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Harnessing the power of the network of chambers in Atlantic Canada to strengthen and grow your business

By Sponsored Aug 16, 2023 | 12:00 AM

This is the fourth in a series of stories from the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce highlighting the success and innovation of its members. The Atlantic Chamber of Commerce represents more than 16,000 businesses, of all sizes and in all sectors, through its network of 90 chambers of commerce across the four Atlantic provinces.

Putting the pieces together for success can be difficult for any business, but especially for those that have lots of passion, but little experience.

That was the situation Karen Allen found herself in when she made a leap of faith to purchase what is now one of the most thriving businesses in the Cape Breton hamlet of Whycocomagh, Brook Village Grocery.

A well-established business with a history dating back decades, it had been for sale for seven years when Ontario native Allen decided to purchase it. Wanting it to remain true to its roots, Brook Village Grocery remains an authentic rural general store, offering everything from animal feed and farming staples like gum boots, to fresh local produce, baked goods and Cape Breton famous cheese.

The Strait Area Chamber of Commerce (SACOC) had the blueprint Allen needed to put the pieces in place. After an in-person visit from the executive director who traveled from more than an hour away in Port Hawkesbury to extoll the virtues of chamber membership, Allen decided to join.

“Anytime I had any question, they have always been very helpful and went looking for the answer,” Allen relates.

Allen, whose previous experience was as a brewmaster, had already begun to build her vision for the revitalized store, but realized she didn’t have a good grasp of the nuts and bolts of business operations, hiring practices or finance.

That’s where the SACOC stepped in to help Allen create a firm foundation to stand on, to build the confidence for her business to succeed.

“The Strait Area Chamber of Commerce offers free certified workplace training courses to business owners and employed individuals,” explains Tanya Felix, executive director of the SACOC. “We work in partnership with Nova Scotia Labour Skills & Immigration who fund the program and support our efforts to connect our membership and employees in our region with professional and relevant training.”

Courses offered by the SACOC include QuickBooks Level I & II, Website Design Level I, Content Marketing with AI, Microsoft Excel, and Human Resources. Felix says courses began being offered online as well as in person during Covid, and that trend will continue as it makes it easier for rural members to participate.

Allen says the chamber has been instrumental in helping her with issues like payroll management, right from day one, helping her build the confidence she needed to make her business a success.

She says that first call to the chamber to find small business resources provided her with everything she needed to get her payroll and benefits on track, including enrollment in the Business Skills & Financial Fundamentals courses.

Since that first call, she’s called many times in early stages for assistance and the chamber always pointed her in the right direction.

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“Brook Village Grocery is a perfect example of harnessing the power of the network of chambers in Atlantic Canada to strengthen and grow your business,” says Sheri Somerville, CEO of the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce. “Membership with your local chamber also connects you with a vast network of like-minded business owners that extends across 90 communities in the region. The insights and partnerships gained from these connections are invaluable.”

Allen agrees, noting that through the chamber, Brook Village Grocery has been able to develop a relationship with neighbouring businesses like the Quincy Street Market, and get connected with crowdfunding charitable organizations that have a wide reach throughout the community, like 100 Women Who Care.

Those relationships developed through her membership at the chamber have strengthened her outreach on social media and allowed for collaborations with other businesses.

Allen’s favourite aspect of her relationships built with other local business through the SACOC is the “feeling of wanting to boost each other up, rather than compete”.

“It’s magical to be a part of the small business community,” she confides.

Tanya Felix wholeheartedly agrees.

“Businesses large and small are part of the fabric of our communities. We realize that even in a small way, supporting our members can have a positive impact on their growth and success but it also strengthens relationships within the community and can have long term positive impacts on the entire region.”

This story is sponsored by the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce.

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