Is retail strong in the Pontiac?

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Rhonda Meisner and long time employee Jody Peck stand in front of the toy department, at Stedmans V&S, in Shawville. They are holding their Readers’ Choice awards, presented by the Pontiac Journal, for Best Kids’ Toy Selection and 2nd place for Best Gift Selection. 



Rhonda Meisner and long time employee Jody Peck stand in front of the toy department, at Stedmans V&S, in Shawville. They are holding their Readers’ Choice awards, presented by the Pontiac Journal, for Best Kids’ Toy Selection and 2nd place for Best Gift Selection. 

Lynne Lavery

By the end of 2014, the Pontiac’s economy looked grim. Already saddled with the label of the poorest MRC in all of Quebec, the provincial government has announced heavy cuts to many government services, especially those geared towards the local economy: elimination of the Centre Locale de Developement (CLD), changes to the Centre Jeunesse Emploi (CJE), and downloading of more responsibilities onto the MRC – all without the budget to accompany them. As well, the media carried news of financial difficulties for the Green Initiatives Corporation, an American company that had been hailed by the MRC as a bright light in job creation by bringing green industries into the Pontiac.
Is the Pontiac’s economy this grim? Currently, there are no large-scale
industries, but there are many businesses supporting their owners and employing others; some have recently expanded, others are
planning growth. Who are these businesses? Why are they successful? What secrets do they hold which some of the larger projects, those arriving with big promises and then leaving when the government
support money runs out, are missing? 
This is the first in a
series highlighting Pontiac’s
business successes.
 Retail and its successes  
The Pontiac Chamber of Commerce website lists over 1,000 businesses; in its Shopping and Specialty Stores category are 86
listings. Obviously there are many businesses succeeding in what is a challenging
sector. 
One challenge these stores face is the bad
habit consumers have of
spending their dollars in other regions or marketplaces. What will slow
this trend is knowing what
is available at home.
Example One: WePC
Josh Beardsley and Scott Lemay opened WePC  in Shawville 11 years ago this April.  What started as a computer sales and service shop has expanded steadily in sales volume and in its reach – the company serves customers locally as well as outside of the Pontiac. 
WePC employs 4 full-time and 1 part-time trained computer technicians; they also provide work experience (“stage”) training for one to two students each year.  Why have they been successful?
According to Lemay, who is in charge of the IT and networking side of their operations, “This business is rapidly changing. Our target market is currently local residential; but retail has declined due to online and big-box competition. Our task is to convince
consumers, who come to us to compare prices, that they must compare apples to apples. Deep-discounted computers don’t compare in value to what we offer. We’re happy to check
any flyer and explain the differences,” he noted. 
Where is WePC expanding? “Into commercial sales,” said Lemay. “Wireless network solutions are needed by
businesses and farms. We’ve set up systems where a farmer can view their barn from their home — or their phone — during calving
season. This allows them to be on the spot, when they’re
 needed.”
20% of WePC’s business is outside the Pontiac, especially in Aylmer, Gatineau, Ottawa and Chelsea.
How do they get these contracts? “Mostly word of mouth, referrals, and our reputation,” says Lemay. “We did a big contract for Nordic Spa in Chelsea, which we got through a contact we had with another company. Pontiac doesn’t have the demand to support a business like ours completely, so we have to be innovative in where we look.”
According to Beardsley, who manages the business side of WePC, “The
fundamentals of good business don’t change. You have to have solid, honest relationships with your customers, and be willing to work hard and have roots in the community where your business
operates. We support local events, figure skating, hockey, scholarships; all this brings our name into the community and encourages people to support us.”
Example Two: Stedmans V&S
Another local retail success is in the process of transferring to a second
generation. In 2012, Rhonda Meisner began her transition to ownership of Stedmans V&S in Shawville, from
parents Carolyn and Richard Meisner.
In operation for 42 years, this
independently-owned variety store saw a definite business increase in 2014.
Why? “Rhonda brought in new lines,” said Carolyn.  “The home décor is very popular, as is the medium-priced women’s clothing line, Alia. Our toy selection is very popular. In general, we’ve increased the products in the store. Rhonda is always looking for new
suppliers to add new lines,” noted Carolyn.
Their target market is the Pontiac, but after expanding advertising in Renfrew they saw an increase in new customers, particularly on the weekends. They
market the store via local newspaper ads, a web page, and some radio. 
Retail stores in the Pontiac have one huge challenge:  their customer base is not expanding. Any new industry that would keep or attract workers to the Pontiac would be a benefit. Meanwhile, this entrepreneurial family relies on “affordable products, good selection, great customer service, a central location and friendly staff,” said Carolyn. “We know our business well; the franchise provides consistent inventory and sale items. We have the freedom to bring in lines we know will be popular. To
succeed, you need a good work ethic and a good customer base.”
What it takes . . .
Hard work and hours outside the usual, fulfilling your customers’ needs, drop-dead customer service, keeping roots in the community, supporting local events and charities, expanding your
customer base by clear, uncomplicated marketing methods, providing good value to your customers’ dollars –  these are the traits of a strong retail entrepreneur. A retail business requires a
substantial pool of customers – numbers! – and a means to reach new clients,
alongside a steady advertising presence.
This formula has worked for other local retailers, such as Boutique Gwendolyn, Shawville Shoes and Accessories, WA Hodgins Home Hardware, who is in the midst of a large expansion, Giant Tiger, Boutique Evangeline, Tilly’s, Mega Dollar, BMR Hardware, the local Sears outlets, and many others deserving mention.
We are not all retailers, but we are all consumers. We have to step up and
support local businesses. Shopping
locally is an essential part of our
communities’ health, because a
community needs an economic base. 
Watch for next installment in this series which will focus on successful
agricultural businesses.