From ‘corner shop’ to thriving retail/wholesale business – former boxing champion recalls moving from sport to entrepreneurship

Howard’s Groceries Shop (then and now)

Nestled in the heart of Albouystown, Howard’s Groceries stands as a testament to dedication, hard work, and deep understanding of community needs. Over a period of two decades, this establishment has evolved from being a humble ‘corner shop’ to becoming a thriving retail and wholesale business that serves the diverse needs of the local residents.

The visionaries behind this business are former boxing champion Vincent Howard and his wife Lavern Howard. Their passion for entrepreneurship was sparked nearly five years prior to Vincent’s desire to exit boxing as his then profession. What began as a retirement plan amidst the waning fortunes of a boxing career soon blossomed into a flourishing enterprise that has become an integral part of the Albouystown community.

Now 53 years old, Vincent, in reflecting on his early days, recalls the challenges and triumphs of starting a small business. He detailed that, inspired by an initiative aimed at supporting young entrepreneurs, he took the proverbial “leap of faith” in 1996 to secure a loan and set up a shop at the bottom flat of his home, which at the time was an almost abandoned house.

From those humble beginnings, Vincent and his wife Lavern were able, with perseverance, to open and build Howard’s Groceries. And that small business has transitioned, over time, from being a modest storefront entity to a bustling hub offering both retail and wholesale options; and has been described as a pioneering move in the community.

“It was a game-changer for us, and we couldn’t let it slip out of our hands,” Vincent recalls. “When we opened the shop, it was just our two girls, and they would help out around the shop after school…we wanted to instill independence and responsibility in them, which is why we trained them from an early age to be responsible,” the father of four has said.

Being fully aware of the area they live in, and the attendant circumstances, they were eager to see their children grow up learning core values of life, and not just being a product of their environment. Vincent also noted that, with his childhood experience in growing up in that area, he knew that things had to be different for his family.

Boxing role

This is where he highlighted that boxing played a pivotal role in who he is today. Though he fought numerous fights in his boxing career, only a few made him feel well accomplished, specifically those wherein he had a mere three days’ preparation and still managed to win.
In his boxing career, he had fought 86 fights as an amateur and had secured 66 wins, and from 44 professional fights, he has secured 34 wins.

Champions do champion things

Vincent and his wife Lavern are both adamant that the Howard’s Groceries brand is heavily rooted in the culture of the community. According to the proprietors of this establishment, from commencement to date, they continue to rely on their extensive knowledge of the diverse needs of the Albouystown residents to inform stocking and pricing issues, ensuring that the business caters directly to the needs of the people within the community.

“We won’t say it was an easy start, because, of course, things (were) much different back then, and just as we do now, we did back then: we try to sell things reasonable to our customers,” they disclosed.

So in tuned is the Howard’s Groceries brand with the community of Albouystown that even its evolution and transformative journey mirrors the evolution and journey of the community itself.

As the community underwent infrastructural developments, including improved roads and accessibility, the business adapted and thrived, even introducing a wholesale beverage section that proved to be a game-changer, attracting customers not only from the immediate vicinity, but also surrounding neighbourhoods, seeking quality products at reasonable prices.

One of the cornerstones of Howard’s Groceries’ success is its unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction. By prioritizing affordability, stocking essential household items, and staying attuned to the evolving preferences of the community, the business has cultivated a loyal clientele that sustains it as much as the business sustains the people of Albouystown.
The Howard family never fails to discharge its social responsibility to the community that has been the cornerstone of its success, and would host holiday festivities. Howard’s Groceries has fostered a sense of belonging and camaraderie within Albouystown. This spirit of giving back extends beyond the business transactions, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere with a play area for the children and, of course, a spot for adults. Even then though, the shop would still remain open, still serving.

Looking ahead, Lavern envisions a future wherein Howard’s Groceries continues to thrive as a vital hub for the community, offering not just goods but a sense of community cohesion and support. With a legacy spanning over two decades, Howard’s Groceries stands as a beacon of hope and resilience in Albouystown, a testament to the enduring spirit of entrepreneurship and community engagement.

Howard’s Groceries embodies the essence of a small business that has grown roots in the community, weathered challenges, and blossomed into a cherished establishment that goes beyond mere commerce to foster social bonds and community well-being.