Tara MacWhirter of Vankleek Hill began her journey into the world of homemade soap in 2009. Her desire to have access to more natural choices in the realm of skin care and household cleaning products melded with her love of gardening.
Today, Garden Path Homemade Soap produces more than 50 natural bath, body and cleaning products which include ingredients grown on a five-acre heritage farm. These products are sold through Tara’s on-site boutique and at select retail stores. It’s not just about selling products, but also, educating customers about the merits of using natural products on their bodies, and why the farm also works to help conserve the monarch butterfly.
Challenge: Promoting a heritage farm as a safe pandemic agritourism destination
For years, Tara worked to develop the right marketing and advertising strategy that would draw online visitors, in addition to building Garden Path as an in-person destination. Through the lockdowns of the pandemic, she wanted to take advantage of the fact that the farm is a scenic, outdoor setting and artisan destination that is ideal for a safe and distanced day away from the city.
Tara also wanted her customers to have retail access to the on-site boutique, regardless of the COVID-19 situation. That required investment in new e-commerce and point-of-sale technology that would provide a safe way for customers to drive-thru and pick up their orders. She set up an e-commerce storefront with Shopify and worked to educate customers about her products.
Still, she remained challenged in other ways on the digital side. Things like a website that loaded too slowly because of all her rich visuals that had web visitors abandoning the site in frustration. Or understanding where and how to make more effective use of Instagram vs. Facebook to reach specific customer demographics.
Solution: Developing an efficient union between curbside and e-commerce
Tara found the help she needed through Digital Main Street (DMS) and the program’s $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant and free training.
Enlisting the right design expertise soon addressed the web browsing issues. The DMS grant also helped Tara pursue a website audit. This provided her with a handle on Instagram and an appreciation for how this social media platform has a younger audience focus than Facebook and must be targeted differently.
“I received a significant amount of training and resources, allowing me to use new strategies to help us engage customers through social media,” Tara said. “We gained a well-designed website and updated photos by hiring a local photographer. We also hired a consultant who assisted us with our inventory management system and helped us update the platform. This directly affects our knowledge of cost of goods sold so that we can adjust our products accordingly.”
By reshaping her digital presence and retail capability with this expert support, Tara is starting 2022 with a bang. Her social media activity jumped significantly during the quiet post-holiday season as she put the focus on building her Instagram presence.
Results: Soaring social media engagement, climbing the Shopify charts
Facebook traffic has held relatively steady, while Instagram page reach jumped 182 per cent in the first three months of the year to become Garden Path’s top referrer. Meanwhile, Tara’s Shopify conversion rate is nearing the top 20 percent of Shopify stores.
“I expect it to keep increasing as we move into the spring season,” Tara said. “DMS has definitely given us access to the right help just when we needed it.”
She advises other business owners to take advantage of whatever financial and expert assistance they can get.
“This is especially true when it comes to helping you with any online business needs,” she said. “You have to be flexible, open to learning and willing to speak with people who are knowledgeable in the topics which you are not as a business owner.
“Your strength is your knowledge of your business and what it offers. But you just can’t be knowledgeable about everything that is involved with spreading that message to the world in all those ways that people need to be reached today. This is where DMS comes in. It’s a fantastic program that I highly recommend.”
Tara’s story is just one example of how small businesses across Ontario have taken advantage of the Digital Main Street Ontario Initiative.
For more information, go to www.digitalmainstreet.ca