For a family business that started out as a small general store, to survive in rural Nova Scotia for nearly a century is indeed a milestone.
And it is one the Wilson family of Barrington Passage will be celebrating this year when they mark 95 years in business.
“It’s a real special thing,” says Mike Wilson, who is the fourth generation of the family to operate the business. “This community has built up around this business, and this business has built up with this community for the past 95 years so that is a pretty special thing. We have a lot of pride in that.”
Founded in 1924 by Fred I. Wilson, the business was originally a small general store selling everything from “soup to nuts.”
When Fred passed away in 1944, leadership of the company passed to his son, the late Walter “Buzz” Wilson. Under his leadership the business grew in all areas.
In 1961, Buzz built a modern IGA grocery store and was one of the first in eastern Canada to join the Home Hardware group in the mid 1960’s. In the 1970s, he doubled the size of the IGA building to accommodate a department store. The original general store, located across the street in Barrington Passage, had been renovated and was still in use at the time, with some of the Home Hardware related categories operating in a variety of different buildings in the community.
It was about this time that the third generation of the family became involved in the business.
“Back in the old days when we had the grocery store, as a teenager I would work in the grocery store filling shelves, unloading trucks, being one of the carry out guys we had in those days,” reminisces David Wilson.
After college in 1977, he became more involved in the management side of the business, taking over as president in 1987, a position he still holds.
In 1987, the decision was made to sell the grocery business to Sobeys and to focus attention on developing Home Hardware related categories. The funds from the sale were used to finance the building of a new 45,000-square-foot store. Approximately half was owned and operated by Sobeys, and the other half was the new Wilson’s Home Hardware Building Centre.
In the year 2000, Wilson’s acquired the other half of the building and moved the department store operations into the former Sobeys space. In 2007, the department store business was divested and a major renovation was done to convert the entire 45,000-square-foot building into a modern, and the current, Home Hardware Building Centre.
It was the first time in the company’s history that all retail operations were all under one roof.
“Due to the nature of our general store background, and the rural nature of our market, we have maintained a number of niche product categories not normally found in Home Hardware Building Centres,” says David, including a fresh flower shop, a Bell cell phone store, a Source department, trophy and engraving service, and a heating department with a certified burner mechanic on staff.
When son Mike decided to join the family business in 2008, “It made me feel good,” he says. “It’s the kind of thing you only want people to do if it’s a good fit for them. I never wanted Mike to carry on unless it was something he wanted to do and he did. It certainly is very gratifying that he has chosen to take over as the fourth generation. It’s not that common.”
Mike became general manager in 2012 and part owner a few years later, and a formal succession plan was enacted.
Getting involved in the family business was “never really the plan,” says Mike. “It was kind of one of those things… you wake up one day and it makes sense. Being fourth generation there’s a lot of pride in that. Not a lot of people have that opportunity.”
It’s a very small percentage of family businesses that make it to a fourth generation.
“That really speaks to the way we maintain our customer centered focus and the to community who has supported the company over the decades. It’s just a really special thing.”
Wilson’s employees 40 full-time and 25 part-time staff.
None of the accomplishments of the company would be possible without the outstanding efforts of the team of dedicated people that they work with, say Dave and Mike. The staff genuinely cares about the customers and the community.
It’s as true today as it was 95 years ago, they say.
THROUGH THE YEARS
Wilson’s has been recognized numerous times over the years with numerous awards including:
• 2003: Home Hardware Public Relations Award – National Award for Community Service
• 2005: Walter J Hachborn Award – Home Hardware Store of the Year – Selected from 1100 stores across the country.
• 2010: Nova Scotia Corporate Volunteer of the Year
• 2012: Outstanding Small Business Philanthropist from Association of Fundraising Professionals
• 2016: Shelburne County Business of the Year
• 2017: Home Hardware Store of the Year for Building Centres above 15,000 sq. ft.
• 2017: Mike Wilson – Young Retailer of the Year for both Home Hardware and National Retail Hardware Association representing the retail building centres across North America.