Shortly after the Second World War, Sandy (Chanan) Sandhu, who had arrived in Canada in 1947 and settled near Lake Cowichan, B.C., received an unusual request from a friend in England.
"His friend asked him to send some ladies' nylons," recalls Sandhu's son Jeet, explaining that many of the factories in England had been converted during the war to manufacture garments such as uniforms for the army, resulting in a shortage of luxury goods. Sandy boxed up a few nylons and sent them off to his friend in England. Shortly after, the friend sent another request - for more nylons.
Again, Sandy sent off several pairs of nylons to England.
"Then his friend said, 'No, send me a lot more,'" says Jeet. This time, Sandy filled and shipped a large box stuffed with about 500 pairs. But a few weeks later, the package was returned, having been rejected by the customs officials in England.
Stuck with the nylons, Sandy decided the only way to recover his money would be to go door to door and sell them himself. So after a long day working at the sawmill, Sandy would change his clothes and go knocking on doors. Much to his surprise he was incredibly successful. So successful that Sandy began thinking people must have other needs and perhaps he could be the one to fulfill them.
"Jeans at that time were just coming in and were the big deal so he began to buy some Jeans and sell them," says Jeet, recalling that by the time he, his brother and mother arrived in Canada in 1954, their father was running a growing enterprise out of his house. In fact, Jeet's bedroom doubled as a stock room and had shelves full of jeans.
One night, shortly after arriving from India, Jeet was fast asleep in his room when he heard a noise and woke up. "I woke up and found some white person in my bedroom trying on a pair of jeans, he recalls with amusement.
"Then the television signal came to Lake Cowichan", explains Jeet, adding that at that time in the mid 1950's there were only two channels, out of Victoria and Bellingham. Sandy figured if he could sell nylons and jeans, why not TV's? It wasn't long before the natural born salesman was convincing families to try out a television in their home. When he got one to agree he would go door to door inviting their neighbours to come and see it since it was already going to be set up.
"So this person's house would be full with his neighbours," explains Jeet. "And when one of the husbands said, 'I'll take one,' the amount of pressure on the others to buy was immense, with their wives and kids looking at them."
He was so successful selling the black and white sets that sold for more than $600 each that he and his partner, Bas Sahota couldn't bring them in fast enough. As a result their business grew large enough for them to open up their first S&S Electric location in Kamloops.
The partners followed the broadcast signal around the province. Wherever it became available, Sandy was knocking on doors selling TVs.
In 1956, Philco, the manufacturer of the TVs they sold, held a North America-wide contest. For each TV sold, the sales-person would get a ballot for a draw. With the number of TVs Sandy was selling it's no surprise that when the winning ballot was chosen, it turned out to be his, and he and Sahota found themselves the winners of a brand new Cadillac.
As for the TV in their own home, the Sandhus had the latest technology had to offer, recalls Jeet. "We had a Sylvania that had this one feature that was the big deal back then. It had about a four-inch border around the outside of the TV with a little fluorescent tube that would glow. It was called a halo light."
From 1956 to 1964 S&S expanded to eight locations in the province and began selling appliances and furniture. And though they had retail and service locations, Sandy still loved to canvas door to door, recalls Jeet, who would often accompany his father.
"We would go to the rural areas and he would take one side of the street and I would take the other. I would pull leads because back then during the day only the women were home. I'd literally ask them if they needed anything - washing machine, fridge, sofa or whatever - and we would load it up in the truck the next day and put it in their homes," says Jeet.
While the S&S franchise was closed when the two partners parted ways about a decade after they opened their first location, Sandy continued to succeed in business.
While he worked hard to succeed in business, Sandy always took the time to give back to the community, says Jeet. In fact, one of Sandy's passions was to help people emigrate from India.
"If you include the extended families, the number of people he helped settle in Canada is probably in the thousands," says Jeet, adding that his father also went out of his way to help those back in India.