From marketing to technology to recruitment, we examine how small businesses are achieving big results with scarce resources
Starting with nothing is a fact of life in the birth of many new enterprises, and it’s entrepreneurs who find innovative ways to make and save money, especially at the start, who often have the best chance of finding success.
Christin Fowler, owner of Wasted Fashion in Fredericton, New Brunswick started that way. After working for the tobacco industry for several years, she decided to return to her childhood dream of opening a fashion forward clothing boutique. With just a smart phone and determination, she set up her first storefront online and started selling women’s clothes—out of the trunk of her car.
“I started with nothing, and I built my business to where it is today. No one helped me. No one gave me any money. I built it all myself using Shopify templates and posting my own photos of merchandise on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook,” Fowler says, “I started with two brands and traveling all over the place. Now I’m up to 30 and looking for my own space.”
That’s not to say that she’s still selling out of the trunk of her car. Creative thinker that she is, Fowler identified a unique place to display and sell her merchandise, a place where her customers regularly go and have time to linger: their hair salon.
“A few years ago, I did a pop-up shop at Blonde, a hair salon in downtown Fredericton and the owner loved it so much she asked me if I wanted to stay,” says Fowler. “We put some racks up, people started to find out I was there, clients loved it, and it generated a lot of new traffic for all of us.”
What gave Fowler the biggest boost was hosting a pop-up shop inside Peter Roberts, a high-end men’s clothing store just down the street. “We pumped it up on social media as a spring fling. Peter Roberts invited their clientele, and I have a lot of customers whose husbands are his customers too,” Fowler says, “I had more people show up there than any other (pop-up shop), and the best part is it made people aware of my location at Blonde just down the street.”
Today, Wasted Fashion is busting at the seams to the extent that Fowler is now preparing to open her own standalone location.
“You’ve got to be creative regarding marketing and learn how to do creative things on your own, and continuously evolve in terms of using social media,” Fowler says. “I love working with other entrepreneurs who like to help each other. The more people you can collaborate with, the more your business is going to shine.”
Fowler is not the only entrepreneur in the area who is embracing new ways to make and save money through innovative thinking. Gray Stone Brewery, a new brewery and beer bar located a stone’s throw from Wasted Fashion, is finding ways to boost business and stretch their bottom line. Proprietor Wes Ward (who also owns the longstanding Capital Complex of bars and performance venues) decided to use his first Gray Stone location to employ two pointof- sale technologies, one of which is increasingly evident in young and emerging businesses—the Apple iPad.
“At the Capital Complex, we use a PC-based system that cost $12,000 to buy and $1,200 per month to maintain. It’s slow and complicated when it comes to adding a menu item or generating reports,” says Ward. “When I opened up Gray Stone I decided to go with the iPad and a cloud-based POS (Point of Sale) system called Touch Bistro.” Ward says it is significantly less expensive, costing only $1,500 for the iPad, cash drawer and payment card terminal, plus a monthly fee of $69. Equally appealing is its ease of use. “It’s really intuitive and visual, and anyone with an iPhone can pretty much figure out how to use it on their own,” he says.
When customers get ready to pay their bills, they’ll find another touch screen technology on the counter: an E-Tix terminal. E-tix is an electronic ticketing service for live concerts and other events.
“We do so many shows at the Capital Complex and sell so many tickets via E-Tix, we decided to get our own terminal, especially since the Capital isn’t open during the day. Gray Stone is open all day,” says Ward. “When we put it in, we had people lined up outside just to buy tickets.”
Ward says people can buy and receive tickets to any event at any venue that uses E-Tix, not just his own, bringing new customers to his door, exposing them to his trendy beer bar complete with a winterwarming wood burning fireplace, couches, and lounge chairs.
“Having the kiosk here means that some ticket-buying customers will come and stay for a while,” Ward says, “but the biggest boost we weren’t expecting was increased business at the Capital Complex. Gray Stone customers just started browsing the terminal on their own to see what concerts were coming up and started buying tickets on the spot. We are selling a lot more tickets.”
“Going to the Gray Stone” is becoming a favorite saying in Fredericton these days, evidenced by the fact that it’s often standingroom only at the popular venue. And their products are now available at 29 locations in the area—not bad for just one year in business.
Small business innovation doesn’t stop there: among the many challenges entrepreneurs face, recruiting and retaining skilled workers is one of the biggest. Some small business owners, like Gilles Theriault, who heads boat builder A. F. Theriault in Meteghan River, just outside Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, are having to turn to new ways to spread the word about jobs. He says recruiting tradespeople has been difficult, even after the influx of people returning home after the Alberta oil business bust.
“My rates at A. F. Theriault can’t compete with the oil giants. Our hourly pay is considerably different than what they had out west,” Theriault says. “Many tradespeople left when oil was booming, they didn’t all want to go to Alberta, but some wanted to go for the money.” Now that many have come back to the region, the company is attempting to bridge the wage gap with benefits and employee appreciation activities. Like in any labour market, that’s not going to be enough for some used to making bigger pay.
“It’s always a challenge to find people when we need them because it is a very volatile industry,” says Theriault, “but we discovered one of the best ways to find people in rural areas is using Facebook as a job fair, especially when looking for young, entrepreneurial people. It’s a community thing. Word travels fast on Facebook, and if you don’t open your eyes to using a technology that’s working all over the world, you’re going to be left behind.”
In the past year, Theriault has advertised for—and hired—over 10 employees, including safety officers, mechanics and welders, using Facebook as a tool. “What happens is that someone’s mother, sister, uncle or aunt in the area sees it and shares it, and they come into the boat yard and apply,” Theriault says.
A clothing retailer, a beer brewer and a boat builder: three very different business owners who prove that innovative thinking is the universal solution for cashstrapped entrepreneurs. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to be creative.