Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Life of A Small Business

Well, people, this past Saturday I wandered into Campbell's Music on Franklin Avenue. I did this because Campbell's Music was celebrating their 35th year in business in Fort Mac, an event totally worthy of celebration because frankly it's astonishing. 35 years is a long time to be around for any small business, but for a small independent niche-market business in Fort McMurray? It's beyond amazing and almost into the territory reserved for miracles.

I spent most of my adult life working in and managing small, independently-owned, niche market businesses. I know what a challenge they are. There are staffing issues, as the dynamic of a small business is so sensitive and just one wrong hire can affect the entire business. There are times of prosperity and times so darkly lean that you fear for the survival of the business. There are times the business feels like a big happy family, and times it feels like the most dysfunctional of families. There are times when you come thisclose to throwing in the towel and walking away. People, the businesses I worked in were businesses in major Canadian cities where there are thousands of employees to choose from, and where the boom/bust cycle is not so pronounced as here. I can only imagine the trials and tribulations Campbell's Music has seen in 35 years in a town/city where every business challenge just seems a bit more difficult.

I am not a musician, but I discovered Campbell's Music shortly after moving to the city. I began buying piano books for my kid who was taking piano lessons. Then, when my kid needed to find an instrument for the school band we went in to try out the instruments. I thought we would need a flute or something similar but imagine my surprise when my kid came out of the store with a rental trumpet as the good people had determined that this kid belonged in the brass section (and they were quite completely right). We also left the store with a new trumpet teacher, a young Campbell's employee that is just a few years older than my kid and has become not only a treasured trumpet instructor but a mentor in many ways.

This past Father's Day my kid and I took my husband in to purchase his gift - a new electric guitar and amp. It has been years since he played, and we wanted him to be able to explore his musical talent again. Once again the good people at Campbell's took care of us, allowing him to try whatever guitar he wanted, and offering advice and suggestions. We left with a lovely guitar and amp, and I'm sure they will see more of him as he is now talking about needing a bass and a drum machine.

I'm actually pretty amazed by the employees at Campbell's. Most are young, and they are clearly enthusiastic about music, and about their jobs. I find that pretty remarkable in a city where at other businesses young employees often seem to disappear as soon as they sense you might have a question. Not at Campbell's. There you are greeted with a smile, asked if you need assistance - and then left to explore until you need help, at which point they are there, ready to offer their advice and thoughts. This is the way a small business - really, every business - should be. Obviously these people love their jobs and have loyalty to their employer, and as someone who managed small businesses you have no idea how important that is to me. It's your dream to have employees who love the business, who are enthusiastic, and who help to infect customers with that enthusiasm, too. When you have those employees you can't help but feel that you have done something right, and that you are building something together.

Businesses of any sort don't survive unless they are supported, people. Shopping local is a great idea, but  that can be hard to do if you feel the local business does not merit your hard-earned cash. Every local business needs to realize that being local isn't enough - they need to provide the customer service and atmosphere that create loyalty to the business. When that has been created people don't even consider shopping at a different, non-local business - why would they when the local business is not only as good as but better than businesses in Edmonton or Calgary? Campbell's Music has managed this beautifully, and I have no doubt this is the reason behind their 35 years in business. They have found a way to meet the needs of this city, spread enthusiasm both within their staff and their customer base, and survive in a city prone to turbulent times.

 The success of a small independent business like this is a success we can all celebrate, people. There are those who denigrate Fort Mac as an unstable economy, or a city where such long-term successes are impossible. Not so, we can say. Look at Campbell's Music, we can say, a place that has been around for 35 years, seen the city change in ways that most of us can't even imagine, and will very likely be around long after many of us have left the city. We can point to that success and be proud of it, people, because it shows that this city does indeed have a heart. That heart is in places like small, independent, niche-market businesses with young enthusiastic employees. It's just another part of this community we call home, and it's one of which I am so very proud. Congratulations on 35 years, Campbell's Music!

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