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Branding lessons from a successful small business

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Savannah Olsen and Walter Manning, Co-Owners, Old Faithful Shop

Walter Manning spent much of his childhood in a pair of country general stores that his grandparents owned in fishing outports in Newfoundland.

The stores were far more than just a place to buy groceries. You could also count on seeing a friendly face behind the counter, running into friends and neighbours, and finding locally made, quality household products not available in today’s chain box stores.

Manning brought the same philosophy to the branding of the Old Faithful Shop in Vancouver’s Gastown district. The store is a modern-day version of a country general store that he opened with his girlfriend, Savannah Olsen, in 2010.

Creating a down-home customer experience

The shop features uniquely designed, high-quality household wares and a sales approach that emphasize a friendly, down-home customer experience—the signature of their branding and marketing plan.

The store has been a galloping success. Sales shot up by 50% annually in the first couple of years and are now flying along at a 25% annual pace.

“My main inspiration was my grandmother and grandfather,” Manning says. “People came to their stores for their products, but they seemed to get more than that. There was a sense of community that people were drawn to.”

Products carefully chosen

Manning and Olsen carefully choose products for their style, simplicity and craftsmanship. “Our approach is do‑it‑yourself and back-to-the-roots—an easier way of life,” Manning says.

“We wanted to offer products that people haven’t seen before and back it up with great service and a really friendly atmosphere.”

The same vision also inspired the interior of their store, which has the feel of a cozy, rustic oasis amid a bustling downtown neighbourhood.

Featured in GQ magazine

“My hands crawled literally over every square inch of the store,” says Manning, who did almost all of the shop renovations himself.

Wares range from beautifully grained walnut bread boards (that Manning designed himself) to handmade soaps and bell jar lamps that were featured in GQ magazine’s Christmas gift guide last year.

Other special touches in the store: Serving free hot cider, hosting art shows and offering a workshop on container gardening. It’s all about fostering community and a loyal clientele.

Fostering relationships, building a community

“The store’s environment is calm and easy going—not pushy. We’re more interested in relationships,” Manning says.

Manning and Olsen also use online marketing and social media to further broaden their community reach. They received a technology loan from BDC to support their e-commerce efforts. (The business also benefitted from a loan from BDC Indigenous Banking. Olsen is of Indigenous descent.)

On social media, they post fun and educational content that people often share with friends—attractive photos, book suggestions and music lists that reflect their store’s brand.

E-commerce supported by social media

Even before starting the store, Manning had developed a large web following through his blog devoted to his love of photography. In their store, he and Olsen used the same visually appealing esthetic as on Manning’s blog. It helped turn many of the blog’s readers into repeat store customers and followers on Facebook and Twitter.

“A small business has the ability to be more authentic and genuine,” Manning says. “When you do something unique, you can get a lot of loyal customers quickly.”

Branding lessons from the Old Faithful Shop

  1. Develop a strong vision for your business that resonates with potential customers.
  2. Make the most of your opportunity as a small business to excel at customer service and create a special client experience.
  3. Build brand loyalty by fostering a sense of community including through and social media and other online marketing initiatives.

For more marketing advice, read our Social Media and Online Marketing eBooks.

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