St. Albert's small business numbers growing despite downturn

While the official numbers won't be in until next month, it's looking like 2015 was a record-setting year for new business startups in St. Albert.

A poor economy can mean good business for some niche entrepreneurs

St. Albert entrepreneur Tina Moreau operates The Heroine Bookstore out of her own home for now, but hopes to one day expand into a physical storefront. (CBC)

While the official numbers don't come in until next month, it's looking like 2015 was a record-setting year for new business startups in St. Albert.

In the first three quarters of the year, the city issued 387 new business licences; of those 136 were for home-based businesses.

The spike in the numbers comes as no surprise to Joan Barber, the city's manager of business retention and expansion.

"In a down economy, as people lose their jobs, they quite often will start their own business," she said Monday.

In a time of economic downturn, many small startups compete for contracts from larger established businesses, which may be hesitant to hire new full-time staff. Home-based entrepreneurial ventures offering new services and products also can find opportunities in sluggish economies, Barber said.

That's what Tina Moreau is doing. 

Bookseller hopes niche market will find traction

For years, Moreau has dreamed of opening her own bookstore. But she found the costs of opening a physical storefront and stocking it to be prohibitive.

Moreau, who's got a background in publishing but has spent the last five years raising her kids, was also concerned about her chances of finding work in the traditional job market, particularly during a recession when competition is tight.
All of the books sold in Tina Moreau's online store feature strong female leads. (The Heroine Bookstore)

So on Nov. 1, she launched The Heroine Bookstore, an online bookshop that primarily sells science fiction and fantasy books featuring strong female lead characters. 

It's a specific market but one that is largely untapped, Moreau said. About 50 per cent of science fiction and fantasy readers are women, giving her a ready-made customer base.

"To start it up online, it not only susses out whether or not it's a feasible niche, whether people are actually interested in it, but it's also a lot cheaper to get up and running right off the bat," Moreau said.

So far, sales have been good, she said. And even though her business is online, quite a few of her buyers are local. 

"But we've actually gotten sales from as far away as Toronto, Texas and places in the States," she added.

Dealing with a dropping dollar

Because her business relies on shipping to and from the States, the low Canadian dollar has made aspects of the job more complicated, Moreau said. 

Canadian sales have dropped somewhat as the Canadian dollar went down.

"Right now, my consumers have to pay for the exchange rate," she said. "But for myself, I've actually noticed it's become a lot cheaper to have a warehouse in the States because I don't have to deal with the exchange rate of importing all those books."

By March, she's hoping to import a bulk order of books and ship them to her buyers from a Canadian warehouse to cut down on exchange and shipping costs for customers.

Further down the line, Moreau hopes to convert her online store into a real physical space.

"I'm really hoping that my job can be not only just sharing all the really big bestsellers, but helping people find those diamonds in the rough," she said, "those books that are on the back of the shelf in a regular bookstore, that nobody's really paying too much attention to but they really should be."

Want to know more?

Here are some of the earlier stories CBC News has posted on the subject:


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.