“They did it more out of concern for me that I would throw that much money and time out and that it wouldn’t be received well,” said Houff, “I wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t received well enough for me to continue.”
But what started out as one woman’s personal dream is now a huge benefit for the entire community. Front Porch Interiors Furniture and Design Store is a magnet for the town. Full of everything from art and lamps to dining room tables and bedroom sets, the store brings hundreds of visitors to the small town.
“Having my business there and all the businesses in Wawota makes people go, ‘Oh they got this, they got that…this is the reason to go to Wawota,’” said Houff.
It’s a five hour round trip for Lorry Hart of Boissevain, Manitoba, but she puts on the miles to shop at the furniture store.
“Brandon’s only 45 minutes away and I work in Brandon. But I choose not to buy my furniture there now. I choose to drive all the way to Wawota,” said Hart.
The furniture store is an example of how a successful business in a rural community can benefit an entire town. According to Houff, people make a special trip to the town for her furniture store, but once in town, they’ll shop at other stores like the flower shop, hardware store, and gas station.
“I’ve gone back to Wawota numerous times,” said Hart. “I’ll go for lunch at the restaurant and shop at the clothing store.”
Wendy Brehaut of Wawota Flowers N Things 09 bought the flower shop in 2009, and estimates that since Houff moved downtown, she’s had a five per cent increase in customers per day.
“My business has improved because of (Front Porch Interiors) being next door to me. The customers coming through the door went up,” she said.
Walking into the huge new furniture store, it’s hard to believe that only six years ago this business began in a vacant church building. Houff’s family moved to Wawota in 2003. With a background in interior design she began a consulting business with dreams of opening up her own furniture store. By the end of 2005, her dream was a reality. Partnering with local greenhouse owner Heather Birnie and called “From the Inside Out,” the two sold interior and exterior furniture and accessories.
“I stuffed that old church full to the roof with products,” said Houff. “Then I crossed my fingers and went, ‘Okay let’s see if someone’s going to come shopping!’”
And they did. So much so that just over a year later she began her own business, Front Porch Interiors, and expanded her business to a building double the size.
Fast forward to November of 2010, and she expanded again by building a new store downtown.
“That’s the secret to success in business. Even today I’m never satisfied with what I’m doing. It’s always what I’m going to do tomorrow. That’s welded into my mind,” said Houff.
Mayor Norman Oliver believes her investment in the community is keeping the town viable. According to Oliver, the population is about 610 people, up by about 100 from five years ago.
“If you have no people coming to your town, your town is going to be eliminated down the road,” he said, adding her store is definitely bringing people to the town.
According to Houff, visitors are coming to town because of her motto: “I never expect people to come to me to make my business work. I have to work to get them to me.”
She encourages other local businesses to combine advertising to save on costs. Several businesses including the furniture store have full page advertisements in The Summer Times and The Plain and Valley regional newspapers and a radio advertisement on CKRM to promote Wawota.
“When you flip through the paper and see one little business card size ad you flip right by it, but if there’s a whole page you think, ‘Look at all this stuff they have in Wawota! We should go there,’” said Houff.
In December, Houff and Brehaut participated in Women on Wheels, a bus tour of women from Regina that shop in small towns. In two days, 170 women ventured to the town to spend their money.
“We’re getting more people into town to become more aware of Wawota and what it offers,” said Brehaut.
And getting more people into town can attract visitors to make a permanent move.
Gloria Dlugan gives credit to Houff as a reason for moving to Wawota. Her family was moving to the area, and looking at houses in five different towns. When they stopped at the furniture store, Houff gave Dlugan the town newspaper, information about attractions like the school and nursing home, and some leads on private house sales.
“She wasn’t going to get a sale out of it, yet she still was kind about it and interested,” said Dlugan.
“I did the spiel that I moved here and we love it and it’s been an amazing move,” said Houff, “She sent me a card a couple months later and said I was the reason they moved to Wawota.”
As for this entrepreneur’s advice to others, she says, “Right now in Saskatchewan, if you have the drive you can do anything. There is nothing that can’t be accomplished if your willing to do it, you believe in it, you sell it every day, and you’re honest.”