‘If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again’, and ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’, are but two of the sayings that help persons keep a positive outlook on life in the face of disappointment.
While some cynics might discount these as nice sounding phrases, 30-year- old Garth Johnston, whose life has taken numerous twists and turns, is living proof that indeed all things are possible.
In an interview with JIS News, Garth says he is on the verge of realising his childhood dream of owning and operating what he hopes will be the first of many pet shops.
“Right now I am in the process of signing up for one of those JN Small Business Loans and if I get that loan, I’ll chip into a next gear and be one step closer to having my store,” says the confident go-getter.
“Firstly, the loan will assist me in buying some much needed accessories like cages for the pets and I really feel that by this time next year, the store will be up and running. I have come a far way and I am confident it will happen. I have had this idea since I was a boy,” he explains.
Garth Johnston displays a cage of birds, one of the variety of animals that he rears and sells.
However, things were not always so clear cut for Garth, as he recalls the different events from his past, and the significance of where he is at today.
“In the early part of my life, things were good, even though my father died when I was two years old. I lived in St. Thomas with my mother and sister’s father and they were both employed and so we lived in a residential scheme,” he notes, while explaining that things, however, got a bit difficult when his mother and sister’s father broke up and she subsequently lost her job.
Unable to afford the rent in the scheme, they had to move to a more rural part of St. Thomas, known as Trinityville. It was this encounter with adversity that Garth, now a teenager, first showed his insatiable hunger for success and penchant for entrepreneurial exploits.
“From an early age I decided that I was going to make it as I had the ambition to pursue my ideas. Plus my aim was always to buy a house for myself and one for my mother, so I dabbled in a number of things, including selling clothes and eventually got a licence and started running a taxi from I was about 19 to 22,” he reveals.
But this wasn’t working out the way he had hoped, so he turned to farming as he says someone introduced him to a piece of land which had an excellent irrigation system.
“The youth in the community saw me as a role model and so they were quick to help me with the farming. All I had to do was put on a big pot and make sure that they were fed. Things got so good that I was carrying van loads to the market,” he boasts.
However, Garth was to get reacquainted with adversity. “The older farmers resented that a young farmer was doing so well and so they would let out their animals which trampled and destroyed my crops,” he says.
Not one to give up, he decided to go to Kingston in search of employment and a better life. This, he says, was a big part of his journey as “this is where God took over. Without God I don’t know how I would have made it.”
His faith in God was certainly needed, as day after day Garth would commute throughout Half-Way-Tree in search of employment, without much success, until one day a bit of fortune came his way. Making a stop at the restaurant where he had lunch every day, he found out that there was an opening for someone to wash pots and dishes. He seized the opportunity and began a two- year renaissance, in which he introduced and brought to life the idea of a delivery service.
“It was a newly opened restaurant and I suggested that they introduce a delivery service and I would do it. They agreed and business began to boom as I was able to recruit a lot of clients in the Half-Way Tree area. He (the owner) could cook and I had the personality skills and was able to engage the people. While I was delivering I was still washing dishes and so I was so involved that people started to think that it was my business,” he says.
However, Garth had other things on his mind, so he went back to
St. Thomas and started farming, this time with more emphasis on rearing ornamental fish.
Borrowing a fish tank from a friend, he ventured into the town of Morant Bay with a tank full of fish believing that this time would be his time.
“From I was a boy I had the pet shop idea. So I brought the one ‘degge degge’ fish tank with the fishes that I was breeding, up into town (Morant Bay). The public’s reception was excellent as in the town we don’t really have any ornamental fishes for sale and so the school children and everybody became fascinated,” he tells JIS News.
This translated into a big business for Mr. Johnston, as he sold off all the fish that same day. He repeated the feat on a few more occasions, to the point where he almost ran out and thus had to leave the rest to reproduce. While this was happening, Garth began to diversify and would use the profit from the fish sales to buy other animals.
“Right now I have duck, guinea chick, hamsters, rabbits, turtles, pigeons and a variety of doves. I have a little setup along the street side in front of a little place where I have official, nice looking cages, which I made from the grills found in fridges and stoves. I set them up row by row and I nailed up a board structure with a tarpaulin on a piece of land, which I was given permission to use,” says a beaming Garth, with a proud look on his face.
From selling clothes and operating a taxi as a teenager, to helping a friend open and operate a supermarket, and now farming crops to supply supermarkets and the export market, along with establishing his pet shop, Garth has come full circle in St. Thomas, where it all began for the boy who never used the absence of a father as an excuse to fail.
“With God anything is possible. Everything boils down to God and so in the next five years I see myself with a second pet shop in another parish and there is another business venture that I would like to start as well,” he informs, while encouraging young persons or anybody who might be going through a difficult period in their lives, to never give up.
“Don’t sit down and say nothing is happening. There are some people who make things happen, some wonder what’s happening, and some watch what’s happening. You make sure that you are not one of those persons who watch and wonder. You have to make it happen,” Garth advises.