In December of 2012, Kayla Conoley and her now husband Brent Halverson dreamt of running their own business in Halifax, NS. Halverson wanted to own a bike shop, Conoley wanted to own a coffee shop or a bed and breakfast, but either way, they wanted to create a place with a sense of community and purpose. It wasn’t until Brent’s mom put a bug in their ear about the sale of the Earltown General Store that they knew it was the opportunity they had been looking for.
“It was one of those things in life that just seemed like the right thing to do. We were excited to move to the country (in Brent’s case back to his teenage stomping grounds) and really start our lives together. We wanted to work for ourselves and see our vision come to life. We wanted to be part of a community, put down roots,” says Conoley.
This store has a long running tradition of serving Earltown, NS and has been operating steadily under various owners since the early 1890s.
“Bringing life to it wasn’t very difficult,” says Conoley. “So many people have a connection to this place, stories of the old owners, what used to be sold, what Earltown was like back in the day. I’m happy it’s a place where stories are told and shared, where happy memories are brought back to folks coming back through that door again. And I’m happy that we can adapt to be relevant to the needs of our growing community.”
This general store offers staples like milk, bread, pepperoni and fuel, but as Conoley explains, “We wanted to bring in interesting things, and healthier fair than normally found at a gas station convenience store. It is an amazing thing to see the progress we have made in a few short years.”
Getting the word out
Stocking unique products and working hard to offer your community what it needs doesn’t matter if people don’t know you exist. To spread the word about their business, this young couple turned to social media.
“We have quite the Facebook following! In the beginning it was our only platform besides word of mouth and a couple of news articles that let people know what we were doing and what direction we were going in. It wasn’t a hard decision to get on social media. In today’s world it is a natural step for any business to take and it certainly is effective,” she says.
“I have found that Facebook has specifically connected us with people who knew of the store before we purchased it and have shared our page with friends and family, excited to see it still in operation. It’s a great tool for getting people through the door. Countless times folks have mentioned that they saw us on Facebook and wanted to get a closer look at the old store and what we have to offer.”
So far, Earltown General Store’s Facebook page has a following of more than 2,200 people. When they share photos of their house-made jars of pickles or freshly baked breads, the receive hundreds of likes and shares.
“Instagram is a different beast. It’s new to me because we don’t actually have cell service here in Earltown, and I just got an iPhone in the spring to get in touch with employees while in the city on our work runs. So, it has taken a little getting used to! Luckily we have a very photogenic space here and lots of interesting things to post about. The smaller, more nuanced moments of our day are more easily shared this way, which I think let’s our followers see a more personal side to the business.”
Instagram is also a different audience than their Facebook following. “Our Instagram following is made up of our friends, fellow young business owners, and other young folks with an interest in the store,” she says. “I’m excited for this autumn season and posting our offerings going in to Christmas.”
Focusing on local
Local isn’t just a fad at Earltown General Store. It’s a way of lifting up and supporting their community. “Keeping the money circulating in our community is certainly an important thing to do as it makes it more appealing for folks to stay here and do something. Be it small-scale farming, opening a bakery, producing craft work or specialty items, local business supporting local business will help to keep our rural spaces lively and moving forward.”
At Earltown General Store, a focus on locally sourced products is paramount to the core values of the business. Here, Conoley explains a few of the items they stock from their own community:
- Our own homemade preserves. “The vegetables for our traditional pickles come from our friend Bill’s garden down the road. He grows amazing, healthy vegetables only a half km from us. The fruit for our preserves mostly comes from Vista Bella Farm in Malagash. They are hard working family farmers who run quite the orchard!”
- Produce from local farmers. “We carry a mix of organic certified vegetables as well as non organic. Either way, these are small farms doing great things. This year we were proud to offer North of Nuttby Farm organic wild blueberries, the first low bush organic variety in Nova Scotia! Cammie Harbottle of Waldegrave Farm supplies us with the most beautiful organic vegetables.”
- Locally sourced cheese and meat. “We carry cheeses from Knoydart Farm, That Dutchman’s Farm and ADL Cheddars made on PEI. Meats come from Ebbett’s Naturally Grown Meats down the road and our beef is grown by Brent’s auntie and uncle, some of the best beef I have ever had and it’s raised responsibly.”
- Northumberland Hemp Oil. “Hemp oil is a new product from up this way that is very exciting. Hemp oils and flours that are very healthy and tasty.”
So what’s Conoley’s advice to other retailers looking to build their social media presence and audience?
“Just do it! Also, be yourself. Post about the things that make you unique. Try to build on your in-store brand by matching your social media voice to it. There are lots of businesses out there, so it’s key to make yourself distinct by using your own voice. For a small ma and pa like ourselves, I try to make us as approachable on the Internet as we are in person. I’m a cornball, so that comes across in many of my posts too. So far, it seems to be working!”
Earltown General Store recently introduced an on-site electric charging station for the growing community of electric car owners in their area.
After receiving requests from some community members to provide this service, they worked with a local in the industry who installed a used charger for free. “Since we got the charger for free, the investment wasn’t large. It just takes up some space on the side of our building and a minimal loss on energy when folks fill up. We think that the benefits outweigh not being able to be compensated for the energy used,” says Conoley.
Overall, the introduction of the charging station is about preparing for the future.
“Helping to build a network for electric car users throughout the province was what we had in mind. Having more businesses in rural spaces offer electric charging stations will help to keep our communities accessible as the transition to greater electric car use takes place,” says Conoley. “We are happy to be a place that merges the past with the present. It feels like a positive step forward into the future.”