Campbell River’s newest business is the brave venture of a small woman with big dreams.
Although Caroline Bleaney’s dream is practically running her off her feet, she has got Qualitown Thrift Store up and running and is celebrating its grand opening this week.
“I have been working 14 hours every day since I started this business,” Bleaney says.
“It is not easy to set up at all. I have so much sleepless nights. It’s a really, really rough journey.”
Qualitown is a for-profit thrift retailer offering used clothing, accessories and general household items on Shoppers Row.
The outlet is the next step toward Bleaney’s goal of a chain of thrift stores that, besides Campbell River, will include Nanaimo and Victoria at a future date. The idea began in Cumberland where Bleaney opened her first store a year ago.
But she found that outlet was too small and more space was needed. So she moved into the former Peoples Drug Mart location on Shoppers Row.
“It’s a much bigger location, which actually gives me the opportunity to showcase what we have to sell,” she says.
She turned her eye towards Campbell River, a community she was familiar with from having lived in Port Hardy for a number of years.
“I actually lived in Port Hardy, so I came to Campbell River for my shopping,” she says. “I looked around and discovered that there wasn’t any large thrift store in town so I thought having a business here would be a good one.”
But Bleaney has journeyed further than from Port Hardy to Campbell River.
The 35-year-old mother of two came to Canada from Nigeria seven years ago and is putting her energy into a concept that she believes in and which is fueled by her spiritual beliefs.
On her website, she says Qualitown’s innovative business model focuses on a strategy of “Recycling, Reuse and Reduce,” providing communities with “smart and affordable ways of shopping and preventing millions of used goods from going into the landfill every year.”
The venture is also committed to supporting local non-profit organizations by remitting to them a portion of the profits to help support their programs and services.
Bleaney says they will be turning over a percentage of her profits to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Her approach stems from her cultural background as well as her spiritual beliefs.
“I want to create a good name,” Bleaney says. “In my country there is a saying that says a good name is better than riches.
“I look at this store as a blessing for the community. We try to bring everything that we have got for a good price. We also want to support the community as much as we can in any way that we can.”
Her personal motivation is to use the talents given to her and she believes her talents are for business.
“It’s just a gift from God, that wisdom and knowledge,” the member of the Pentecostal Church says. “I didn’t go to school to learn about this. It’s just a gift from God.”
It’s that spiritual base that inspires her to give part of her profits to charity.
Although it’s a thrift store, the stock has not been acquired from donations. It’s all been bought. Qualitown will be accepting donations but it’s not what is driving the business.
So far, the reception from the city has been good.
People are very happy with the business, the selection, the location, the prices and the cleanliness of the store, she says.
“People are very pleased about that,” she says.
Qualitown has 10 employees and Bleaney leans on those people for their own individual talents. For example, she doesn’t know much about tools but some staff members do and they advise her on what to charge.
After grudgingly stopping for half an hour to discuss her business, Bleaney gets back to work bustling to make a success of her dream.
If the sense of energy and drive she gives off is anything to go by, it would be hard to bet against her.