Originally from a small town in Central Illinois, Chris Toews, Owner of Toes Communications, spent the majority of his professional career running restaurants. He served as General Manager of several corporate chain restaurants including, TGI Fridays, Panera and lastly with Old Chicago. In the beginning of 2017, Toews was faced with a life-changing event that would completely alter his career path.
“My mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer,” he said. “The doctors only gave her six months to live. After hearing that, my entire family relocated from Illinois and New Jersey to Ormond Beach. My parents used to vacation in Ormond, plus it has a similar home town feel to where I grew up and it’s close to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, where my mom was doing her treatments. For most of 2017, my focus was on my mom.”
According to Toews, his mother’s medical condition prompted him to make some career changes. He had time to reflect on the rigorous demands of the restaurant industry and decided he wanted to go in a completely different direction.
“I made contact with an old friend from up north that owned a telecommunications company,” Toews said. “He had three offices in Central Illinois and was looking to expand into Florida. The idea was to have one branch near his second home in the Port Charlotte area and another branch in the Daytona Beach area. I joined him as an Area Manager of the Ormond/Daytona branch, but initially helped get the west coast office up and running. By the beginning of 2019, he changed his mind about having multiple offices and I had a choice to make.”
Toews could relocate to the west coast of Florida and run that branch or do his own thing. Not wanting to leave his family behind, he chose the latter.
“At that point, I had another choice to make,” he said. “It was either go back to the restaurant industry or start my own business. During 2018, I built some great relationships and gained a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge in the telecom industry. I decided to take that experience and, in the beginning of 2019, started my own business.”
Toews shared that his former boss was solely focused on telephones and telephone related business services. Seeing an opportunity to do more, Toews added cyber security, cloud based storage, data storage, networks and Internet service, among many others, to his list of services.
“We’re a very neutral consulting firm,” Toews said. “Our job is to pair businesses with the best solution providers for them. We currently have 144 suppliers we work with. That gives our clients a lot of options.”
Rather than investing in expensive advertising and marketing, Toews grew his brand recognition through his heavy involvement in community. Fueled by a genuine desire to give back and to help businesses succeed, he volunteered for the American Cancer Society, joined area chambers and participated in leads groups.
According to Toews, growth has been steady, but the experience as a first time entrepreneur, especially coming from the corporate world, has been challenging.
“Back when I was a GM, we had home offices full of HR people and marketing platforms,” he said. “You had help all around you. When I started this business, I had to make decisions on everything from email to what database to use to how to advertise on a minimal budget. To go from that world to this world has been quite the adjustment.”
Regardless of the adjustments, Toews is driven by his desire to build relationships, help business owners understand the complexities of technology and to provide honest and affordable solutions.
“I love being able to get out there and talk to business owners,” he said. “I’m building meaningful relationships. A lot of business owners don’t speak IT and many providers don’t speak business. I love being the bridge across that gap. It’s often as simple as sitting down and having a conversation to understand that owner’s needs and concerns and then matching them with a supplier that will meet their needs.”
Looking ahead, Toews is focused on expanding his business. He’d like to bring on more sales representatives and is even considering the possibility of opening additional offices. With clients stretching from Amelia Island to Melbourne, Toews would like to have an even bigger physical footprint along the east coast of Florida.
What advice does Toews have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Don’t give up,” he said. “There have been a lot of times where I questioned if this was the right thing to do. However, I kept with it and persevered. I always keep sight of my vision and what my purpose is. Lastly, when you’re first starting out, it’s easy to focus on one thing and not another. However, you really need to do everything. You have to touch all areas of your business and not let anything slide. It’s important to find the right balance.”