Lynda Johnston is the long-time Regional Manager and a shareholder of the Heartland Group, a BC-based company that owns eight private liquor stores and two cannabis stores.
Johnston started working at the Heartland Group in 2007 after a somewhat unexpected start in the hospitality industry. She was a teacher for many years in North Vancouver working with children with disabilities, which was a job that she loved.
“I’ve been kept in hospitality by the amazing people.”
Johnston ended up opening a pub with a former partner and would later take over the operations, leaving her teaching job. “I had never planned to get into hospitality, but I’ve been kept in it by the amazing people,” she says.
In 2007, the Heartland Group took over the Vernon Square Liquor Store, which was previously government owned. “We took it over with some trepidation, but then we never looked back,” Johnston says.
In her current role, Johnston oversees all the Heartland Group liquor and cannabis retail stores. “I take care of store operations, staffing, design, build outs with contractors, reviewing financials, and HR. I meet with reps and agents to plan programming. I oversee repairs and maintenance, advertising, and special programming,” she says. “No day looks the same.”
Johnston frequently expresses her gratitude for the people she works with. “I am very fortunate to have developed a wonderful team. We have 10 managers and 10 assistant managers and all the people that fall underneath them,” she explains. There are about 70-75 people that work for the company. “I am so grateful to have a wonderful management team that has stayed with me. Several people have worked with me since the Vernon store opened in 2007,” Johnston adds.
“We try to keep it family-oriented and fun.”
She goes back to her favourite part of the hospitality industry: “We are really a tight group for such a big group. The people really make the job,” Johnston says. “We try to keep it family-oriented and fun for everybody as best we can.”
Johnston also enjoys the changing nature of the industry. “I love the LRS industry because it has always been so progressive,” she says. “I got into it at the very beginning—the groundwork level—when it was first coming to be. I really enjoyed working with other store owners and developing the whole picture for LRSs.”
“There is good communication between LRS owners.”
Johnston has leaned on others throughout the years to collectively learn from each other and share what they’re doing. “There is a good communication level between all the owners,” she says. “Because I have been around for so long, I know a lot of people. The industry is very tightly woven together.”
Of course, running liquor stores doesn’t come without its challenges—HR and staffing typically being the largest ones. “Our biggest challenge right now is finding entry level people and keeping them. There is a shortage of people who want to work those positions,” Johnston explains. She feels fortunate for the great team that she does have.
Outside of work, Johnston loves to spend time with her family, golf, and travel. “I will be a perpetual learner because I never have time to practice golf,” she says with a laugh. This September, she is planning a trip to Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy.
Johnston looks forward to continuing her work with the Heartland Group in an industry that keeps her on her toes. She’s grateful for the 10-year extension to the LRS license moratorium, an important advocacy win from ABLE BC, but she knows there are always more changes to come to an ever-progressive industry.