A small business in Campbell River, BC, is thriving thanks in part to its network of loyal customers and the support of its community. Leslie Hanes owns Discovery Fabrics, and following her 2023 Small Business BC Premier’s People’s Choice Award win, SBBC connected with Leslie to learn more about the origins of her company and the challenges and opportunities facing Discovery Fabrics.
Discovery Fabrics beginnings and pivots
Discovery Fabrics is a non-traditional fabric store that specializes in high-performance fabrics. “We are perhaps the only fabric store in North America that specializes in these fabrics,” said Leslie. In stock, you’ll find a myriad of performance fabrics that can protect from the elements, wick moisture, and more.
The business started 20 years ago as a manufacturing company making product lines like fast-drying swim and travel towels. They also made high-tech outerwear for local clients.
“This is how the fabric business began because we often had to buy more of a style than we could use, so we started selling excess online,” said Leslie.
Then, as the COVID-19 pandemic began, the business pivoted. They discontinued manufacturing products due to a lack of demand for travel products.
“Instead, we started teaching about technical and performance fabrics and showing others how to make their own jackets or athletic wear,” said Leslie. “The videos became very popular, and we started to become known as the place to both learn about and purchase these special fabrics.”
Campbell River is not only a “fantastic place to live,” according to Leslie, but the outdoor lifestyle of the community influences the products she sells. “It is a growing city with many newcomers who come to experience the beauty of living by the ocean and mountains,” said Leslie.
“We not only sell performance fabrics, but we sew our own garments and live the lifestyle,”
said Leslie. “By being active and enjoying the outdoors, we know what works and what doesn’t.”
While 90 percent of Discovery Fabrics’ business is online, its physical presence is an essential piece of its brand. “We have become a bit of a vacation destination for home sewists who want to touch the fabrics and meet the staff,” said Leslie.
“We spend time with each customer that comes to our store, giving tours and asking questions so they can create their vision,” she said.
The Strength of Social Media
Leslie recognizes the importance of social media for her business to support strong relationships with her customer base.
Discovery Fabrics has a Facebook group where members are invited to share their sewing projects and ask questions. Staff jump in with advice on sewing, selecting, and matching fabrics. “There are very few other fabric stores that will teach sewists and provide ongoing education to their customers,” said Leslie.
“Our returning customer rate is extremely high, and we have a loyal following. We believe that developing a relationship with our customers is the most important way to meet their needs, as we get to know them so well,” she said.
Taking Advantage of Grants
Leslie said that her business used the Canada Digital Adoption Program (CDAP) to get ahead. “We accessed the CDAP grant this year to get help improving our website functionality,” said Leslie. “It was very helpful and gave us insight on how to improve our reach.”
Small Business BC helps connect small businesses with the Grow Your Business Online Grant – a micro-grant of up to $2,400 to help with costs related to adopting e-commerce, with support from a network of E-commerce Advisors. Another grant that businesses can access via SBBC is the Workplace Accessibility Grant. Reimbursement grants of up to $5,000 are available for eligible businesses that can show how their project improves accessibility for persons with disabilities in the workplace.
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