Canadian businesses are intensely proud of their roots, and brands often use their country’s heritage as a point of differentiation. When these companies begin to sell internationally, their Canadian legacy sticks with them and remains a competitive advantage. Our #GoGlobal series showcases Canadian businesses that have successfully expanded into international markets, even during challenging times. Learn how these businesses have shown the world Canadian creativity, innovation and imagination at work.
Sassan Aria founded Brain Busters in the 1980s, a retail toys and games business, shortly after immigrating to Canada from Iran. Starting a business was always a focus of his, and with a passion for remote control cars, airplanes and games as a teenager, he felt fortunate to get engaged with the toy industry soon after his arrival. His partner, Ray Razi, arrived from Iran in 1996 and the pair opened their next store in Scarborough, Ontario in 2000 under the Mind Games name.
What Sets Mind Games Apart
Mind Games is more than a toy store. As their slogan implies, it caters to creative minds of all ages – and this concept of entertaining and educating both kids and adults alike has been crucial to their success.
“The fact that we have something for everyone sets us apart, compared to other retailers that are focused specifically on a certain category or age group,” says Aria in a recent interview.
What’s more, when many businesses – particularly retailers – suffered and even closed during the pandemic – Mind Games managed to not just survive, but thrive thanks in part to an enhanced online store and ecommerce platform.
“Many retailers came and went during the pandemic. We survived because we gradually improved and enhanced our online presence, increasing our business performance online alongside our brick-and-mortar business,” says Razi. “I believe the combination of these two factors has been essential to our success.”
And, adding third party ecommerce channels – such as Amazon, Hudson’s Bay and Walmart – provided another growth channel for their business.
Going Global – Completing the Puzzle
Aria and Razi have always done business internationally to support the operations and growth of Mind Games. Their decision to import goods needed to supply stores enabled the expansion of their business to a multi-location retailer and a wholesale business at the same time. And, when they began manufacturing overseas, they experienced even more growth.
“Having factories in China and manufacturing our own products has helped us become more profitable, grow faster and expand the stores,” explains Razi. “Opening more stores allowed us to move more merchandise and have a bigger retail chain and bigger chain of distribution.”
Recently introduced to RBC Global Connect, Aria and Razi are confident it will help them extend their audience. “RBC Go Global Connect will help us get introductions to other countries and manufacturers, suppliers and customers in new markets. It will help us expand our business to other countries, especially to Europe where we are planning to expand our ecommerce business.” Aria adds that it will also help them become familiar with import/ export rules, tax implications and foreign economies.
“Jigsaw puzzles appeal to young and old,” says Razi. “Our business resembles a collage of puzzles, where you have to fit pieces together. Every piece has to fall in the right place in order to give you a clear picture and complete image of what can be achieved. RBC has become an important part of the jigsaw puzzle.”
Self-described as kids at heart, Razi and Aria have their sights set on international expansion, a greater online presence and greater capacity for trade and manufacturing. As business owners who used to play with toy airplanes, the sky is the limit when it comes to where they can take Mind Games next.
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