Last September, at a staff dinner for all the instructors and administrators who work at Okanagan Valley College of Massage Therapy (OVCMT), Roxanne Petruk joked to the founder, Doug Fairweather, “Yeah, well, when I’m running this place…”
She was teasing, of course. And then Fairweather, replied: “OK.”
Petruk is a registered massage therapist (RMT) and graduate of OVCMT who was now a sessional instructor. A few days after the dinner, she sat in Fairweather’s office and asked, “Were you serious?”
What began as banter quickly became an exit strategy for Fairweather, who had been running the school since its founding in 1994 and was now ready to retire, and a business opportunity for Petruk, who fell in love with the people and the passion behind the school in 2009 when she entered it as a student pursuing a second career.
“The staff here are wonderful. I’ve seen it from all sides, as a student and as an instructor, and that was a big motivation for me to want to buy the school,” says Petruk. “They’re so passionate about massage therapy and they’re really engaged in student learning. In turn, the students become engaged with each other and with their own learning, and it’s become a great opportunity to engage with the public.”
The hitch was, Petruk didn’t know anything about buying a business. Fairweather, who had once sat on the Community Futures North Okanagan (CFNO) board of directors, suggested Petruk visit the organization for guidance. Community Futures Loans Program supports existing and start-up businesses in the region. Petruk ended up in the office of Rob Short, loans coordinator.
“I said, ‘I’ve never valued or purchased a business. I’m a teacher. I’m passionate about massage and students and teaching, but this opportunity has come to light.’
Short said, “Well, let’s explore it.”
Soon, Petruk had handouts and links and a to-do list to help her get started on Step 1, the business plan. Back and forth she went in and out of Short’s office as he continued providing feedback on her business plan. During one of those visits, Short told her he had an idea for Step 2, the financing, and an application was started.
“I knew this was a project Community Futures would want to support,” says Short. “It ticked so many boxes for us—employment, economic development, business retention, and we were very confident that Roxanne was really invested in its success.”
Every day, dozens, if not hundreds, of cars and people pass the OVCMT building on the corner of 30th Ave and 34th Street, without realizing the machine running in its two floors and 14,280 square feet. With twice-yearly intakes of classes ranging from 25-46 students and four classes running simultaneously, at any given time, there could be nearly 150 students taking the two-year program, which prepares students to become registered massage therapists.
At the school’s on-site training clinic, more than 400 residents take advantage of affordable massages, and dozens more receive treatment through community outreach clinics. In a year, thousands of locals improve their health through the offerings at OVCMT.
The school employs nearly a dozen management/administration staff and up to 50 part-time or contract teaching and supervising staff, many of whom have a practice in Vernon as well.
Most of the students come from across the Thompson-Okanagan to study here, and so contribute significantly to the economy, particularly downtown, where they congregate in the cafes and restaurants, and later, after becoming registered, set up their own practices.
“There were other parties outside the Okanagan interested in buying the school because of its great reputation, and we knew it was really in the best interest of the community to keep the school here,” says Short.
Petruk’s loan application was approved. On March 10, she officially became executive director.
Today, from a corner office where she sits below thumbnail images of all nearly 120 current students, and an abstract painting somehow as vibrant and optimistic as her, Petruk talks about what she sees for the future of ‘our’ school. She envisions online education, research partnerships, acting as a hub for an entire alternative health education community.
“We really want to develop the leaders in massage therapy and be at the forefront of research and innovation in the industry,” says Petruk, practically fizzing with enthusiasm about building on the great work of her predecessor.
She says it’s hard to believe just eight months ago she was in the waiting room at Community Futures, sitting with just those ideas.
“They believed in me. They believed in the history of the college and what we do well and what we can do. It’s exciting.”
Are you looking at buying or expanding a business in the North Okanagan, and need someone to believe in you? Reach out to the Community Futures North Okanagan business loans department and find out how we can help!