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Retailer offers pathway for social skills training

First Nation store keeps dollars at home, builds employee confidence
dollar store front
The Your Dollar Store with More outlet opened on Wikwemikong reserve on Manitoulin Island in 2014.

One business in Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island is offering its community more than a place to get great bargains.

They also offer to teach service skills people will need to be successful in life.

Your Dollar Store With More, a Canada-wide chain, has a franchise on the reserve, offering the community a place to shop and, in turn, helps to train staff to engage with the public and keep money in the community.

Manager Leslie Manitowabi-Recollet said the store has been more than a convenient place to shop. It provides service industry training and teaches staff to have pride in their workplace.

“They stress to have pride in our workplace because it is a reflection of our community,” she said in a phone interview. “They teach them to walk the isles, engage with the customers if they can't find exactly what they are looking for they try to find something that they may like.”

Recollet, who is from the reserve, said she studied retail management and decided to return to her community.

She explained while chain stores may get a bad reputation for funneling cash out of a community, Your Dollar Store with More has a mandate to have each franchise be a part of the community. This has helped lead a retail boom on the reserve, Recollet said.

“People from other parts of the island are coming to shop here, even from as far as the west end,” she said.

Recollet said staff retention has been very high as well. Most of their employees have been with them since it opened in April of 2014.

They have had a few high school students work for them and have gone on to college, crediting their time at the store with helping to build their confidence.

The store had a lively booth at the Manitoulin Trade Fair the weekend of May 26-28 selling everything from candy, to the popular fidget spinner toys.

Customer service representative Debbie Gravelle said the store really is more than just a store for bargains.

“We are the kind of place that asks why pay $10 for something when you can get it here for just $1?” she said.

“When I moved here years ago people were so timid. It took a long time for people to warm up to me. This place also helps teach people customer service skills, so they can have some confidence and head off-reserve to go to college, then return to help more people also learn skills.”

Recollet said the trade fair gave them more exposure.

“A lot of people didn't even know there was a dollar store on the island until we were at the fair,” she said.

Mary Lynn Odjig, general manager of Wikwemikong Development Commission (WDC), explained they approached Your Dollar Store with More in 2012 to get a franchise in the community.

“We were opening a new shopping mall and we needed an anchor store to help us get government funding,” she said. “We looked into several other dollar store chains and this one seemed to be the best fit for our community.”

Once they secured the deal, the retailer everything from design the floor plan to train staff. There were concerns over shipping costs initially, Odjig said, but since the company has its own suppliers, they didn't charge extra.

The training is designed to get salespeople to encourage customers to buy more, but it also helps people to engage the public.

“You can't be shy when dealing with customers,” Odjig said.

The franchise has been more than another business in town. Odjig said the WDC conducted a study into how much money was being spent outside the reserve and discovered around $30 million was leaving the community.

The company offers other incentives to get the community to shop there and for the franchise staff to increase sales, such as rebates, contests between stores, and royalties that go back to the community.

Ray Parro, the national retailer's director of franchise support, explained when the WDC approached them to open a franchise they looked at the size of the community to make sure it was viable. After that, they worked with the community to get the franchise opened.

“Part of our business model is training and support. People buying a franchise may not have any experience, but we are there to make sure they can be successful.”

A big part of that success is a five-day comprehensive staff training course. Parro said the company is pleased with the franchise.

“We always have a forecasted sales projection and while it's just a forecast, they are on track to meet it, we are pleased with everything.”

Recollet was told out of the 120 stores across Canada, the Wikwemikong franchise was in the top five. Going ahead, she said, they will be focusing on beauty products, confection, and have plans to expand into decorating.

“That's the great thing about this company, they let us tailor our service to the community and choose our suppliers, but at the same time, they give us a lot of support. We can call them anytime and they are there for us.”