Blog #10 Ever witnessed a sales professional morph into an artist, casting a mesmerizing storytelling spell on you?
(Photo credit: Town of Fairview, AB, Canada)
We’ve all experienced it. We walk into a shop and try to have a quiet peruse. Within seconds, we sense someone behind us, an eager intake of breath at our shoulder.
“Can I help you with something today?”
Skin prickling, we blurt out, “No thanks, I’m just, er, just browsing!” and try to avoid eye contact, hoping they leave us to wander the racks in peace.
Salespeople get a bad rap, and sometimes it’s understandable: nobody wants to listen to a rehearsed spiel or feel forced into spending time or money. But a few weeks ago, my husband and I stood and listened to a sales associate from Rodd & Gunn and left with many more bags and much less money than we would have without him. And we were happy about it. We still are.
The difference? He told a good story. A genuine story. In no way did he feel fake or pushy. He was quiet, humble, and engaging as he told us about the brand’s history, its environmental focus, its women-owned cotton farms in Australia, their Italian weavers… I was in awe! I was happy to give my time and money because I understood and believed in the brand.
It got me thinking about what I do because a lot of it is storytelling, too. Or, more accurately, story finding.
Right now, I’m wrapping up a project that started with a blank canvas. A small town hired my business partner and me because they wanted to tell their story and sell their town and a destination through events, but they needed to learn their story.
The town of Fairview, four hours away from Edmonton in Canada, is home to just over 3000 people. It’s agricultural and isolated. It’s quiet, home to a few artists, and no vast attractions exist. Like many small towns, they struggle to keep their youth, who tend to leave for the cities when they hit 18.
And for Fairview, like for many small towns, that could be that. The story that the outside world knows.
But with just a little bit of digging, we uncovered so much more.
While yes, many young people do leave Fairview at 18, many of them return, drawn by the reasonable housing, beautiful surroundings, and tight-knit community that steps in to nurture young families.
The artists that live there? They’re painters, potters, weavers, dancers, teachers and musicians. There are two thriving dance troupes, one of which celebrates traditional Ukrainian dance, while the other has students throwing some serious hip-hop moves.
The Fairview Fine Arts Centre hosts shows and classes for weaving, photography, painting, pottery and quilting. Art is made, sold, taught, talked about and celebrated.
The arts are everywhere, woven into the fabric of everything the community does.
So is the focus on learning. While local teens may be moving out, students pour into Northwestern Polytechnic in Fairview, which offers a diverse range of vocation-focused education from Nursing to Animal Health Science to Heavy Equipment Technician training, including the only Harley Davidson technician training in Western Canada. The difference in Fairview is that the students aren’t shuffled into a concrete box and given a number; they enjoy a beautiful, art-covered campus and are embedded in a small, caring community where they get to feel involved and welcomed.
Then there’s the great outdoors. Fairview is home to lakes, recreational areas, walking trails, skiing trails and a golf club, and the stunning Peace River is a short drive away. In short, you’re in the right place if you’ve got a pair of walking shoes and want to be on the water within 15 minutes of finishing work.
(Photo credit: Town of Fairview, AB, Canada)
Before sounding like a brochure from a tourist information desk, let me take a step back. We went into Fairview, just like in that shop, with no idea what was happening. And we came out of both excited, invested, and with a story to share.
From Fairview, just like the shop, I got so much more than I’d bargained for. It’s changing the way I see my own role and what I do in my business-
Way more than an events strategy, we’re creating a livability strategy. Way more than attracting business tourism, our end goal is to get residents of Fairview more engaged and to enable and encourage them to celebrate their town and host even more events throughout the year that show off what makes it a great place to live.
It’s so much more than anything I thought I would be doing even just two years ago. Thankfully, my own story is far from over. This chapter is just beginning.
I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any stories of when you got more than you bargained for? Or any experiences that showed you hidden gems, either in places, people or experiences? Let’s share them.