SAINT JOHN – Retail is a fickle industry to be in, especially in a province like New Brunswick where many people aren’t necessarily rolling in disposable income. But it’s a challenge Anne McShane has risen to for 15 years.
McShane is the owner of the Feel Good store, a wellness store located on Saint John’s historic Germain Street that recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. Just walk through its doors and you’ll know where the name comes from. You’ll take in an eclectic selection of coffee, teas, soaps, cards, crystals, candles, bath bombs, greeting cards, yoga mats, it goes on. Tucked in the back, you will see colour and a welcoming tearoom for those looking to relax. If it’s good for you or good for the planet, chances are you’ll find it there.
Though McShane describes the shop as a “wellness store,” when she first opened it in November 2001, the term “wellness” wasn’t a thing.
“They didn’t really have a term for it. At the time, it was just things that made you feel good. It was things that were sustainable, local,” she says. “They weren’t always all of those things, but they were things that looked good, smelled good, felt good, were made of natural products, were make locally, were environmentally friendly or somehow contributed to your physical, emotional or social wellness.”
The idea to open the store came to McShane while she was working for an IT company in Saint John called TWX Technologies. After helping the company open a retail store, she toyed with the idea of opening her own.
“So just for fun, I started making this spreadsheet about products I was looking for but couldn’t find all in one place and weren’t readily available,” she says. “Basically I identified a gap in the market, but I didn’t know that’s what I was doing.”
After creating a business plan, she realized this was something she could really do.
“So I gave my boss a month’s notice and I said ‘I’m going to open that store,’ and that’s what I did.”
The store opened to some skepticism mainly due to its niche offerings. It was hard to picture a mostly blue-collar city like Saint John spending money on wellness products.”I think every small business will tell you this. Early on when you start a business you have this idea of what you’re going to do. And there’s a point where you put all this investment into building it and your customer base is growing, but hasn’t quite caught up,” McShane says. “There’s this moment of nervous panic. You’re like “what have I done? Should I have done this? Is this the right course?”
“I think every small business will tell you this. Early on when you start a business, you have this idea what you’re going to do. And there’s a point where you put all this investment into building it and your customer base is growing, but hasn’t quite caught up,” McShane says. “There’s this moment of nervous panic. You’re like ‘what have I done? Should I have done this? Is this the right course?'”
Turns out it was. Today, The Feel Good Store has a pretty diverse customer base.
“I think people expected it was going to be a very granola, female demographic, a very small group,” McShane says. “It’s not. I have just as many men as women who come in here. I have little kids that come in and play with the rocks and I have older seniors that come in. I don’t think I could even narrow it down.”
McShane says the key to the shop’s continued success and longevity is paying attention to the people. Pay attention to them, and the rest will figure itself out.
“Just be really good to your neighbourhood and community. Be very responsive to them and they will extremely responsive back to you. They will be your best ambassadors, your biggest champions,” McShane says.
“I think the strength of this [store] is the community that supports it. It literally has very little to do with me. I don’t feel it does,” McShane says. “I feel that it has taken on a little bit of life of its own … it’s an entity of its own that’s bigger than anything I created. That’s lovely.”
When she’s not in the shop, McShane sits on the planning advisory committee for the City of Saint John, which deal with land-use issues. She is also on the Saint John YMCA board, the Human Development Council and is working on a project with the Saint John Theatre Company. She says she always had a bit of an activist side even before she opened the store, but running her own business has helped her become more in touch with the community and its issues.
“I think if you are seriously building real relationships with people, then you cannot help but get invested in the things that upset them or affect their lives. I think by extension, you start to get involved in things because it matters,” McShane says.
“It’s about building a good community. You want people to be happier. We want to do better. I think community is vital to wellness.”
As for the Feel Good Store’s future, McShane says she’s keeping the possibilities open, but she has no plans to go anywhere. She says unlike many business people, gunning for massive growth isn’t her goal.
“A natural amount of growth each year is healthy, but I want it to be a sustainable and moderated amount of growth. I’d love to stay in this space because there’s a feel to it. I believe the power of a niche space and this cozy atmosphere is part of what I think is important,” she says
“As I like to say, I’m the worst retailer in the world. I don’t just want a store. I want a lifestyle and I want to be a part of the community. I want to be something that matters too.”