores were up and running.
Sleep Country opened 10 stores in Ontario in 1996. Within the same year, 19 more stores were added, and another 14 stores in 1997. In the fall of 1997, they opened four new stores in Calgary, and by the end of the first three years, they had opened more than 50 stores. Fast forward to 2018, and Sleep Country has more than 247 stores across Canada, 16 distribution centres and more than 1,400 team members. “From the beginning, we have focused on three factors to differentiate us from our competition,” says Magee.
First, Sleep Country creates top-of-mind awareness, so that each customer understands that they are receiving the best value and the best service. Secondly, an exceptional in-store experience services the needs of the customer through a consultation, rather than a hard sell. And thirdly, Sleep Country offers a prompt delivery service that includes a three-hour delivery window and the removal of the mattress packaging, in addition to the removal of the old bed, which is recycled or donated to a family in need. “Our ability to deliver on these three factors is all about the execution, and excellent execution comes down to having the right team,” says Magee. “Attracting, developing and retaining a great team of associates has been the differentiator in delivering on our customer promises.”
There’s no question that Magee has created one of the most award-winning formulas for success, and is an inspiration to many. Recognition includes, Canada’s Top 40 under 40 (1997); Induction into the Retail Council of Canada Hall of Fame (2005); Women’s Executive Network Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women (2007, 2010, 2011 and 2013 ), the Order of Canada (2015), and the Excellence Canada Special Recognition of Achievement Award (2017). “At the end of the day, it’s all about companionship and friendships,” says Magee. “Any successes that I have had are made that much brighter by sharing them with the individuals who have helped me to get there.”
Moving in the right direction
At the age of 58, and after 24 years of strategizing, implementing and hands-on company management, Magee is, once again, listening to her inner voice. To that end, she has transitioned from her role as President of Sleep Country to that of Co-Chair of the Board for Sleep Country Canada Inc. “It was a more difficult transition than I expected,” says Magee. “Now, I balance my time between overseeing the business and other board work, while being able to pursue my personal goals. I didn’t realize how ingrained in the day-to-day activities I was, so it takes a period of adjustment to let go.”
In addition to Sleep Country, Magee also sits on the boards for Metro Inc., Woodbine Entertainment Group, as well as two non-profits, Trillium Health Partners and Plan International Canada. “Right now I am fully occupied. I’m challenged. I’m learning. I am also enjoying spending more time with my husband and my daughters. I am confident that these are the right ways to spend my time at this point in my life.”
Magee has two daughters – Riley, 20 and Kate, 17. “As the life stages of the family changes, Al and I, as parents, have to change and adapt as well,” says Magee. “I hope that I can share that same belief with my daughters that my parents gifted me with – that in life, we are really only limited by our own aspirations.”
Being present, and appreciating those around her, are conscious choices. Observing challenges that friends and family members are facing as they age is a reality that is all-too real. “To the degree that I can influence my health, I need to take responsibility for it.”
Magee has always been active and involved in many sports like skiing, golfing, tennis and yoga.“I’m rejuvenated by nature, and I love going to the cottage, going for walks and taking the time to take in the beautiful scenery.”
As she approaches her sixth decade, Magee is well aware that this very moment is what’s important – to appreciate it and to live in it. There’s no point in having regrets, but to learn from them and to move on. “When we are young, we do not realize just how much time we have to determine our passion – one’s true calling. Then we age, and we finally discover what our passions are, only to realize that we don’t have as much time to pursue them as we thought.”