Reflections on a success

Reflections is now a recognizable part of Cayman’s retail landscape, with a thriving main store at Ashgo Street, off Godfrey Nixon Way, which also hosts a fresh market for local producers every Friday afternoon. Also in the Reflections group are the Food4Less and Liquor4Less branch at MacLendon Drive and Liquor4Less at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Shedden Road.

Owner Prentice Panton, looking back on the journey, says that prior to getting into business for himself he was employed in a sales capacity for various different companies, whilst trying to get his own ideas off the ground.

“It was about my sixth attempt to start a business. I had started other businesses that had failed – wholesale distribution, diet products, mechanics, various different things – but they all didn’t work. In 1994 at the Windsor Building I started selling beauty products, it was quite slow and I finally convinced my dad to go with me to get a bank loan. I’d also saved $15,000 and decided to make a last-ditch effort and apply myself so I moved into that building. I started there in one unit, selling beauty products and added figurines, toys, little novelty items, putting them on plywood, some coolers I’d bought from my dad. It was just me and things started to pick up,” revealed the businessman.

Clothing line

While on a trip to the States to buy clothing for himself, he saw some clothing on sale and bought polo shirts for possible resale. In a shrewd move, Mr. Panton made sure that they were in his own size in case they didn’t sell in the shop.

“But they did really well; I went back and kept getting more and more men’s tops in and then I got into different sizes, experimenting a little bit and it kept getting better and better. Eventually the ladies started saying, ‘well, what about us?’ and so I got into that and it just kept growing.”

The clothing lines proved so popular that the beauty products and knick-knacks were phased out and the company moved into a second unit on Mary Street – right opposite Walkers. A location at Eastern Avenue/Shedden Road followed, plus other places including West Bay Road, Alexander Plaza and the building next to Fosters Food Fair at the airport.

“Then 10 years ago we saw that Mirco Centre was available and consolidated three stores of our five we had at the time into one larger location. The [airport] building was up for sale but didn’t sell or rent and as my older brother Stanley and me both had backgrounds working in the food business we decided we were going to give that a try,” he said.

Food4Less was the result and results were good. An electronics line followed.

“Two years ago I noticed that the former Home Depot was available so I moved in with the idea of consolidation of the locations but expansion of the square footage. So we moved our food store across from the airport post office, we moved our offices and warehouses and moved the Mirco Centre. Over the last year we’ve moved everything into there so we’ve expanded our size from approximately 3,000 square foot food store to 8,000 square feet of mixed food, electronics and from 9,000 square feet of clothing to about 24,000 square feet. There’s 32,000 square feet at the Godfrey Nixon location.

“Over the last year we’ve been operating for 24 hours a day and we’re the first in Cayman to do that,” explained Mr. Panton.

Ivan intervenes

Things could have ended, however, in 2004, with Hurricane Ivan severely damaging stock and buildings. In fact, it turned out to be a pivotal moment.

“When Ivan hit we lost two stores. At the airport we were flooded with four feet of water and also had looting and roof damage at the Eastern Avenue store. We had about a foot of water at the Mirco store. At the time, a couple of days after, I thought that was it, the Island couldn’t recover and it didn’t make much sense to try and even re-establish ourselves.

“It was only after people came to us and requested that we try to open with food items that we decided to set up a ring of containers over by our airport store; we set up some shelving in temporary tents and we sold outside the store for a few months until we could get power and water; get ourselves established. And we turned what we considered one of our greatest losses ever into one of our best years,” he said.
The lessons learned from Ivan went in a sense beyond retail but the key insight Panton said he gained was applicable to business as it was to life.

“From that I gained a sense that Cayman has the potential for a lot; no matter how difficult it is we will find a way to recover. Persevering. I’d tried many things but in truth learned from things that at the time seemed to be mistakes, to my detriment or a failure. But I gained a lot of knowledge from it.”

Another key element of business success is keeping in touch with customers, he mused.

“I am more accessible than some business owners; I try to keep on the floor, try to keep humble. I’ll be there cleaning up outside or moving stuff around, not just telling my staff to do it and I think that gets a certain level of support from people. I’ve got a good team, employees who have been working with me for the last 11 years – we’re a family operation too, with my cousin Cassidy ‘Lenny’ Jackson now my operations manager. Even though we’re big we like to keep it as a small business mentality and I try to keep involved in all aspects of the business,” he said.

Future plans

Another arm to the business was established in 2007, with the acquisition of liquor licenses, which spawned the Liquor4Less stores.

“In the new year it’s our intent to expand into the liquor business and open more locations. One thing we’ve been working on and constantly getting turned down by is extending hours to 10pm. We currently have a 7pm license and we would like to work with the Liquor Licensing Board who are of the opinion that George Town is not in need of the 10pm license.

“That would give the people better options; currently they have to drive to Bodden Town or West Bay and they charge more than we do in town. People work late in town and it’s a competitive disadvantage for us not to have the same hours,” he explained.

Future plans for the businessman include real estate acquisition and development, he added.
“I’ve acquired a large tract of land in Frank Sound, North Side where we’re planning a major development, kind of like a mini-Camana Bay. We’ll have neighbourhood commercial in the front and then residential in the back. We’re working on that and getting planning permission. We’re planning to get into multimedia, web design, print. It’s something we’re looking to phase into.

Mr. Panton concluded that he still remembers the days when, just after moving to Eastern Avenue, he’d sit for hours waiting for customers to stop by.

“I’d be looking around the walls, quite bare – if something had moved I knew exactly what it was. Now sometimes I think about how big we are, how many items we have.

“We are firm believers that change is good and we’re always looking to evolve, expand on what we have.

We’re planning to go to major trade shows in Asia in the New Year, and to try and give customers bigger selections and better price points.”