Grow your small business: How Canoe and Lake makes waves

4 minute read

Canoe and Lake is a popular online retailer of unique and comfy women’s and unisex clothing featuring motivational sayings. Canada Post sat down with owner Lauren Bull to talk about growth, challenges and the impact of COVID -19.

What were some of the challenges you faced when you launched Canoe and Lake?

You’re really on your own. You have to stand on your own two feet and be an adaptable learner so that you can not only be openminded to take on new risks for your business, but that you also can absorb those best practices that have come from people who have been in business for a long time.

For instance, accounting is a huge part of my business: knowing my numbers, not being afraid of numbers and tapping into the resources around me, such as my bookkeeper and my accountant, to help me out with my own learning curve. And also marketing.

I’m not a huge brand where I can afford a big agency and where I can afford a big media budget to attract new customers. So how do I go about that organically? I’ve had to really think outside the box into how I approach my business and look at those areas in which I can grow, either through influencer engagement strategies, email marketing, through my website, through online digital advertising that is within my budget and that still allows me to grow, but within my means.

A model wears a sweater from Canoe and Lake that reads, "She paddled her own canoe and lived happily ever after. The end." What were some of the considerations you had to think about as you were deciding how to grow your business?

I listened to my customers. And I think that that’s something that is extremely important for businesses with those growth goals, because the more that we listen to our customers, the more we’re going to actually produce either products or services that they want.

It doesn’t mean rely on a small focus group of one woman or man that’s asking for something specific. But the more that I heard, hey, we want you to do women’s clothing, that really pushed me into women’s clothing. And I’ve been loving doing it. The stories that I hear from women are really what fuel my business and propel my growth because it’s got a motivating factor.

Tell us about your business model.

Canoe and Lake is an online business. And I love the fact that it’s online. I used to work for somebody, and he started his business when he was in his 30s as well. He always said he wanted to start a business that made money while he slept, which is smart. It is our business model, how do you make money and be a profitable business, not just a business, while you sleep?

So, I leverage technology and automate whenever I can. I use Shopify. Canoe and Lake is built on a Shopify platform, which is fantastic because it has a ton of integrations for shipping, for your email marketing, your text marketing. It has a ton of analytics that come out of that platform. And similarly, I have plugins for Google Analytics, because Google Analytics is extremely important to me.

That gives me that extra layer of information about my customers, so I can really look at consumer insights and who is creating traffic, who is creating revenue. I apply those metrics against my target audience and see whether or not my marketing and advertising is reaching my intended target.

To scale my business, I’ve had to focus on those shipping automations, just as one example, so that everything, every order, that comes in has a specific process of getting out the door. Once the customer receives it, an email marketing campaign is automatically launched.

Everything is automated. I think that that is something that is a must and I wish I had done it sooner. Automating as much as possible is the model I use for Canoe and Lake.

Want to learn more about Canoe and Lake?

Visit their website

Let’s talk a little bit about COVID-19 and what the most significant challenge to you and your business was when that first happened.

Yeah, COVID. Wow. Unprecedented time that we’re all living in. And it’s certainly affecting small businesses.

I connected my brand and my products with inspirational stories of people’s own triumphs during this time, and giving my customers quotes of motivation so they could reflect on how going through something like this is extremely difficult. But we’re in this together.

And I think that that’s a really important part of being an online business with a strong social media presence: using your voice to make your customers feel better. You know, my customers, I have the best customers, but they really follow me.

I think that adding an element of realness to my business makes my customers feel like, in an honest way, I truly care about them. From a business perspective, and how I had to adjust things due to this pandemic is as simple as changing my pricing, which is about acknowledging that there’s a lot of families out there and people that have lost their jobs.

If you were to give a piece of advice to someone who was looking at getting started or has just gotten started, what would you say to them?

I love this question. I think there’s kind of three things. The first one, is around focusing on relationships. It does not matter what type of business you are building, but the relationships that you develop, both online and offline, those are what’s going to help you propel your business.

Secondly, be unique. I think being unique has a lot of legs to it. And it’s something that I definitely encourage any person thinking of starting a small business to think about. Define what your business is, brainstorm around it.

Finally, it’s learning. My advice to anybody that is thinking about starting a small business is acknowledge what you don’t know. I think that would be the biggest piece of advice to anyone starting their own businesses, just to be prepared to learn and learning things that might feel really uncomfortable. But you’re going to need to learn in order to be successful.

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