A Cranbrook business pivots with help from Trust’s BBA program
“We’re an awesome bookstore.” This is how Erin Dalton describes the Cranbrook store she owns: Huckleberry Books. “The tagline I like using is ‘Your Community Bookstore.’ We try to be really community focused.”
Dalton purchased the store in 2012. Since then, the business has gone through a huge, transformational journey. As she took this on, Dalton relied on the guidance of Columbia Basin Trust’s Basin Business Advisors (BBA) program, which provides free, one-to-one, confidential business counselling and assessment services. She says, “I could not have done it without that support.”
Changes over the years
Dalton began working with a BBA Advisor in 2014. Over a few months, she improved how she marketed the store—then called Lotus Books—and learned about “cost of sales.” The program provides advice and tools so that entrepreneurs can make informed decisions based on their unique situations, resources and visions—whether the challenge involves managing staff, streamlining operations or planning for succession.
In 2018, Dalton decided she could use BBA’s support again. Wanting to “kick it up a notch,” she figured she could learn more about something she’d heard of but didn’t understand: cash flow projections.
Just before the initial meeting occurred, though, she found out that the building the store was housed in was up for sale. Uncertain about whether she’d be able to stay or not under potential new ownership, she took action, “I couldn’t wait for things to happen and then figure it out,” she says. Her focus with BBA shifted to how to relocate.
The advisor walked her through the steps, from finding a unit, to planning the space, to affording the move. Since the program began in 2000, well over 3,000 businesses have benefited from support like this—from sole operators to those with several employees. The program also offers advice tailored to agriculture businesses and social enterprises. The goal is to help strengthen businesses in the Basin.
Another adjustment Dalton had always wanted to make was to rename the store and align it more with her values. Again, BBA was there, including finding support to help pay for a graphic designer. “I could not have done the job that they did without some financial help.”
By February 2019, the newly located Huckleberry Books was born, with an ever-expanding children’s section and a growing range of diverse voices. As for the name, “I love huckleberries,” Dalton says. “I think they’re very emblematic of the area. It’s a bit of an adventure to go huckleberry-ing—you never know what you’re going to quite find. And I feel like a good bookstore should be like that.”
Thriving through challenge
Then the pandemic hit. “The first little while, it was pretty freaky,” Dalton says. In March 2020, she locked the doors and laid off her staff.
Once again, BBA helped her get through—first with moral support, and then by connecting her with the BC Tech Association’s HyperTech Digital Audit. With this aid, she greatly enhanced her online store, which had been around for years but only occasionally garnered sales. She learned how to do analytics on the webstore, improved her social media efforts and set up an e-newsletter. Books could be shipped by mail, delivered locally or put aside for curbside pickup.
“Our online sales really took off,” she says, and have continued to flourish since she reopened the store, with reduced hours, in June 2020. Despite the pandemic, “We’ve had one of the best years since I bought the store.”
A previous full-time employee rejoined part-time, plus Dalton has hired a couple of people part-time to help with the newsletter, social media and online events—a move that BBA suggested. Dalton continues to work with BBA on topics like marketing.
She also continues to serve the Cranbrook community in this time of stress. On the store window, she has printed the words “bookmongers and purveyors of whimsy.” She says, “I think that’s what we offer the community: a sense of fun and play and exploring and adventure. We can provide a little bit of escape, a little bit of a sense of normalcy”—alongside, of course, the perfect book.
The BBA program is administered and managed by Community Futures Central Kootenay. Connect with an advisor and sign up for a program newsletter here.
“The program advisors help a business work through its options; the business owner then makes the decisions and implements them. It is very rewarding work.” – Alison Bjorkman, Program Manager, Basin Business Advisors