Adapting to ever changing consumer tastes and demands is essential to the survival of any retail business and that has never been more obvious to Tony Veder, owner of DLR Clothing and Jamaican Patty Shop.
“The whole retail industry in North America has changed,” said Veder. “Everyone in the business is looking for the formula that is going to work for them. If you’re not diversifying and keeping up you will fall behind.”
It’s a lesson Veder learned the hard way.
“I used to have tons of bricks and mortar stores,” he said. “I had six stores in the States and all that stuff but it just disintegrated. A lot of people don’t know what to do. Look how empty the mall is. Online shopping has killed that element of retail.”
Rather than surrender to the prevailing winds of e-commerce Veder has moved most of his business online, shrunk his showroom and broadened his services for the late-night bar crowd.
“Not only are we a clothing store by day but by night we share space with my other business,” said Veder. “This is actually a fully licensed kitchen and Jamaican patty shop with ice cream from Hewitts Dairy. It’s a combination of everything I have ever done. It’s in a small space and it’s versatile. It is the business of the future.”
Veder, comes from a long line of merchants and as the youngest of five siblings growing up in Waterloo, he gained valuable business experience working in his grandparents’ textile shop.
“I spent half the day in kindergarten and half the day in my grandparents shop,” he said. “Someone had to babysit me. That was in downtown Waterloo where the city hall parking lot is now at my grandfather’s old factory KW Textile Jobbers.”
His mother was a real estate broker in KW and that inspired him to get a degree in building appraisals from St. Lawrence College in Cornwall, Ontario. A few years after graduating he decided to explore his father’s side of the family in Holland.
“I had a clothing store in Amsterdam for four years in the Spuistraat,” said Veder. “My family goes back hundreds of years as merchants there.”
The experience had a big impact on Veder’s business and cultural views and would influence many of the decisions he made after he opened DLR Clothing in April 1999.
“I came back from Europe broke and I was living at my sister’s house, sleeping on her couch,” he said. “We had a bunch of leftover stock and we rented a spot at 54 Carden Street. We bought this building in 2003 by the skin of our chinny, chin, chins.”
He is a distributor for American Apparel and gained a reputation for stocking high quality and stylish clothes but in April of 2015 that reputation became clouded in controversy when he introduced a little Amsterdam culture to downtown Guelph.
“I am also known for the marijuana vapour lounge,” said Veder.
For a $5 daily membership fee, marijuana smokers could light up inside the 420 DLR Vapour Lounge and listen to the music of Bob Marley and the Grateful Dead. Around the same time he opened a marijuana dispensary in Toronto.
“I had the vape lounge for 11 months but when my dispensary got busted my bail conditions forced me to shut it down,” he said. “I fired my lawyer and took on the case myself. In the end they gave me back all my money and everything was basically thrown out.”
He remains an outspoken advocate for fair and sensible drug laws and is deeply critical of the way the federal, provincial and municipal governments are preparing for marijuana legalization coming up in July of this year.
In the meantime he is taking his signature busy as usual approach and looking forward to expanding his e-commerce and home delivery service.“Because of my experience and more than 300 years as a merchant family I’ve learned it is not an easy business,” he said. ”I risked everything in my life for this and will just keep working harder and working harder. You know what they call that – chutzpa.”