Faron Halliday still remembers vividly as a young teen-ager how his uncle’s general store served as a social hub in their small fishing town in Nova Scotia. The store was very much a part of the community life. When the townspeople were not at sea, where most of them earned their living, they were at the store socializing.
That experience played out once again in his mind when, a couple of years ago, he was weighing whether or not to relocate to Savanna from where he was based at – Red Deer and subsequently Calgary. The previous owner of The Savanna General Store found him online and broached the idea of him coming and running the store.
He agreed to move and work for the store. However, in December 2017, owing to a lack of profitability, the store shut its doors.
After about a couple of weeks, he reached agreement with the previous owner for him to assume ownership of the store. Halliday knew he could turn the situation around if the store operates as a family business – something which the previous owner, who owns a host of businesses, could not afford to do.
The store threw its doors open again in mid-January 2018.
Question: How did the community feel about the closure of the store – even if for only a brief period of time?
Answer: The community was devastated, and I say that not in an economic sense. The store serves the community in a lot of small things. For instance, the store sometimes serves as a drop-off point where people leave and collect their parcels. And we have the key to the Savanna Agricultural Society Rec-Plex, which is right next door to us, for the convenience of those who needed to access the facility. Also, we are the only public washroom within a 20-minute drive radius around us.
I personally don’t take the small conveniences for granted. I remember losing my lighter while I was on the road. No big deal, I thought. I would grab a new lighter at the next gas filling station. Then reality hits me: the next gas filling station is about a couple of hundred kilometres away.
What kind of marketing do you do?
Social media provide a platform for us to communicate with our customers. Up here if you’re not on Facebook, you basically don’t exist. Every organization, every group scheduling, every hockey tournament – everything is done on Facebook. It’s just the easiest way to disseminate information.
I also do online advertising – both on Facebook and Google. In a way, it does help bring foot traffic to the store in that it has caused people, from Dawson Creek to Rycroft, to call or to e-mail to find out, for example, what we have on special at the restaurant or inquire about stuff that we could potentially carry in the store. And, of course, as you know, I do print advertising as well.
Do you see yourself going the e-commerce route, where you put up your products online for people to purchase also online?
I don’t see it as being feasible – just because I don’t carry anything specialized. I don’t carry anything that you couldn’t get at a normal corner store. So, I don’t see any reason why anyone outside of this area would necessarily order anything from me. And anyone that lives in this area will just come here and get it.
Why do people congregate at your store and socialize?
People come in for a number of reasons. For some, we are a convenient location for them to meet up and catch up while having food or coffee. People know where we are. We are, for example, the meeting place each year for the annual Savanna Fair parade.
For others, they come in because they simply wanted to support their community store. So they come in with the intention of spending their money in the store.
What do say is your biggest challenge in running a store?
We are so far out from suppliers, so logistics is a problem. Some suppliers do deliver, but I also drive to Rycroft to pick up supplies.
What kind of products do you carry at the store?
We carry a variety of items found normally in any convenience store, including household and grocery items, beverages and snack food. A gas filling station and a restaurant are also part of our business.