They’re miles away from Main Street and the shopping malls, making a living doing the things they love.
The basement of a farmhouse, a former guest cabin and an old general store are among the destination points for shoppers and artisans heading out to the country to find little somethings that they can’t buy anywhere else.
Lucie Bouvier’s venture, Carlos Little Bead Store, developed from her passion for designing and making jewelery.
Kim Neudorf-Armstrong and her husband, Murray Armstrong have turned the former Lucas General Store in the hamlet of Leslieville into a more eclectic mercantile where she trades items like lampshades and bracelets made of china teacups, scarves, jewelery and “shabby chique” furniture pieces repurposed by Red Deer-based Dented Can.
It was supposed to be a weekend hobby. However, 3 Ladies and their Stuff quickly grew legs, becoming a full-time retail venture where Kim can mind the store at the same time she is minding the active two-year-old who was born just before it was ready to open.
On a heavily wooded hill in between the other two stores, Brigitte Hofer has converted the cabin first built for bed and breakfast guests into a retail outlet for the pottery, photographs, photo frames, woolens and hand-made soap produced in the two studios on her property, Coyote Ridge Farm.
Getting people in is a matter of getting the word out, say all three women.
Bouvier says she learned from her marketing courses in Quebec that advertising is important, especially during a recession.
But things are different now than they were in the mid-1980s, she says.
Today, social media provide some of the best tools for drawing people into the store, says Bouvier, who uses blogs, Facebook and Skype to promote her business.
She also attends one or two public markets each year and advertises in local newspapers. She has cut back on some of the newspaper advertising for now, however, so she can save money to have a sign placed on Hwy 11, 29 kilometres to the south.
The most established of the three stores, Bouvier’s store was opened in 2009, about five years after she and her husband, Perry, built a new house on their farm in the Carlos district, about 20 kilometres north of Leslieville.
She had been working on jewelery design in her office on the main floor and collected about $15,000 in inventory when she decided to branch out and start teaching some of her techniques.
The Carlos Little Bead Store is not so little any more, occupying most of the ground level and carrying an inventory that’s well beyond $15,000.
Without revealing her annual profits, Bouvier says she has number of part-time staff and makes enough money that she is required to collect GST.
A couple of corners and a hill away, Hofer is in the early stages of a similar program on the store she opened last November, just in time to catch the Christmas rush.
It’s been good, although it’s still a bit slow, says Hofer, who can’t imagine ever being so busy that she would to collect GST.
She advertises locally and maintains a small display in a secondhand book store in Rocky Mountain House.
With no mortgage or loans to worry about, Hofer says the store just needs to make enough money to help her pay her bills so she can stay at home and work on her creations or play her violin. It gives her far more flexibility than she had with the bed and breakfast.
“I just need variety,” says Hofer.
A few kilometres south of Coyote Ridge, on what’s left of Leslieville’s once thriving Main Street, Neudorf-Armstrong revels in a childhood dream.
She had started building an inventory of do-dads and what-nots when she was a teenager, hoping some day to have a store of her own.
“It was originally going to be just for fun, because how busy is it going to be in Leslieville?”
It turned out that the store was busy enough to warrant Kim putting all of her efforts into the shop. An additional advantage is that she can bring her son to work rather than dropping him off at a day care.
She agrees with Bouvier about the impact of social media and word of mouth, including a message she got two years ago from a friend who had gone to Mexico for spring break.
“I had not been open for three days and she sends me a message on Facebook: ‘You are not going to believe it. I’m lying on the beach and these people beside me start talking about this little shop where they’re from called 3 Ladies and Their Stuff.’ She says, ‘Kim, it’s a groovy world.’”
Neudorf-Armstrong said her store is now getting people in from Red Deer every day, estimating that she gets new customers on four of every five of the days she’s open.
Along with social media and word of mouth, Neudorf-Armstrong and her husband, Murray, have organized public markets from time to time, closing off the street so local vendors can open for business.
The markets are good for the store and they help local entrepreneurs put their goods out in public, says Neudorf-Armstrong. She has planned more markets in the future, including a second-anniversary market at the end of March and a street market during Leslieville Antique Days, held on the August long weekend.
She also attends markets, does a little picking from time to time and goes to major trade shows, hunting for eclectic items and ideas for her store.
“People love destination shopping, and that, I think, is what’s important,” says Neudorf-Armstrong.
“I couldn’t afford to have this business in a mall. It’s what I love and my kid comes with me every day.”