Aisle 24’s co-founder John Douang is bringing after-hours convenience to the grocery market
The Aisle 24 concept is somewhere between a small-format grocery store and a vending machine, open 24 hours a day. Customers can satisfy late-night cravings and grab essentials, while payment and all interactions are digital. The contact-free stores seem like a pandemic-induced concept, but CEO John Douang’s stores have been his brainchild for seven years and are the product of a lifetime of experience.
As a child, he watched his parents work 14-hour days, seven days a week in their Toronto convenience store. Whenever they wanted to take a vacation, the store had to close. Douang paired this history with his tech and media background to build Aisle 24 into the franchise darling it is now.
As the brand closes in on its 100th franchise location in Canada (in just two years!), Douang is as ambitious as ever. When he’s not disrupting the grocery industry, he’s trying not to disrupt dinner conversations with work talk—notably hard to do when your co-founder is also your wife. Here, Douang shares his leadership practice of listening more than speaking, the importance of living life with no regrets, and of course, his love for entrepreneurship.
The most interesting thing I’ve done recently is… I flew into Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, bought a 125cc Suzuki motorcycle, and spent six weeks touring the country, driving towards Hanoi, sold the bike, and returned home.
In its best form, work is… My creative and professional outlet, where I can lay my ideas on a piece of paper and turn them into reality.
A good franchisee… Is someone who has an entrepreneurial mindset and attitude, has a glass half full type of personality, and is big on teamwork.
A good franchisor… Believes that listening trumps speaking, and leads an organization that promotes adaptation, vision, and innovation above strict frameworks and policies.
My top advice for prospective franchisees is… Have a passion for the industry you’re investigating, speak with existing franchisees to get the word on the street, and don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith.
My top advice for new franchisors is… Take your time when assessing prospective franchisees. Attitude and personality are more important than words on an application.
The most important thing in life is… To live with no regrets.
One of the most enjoyable things to do is… Wake up early on the weekends and cook breakfast for my family.
The hardest thing for me to do is… Not talk about work at the dinner table! Very hard to do when your wife is also your co-founder!
My favourite drink is… Coke Zero.
If I could change one thing… I would have ventured into entrepreneurship earlier! It’s difficult when you’re very accustomed to the stability of a 9-5 job, and although entrepreneurship has its ups and downs, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
If I could meet anyone… I would meet the Dalai Lama.
The person who has had the most positive influence on me as a businessperson is… Marie Yong, my wife and co-founder.
Canadian franchising is… The perfect platform and channel for brands to expand throughout Canada.
My franchise system began because… I saw a big gap in the Canadian convenience industry and determined franchising as the best way to disrupt this industry as quickly as possible.
The most positive influence on my life as a person is… My children. I’m still a kid at heart, but having kids really forces you to mature quickly.
The key to success is… Never giving up. When life knocks you down, dust yourself off, get back up, and get back to it.
I’d like my friends to describe me as… A thoughtful and generous person, kind-hearted with big dreams.
The accomplishment I look forward to the most is… Raising my kids to be good human beings!
My personal motto is… I don’t technically have a personal motto, but one quote that has really resonated with me is Yoda’s “Do or do not, there is no try!”
One necessary item on my life’s “to do” list is… To obtain my pilot licence.