Vendors Nicole and Roy Isley await customers with their sons Lucas

Three Hills ‘incubator’ allows businesses to test market

With more than half of new businesses failing within three years, entrepreneurs walk a difficult path.

With more than half of new businesses failing within three years, entrepreneurs walk a difficult path.

But that path has become smoother in Three Hills, where a business incubator helps them test the market and their products before committing to expensive retail space.

Operating since last December, the Three Hills General Store is located at 519 Main St. — the building previously occupied by the town’s Home Hardware store.

About a dozen vendors display their products there, from jewelry to clothing.

“If you’ve got some kind of an idea that you want to maybe run a business in Three Hills or some other community around here, we can rent you some space, you can see how things go, and maybe in the next year or in six months you can rent a building of your own,” said Al Campbell, a town councillor and chair of the Three Hills Economic Growth Committee.

That committee includes representation from the town and the business community, but the town owns the building and hired Three Hills General Store’s manager — Jacquie Buchanan.

“She’s done a fantastic job of marketing and managing the General Store,” said Campbell.

He acknowledged that after a busy December 2011, traffic at the store slowed in the new year.

“But after summer came it just started increasing, and every month there’s more and more people coming in, more local people coming in, and lots of people coming in for the first time.”

In addition to local and out-of-town businesses, the Three Hills General Store has attracted representation from Arts Alive in Kneehill.

“They’ve always got some type of a display in here,” said Campbell.

A couple of Hutterite colonies from the area also participated during the summer, he added.

Campbell isn’t aware of any General Store exhibitors that have graduated to their own premises. But sales grow every month, and last week the project earned Three Hills the Entrepreneurial Community of the Year Award from Central Alberta Economic Partnership — a regional economic development alliance consisting of 42 municipal and First Nation members, as well as 15 associate members.

Business incubators aren’t new to Central Alberta. One has operated in Delburne for a number of years and Alix is developing another.

The Three Hills General Store had been open from Wednesday to Saturday each week, but recently added Tuesday to accommodate seasonal demands. Its Christmas hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday to Thursday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Campbell expects the store to remain on a five-day schedule, and said it’s possible Monday will be added in the near future.

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