Ex-paramedic Brad Loewen has made helping people his business. Brad began giving people the skills they need to save lives in 2006 when he created an online training program for paramedics. Then, in 2008, he launched SMART Fire Academy, which trains people online to become firefighters.
Now, students from all over Canada and the U.S. can get their firefighting certificate by taking a comprehensive online course that concludes with a two-week in-person bootcamp. Students don’t have to quit their jobs, take out a huge student loan or leave their family for months at a time. “Most of our students are in other careers or jobs and are looking for something more exciting or interesting,” says Brad. “They want to follow a dream that they didn’t have the time or money to pursue when they were younger.”
Technology has enabled Brad to create an online business that serves students across every province, and he chose to work with Square after trying other online payment systems.
For one, he says, the other systems didn’t send him a daily report that makes it easy to track sales. “Square is proactive at sending that information,” explains Brad, whereas before he would have to go looking for it.
“There was also no ability to set up a storefront where students from across the country could go and sign up. They had buttons we could put on our website, but we really wanted the entire processing to go through one system,” says Brad. So when Square launched Square Online Store recently, it worked in his favour.
Brad’s salespeople are based in cities across Canada, so he uses his Square Dashboard to check in with the company’s regional reps to see who’s doing well and who might need a little extra attention and resources. SMART Fire Academy’s reps can meet with potential students and use their tablets or iPhones to sign them up automatically through his online store. By the time students are home, they can begin the course — which typically takes four to five months to complete.
Brad’s students like the fact that no data is stored on the website, and a number of students have told him that they feel more secure paying directly through an online store rather than through a button on a website. His business has been so successful that he recently opened his own fire academy in Southern Ontario for students to attend boot camps. “At the rate we’re going, we’re planning on opening a new campus in Western Canada next year,” says Brad. “Hopefully Vancouver or Calgary … or both!”
Online training courses are still a fairly new concept in an industry that until recently relied on one major fire academy in each province. So Brad’s biggest hurdle is marketing. “Once people know about us, it’s easy. We can register them, teach them and get them the certificate. It’s letting people know that we exist that is the biggest challenge.”
Using Square and an e-commerce website has enabled Brad to run his entire business remotely, which has made it possible for him to oversee the whole operation from his home in Florida, where he moved so that he could volunteer with Give Kids the World, an organization that works with the Children’s Wish Foundation to provide 7,500 families every year with accommodation, food and fun in the form of tickets to Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Studios.
After losing his own son a few years back, and benefiting from the Wish Foundation’s work, Brad dedicated himself to helping other families while he helps firefighters save lives. “We like to encourage other families and show them that there are a lot of good things happening in the world.”