Sault Ste. Marie’s The Country Way digitally-empowered approach to building community
“It’s not about becoming a millionaire one day, it’s more about can we help a million people?” says Saari.
Shonna Saari, owner of The Country Way health store in Sault Ste. Marie has a vision of wellness that extends beyond the supplements and organic groceries lining the shelves of her store. “It’s not about becoming a millionaire one day, it’s more about can we help a million people?” says Saari. “I just want to feel like we've made a difference in our community and when we get that feedback from customers that feel better after they've consulted with us and taken our advice, those are the things that just fill my cup.”
The Country Way has been bringing health and wellness to Sault Ste. Marie since 1974. Saari took over as owner in 2017. Located in the heart of the Sault Ste. Marie, the business has become the epicentre of the city’s wellness-minded community. Currently, the business is in the middle of a massive downtown revitalization effort. As part of the efforts, the city is building a four seasons plaza which happens to be directly behind The Country Way. It will have a splash pad, community gathering point, stage, and, area for the local farmer’s market. “We’re patiently waiting and putting up with a lot of noise and construction but we know that it's for a good cause,” says Saari.
Once completed, Saari says she expects it to bring all sorts of people through the door but she doesn’t plan to wait until construction is done to grow The Country Way’s community. Earlier this year, the business hired Erin Lodge, a marketing manager, to help make more strategic marketing decisions especially when it comes to the shop’s social media. “We know the importance of marketing but it’s one of those things that sit on the shelf because you’re so busy in the day-to-day, focusing your spending on product and inventory – things that you can physically touch,” says Saari.
Saari recently came across Digital Main Street, a program which combines grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario alongside partners to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities and plan for the digital future. The business applied for a $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant and received it alongside some digital training.
“We've always looked for grant opportunities,” says Saari. The funding allowed The Country Way to work with a local production company to create a commercial and short promotional spot about the business. “It really captured exactly what we stand for and what we’re all about,” says Saari. “I pretty much cried the whole morning after I watched it.”
Digital transformation has always been a part of the business. The Country Way has an app and Saari made getting a proper point-of-sale system set up when she took over as owner. But social media and telling the businesses story through digital avenues is what she calls “fun stuff.”
“Especially things like Instagram,” says Saari. “It really gives people a sense of who we are.” From her perspective, online and in-person are both part of the same community, just people who care about their health and wellness. “We want to build relationships,” says Saari. “That’s what gets me out of bed every morning.”
If you’re looking for a health store that goes above and beyond wellness, visit the Country Way here.
To learn more about the Digital Transformation Grant, and how it can help your business visit here.
Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Meta, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, Lightspeed, Ebay and Canada Post.
Continued investment from the Province of Ontario, through the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade (MEDJCT) has allowed the ongoing expansion the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital across Ontario.