Luke Randall feeds his cats canned tuna and lives alone. The smell of paint and wood mixes with the smell of home cooking in his kitchen. Dozens of original paintings cover every inch of wall space in the dining room, and even the dishes are handcrafted pottery.
The owner of Endeavours and Think Play on Queen Street, Randall sells art supplies and children’s toys. By encouraging like-minded entrepreneurs and welcoming everyone from artists to panhandlers, he sees himself selling something bigger—creative community spirit.
“Selling artists’ materials and unique toys puts me into contact with a lot of really interesting people,” he said.
“The store helps them work through what they need to work through, through art, painting, or by just coming to the art store.”
Randall said he was destined to be a small business owner. He graduated from Devon Park Christian School in 1994 and briefly considered post-secondary education at the local art college.
“Instead I wrote a business plan and got a response from a couple arts materials places,” he said. “My parents borrowed from the bank, re-loaned it to me, and I started Endeavours on their front porch in Harvey right out of high school.”
The business didn’t take off in Harvey, and he moved it to downtown Fredericton and the building that now houses Luna’s Pizza. This second location didn’t work out, and neither did the third location, just a couple blocks away.
“The first landlord made all of his money from discouraging people to pay rent, so that he could lock the doors and take all their stuff,” he said. “I managed to avoid that, but the second landlords gradually took away my business space, ultimately pushing me out entirely.”
Randall then moved his business to 412 Queen St., and it finally took off. Still, he had problems with the morality and efficacy of his business.
“I struggled with the idea that I made my living off of consumption,” Randall said, “and I had to get over myself too, and accept that I can’t save the world.”
He’s helped his staff and clients with countless projects in the name of art and business. A couple of years ago he helped a student entrepreneur come up with his own business plan.
“He took old shopping bags and ironed them together to make material,” Randall explained. “Then he sewed it together to make bags.”
The student won a business plan competition, and Randall said he hopes he will start his own business.
Randall also goes out of his way to help the resident panhandlers.
“I don’t go out and help with the food bank every week,” he said. “I prefer to use the business to help when I know that someone needs help, rather than delegating that for some charity employee to do.”
A young panhandler often frequents the store and sits outside its windows to solicit passersby. By way of one employee’s concern and initiative, that employee and others in the community are now helping the young man learn to read.
With another panhandler, Randall said it’s more about tolerance.
“This panhandler is allowed to come in and take candy from Think Play, and then I boot him out when he’s misbehaving,” he said.
“He’s not allowed in anywhere else downtown, but he will be allowed in here again, even if he often misbehaves.”
Luke Randall said he sees his business as a means of helping people, even though it is primarily commercial.
“We do charitable things. We’re a for-profit charitable community organization,” he said, “but a lot of our artist clients, too, come in to get encouraged.”
Randall encouraged two of his employees to go to Haiti to help rebuild houses in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, and he and another employee did an Isaac’s Way fundraiser after the restaurant burned down in October.
“Another employee is currently engaged in a project that will be for profit, but it’s a project helping artists market their work,” he said.
He emphasized the importance of treating employees well so that they will, in turn, treat clients with the same respect.
“Ultimately, I hope the business will serve as an engine to pay our staff reasonably for the good work that they are doing.”
Throughout the past five years, Luke Randall merged his two businesses, Endeavours and Think Play, originally separate projects. However, he said he still intends to widen his business network, allowing him to reach more people.
“Two little businesses are going to spin off of my business soon,” he said, “and two other employees are going to be able to use what they’ve learned as a platform for jumping off to do their own thing.
“I’m not trying to say that I’m some sort of abnormal human crusader,” Randall said. “I just think it’s a good idea to empower people who want to save the world, or maybe just want to help one person. That’s where my strength lies.”