This is the latest entry in a series from Report on Small Business called Who Owns That. We’ve asked readers to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories. The answers are edited.
Introducing Sheela Curley, the general manager of Avonlea Village, a privately owned tourist attraction in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island.
Question: Let’s start with the basics. Can you briefly describe the business, including when it was founded, what it does, how big it is, and number of locations?
Answer: Avonlea Village is a private attraction owned by Islander Scott Linkletter. It was built in 1999 in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. Avonlea is a combination of both heritage buildings that were moved to the site to be restored and preserved and also new buildings that are recreations of 19th century Cavendish homes and businesses. Avonlea was the fictitious name that Island author, Lucy Maud Montgomery gave to Cavendish in her most famous novel, Anne of Green Gables, which has sold more than 50 million copies around the world. The idea was to re-create the community that Montgomey lived in and wrote about so that the hundreds of thousands of visitors that come to see this beautiful Island that she wrote about, could now also step into the pages of her novel and meet the characters from her stories that spring to life in the red dirt roads of Avonlea Village.
Q: What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to enter this industry?
A: My first summer job was working at COWS Inc. which is also owned by Scott. We have worked together for 30 years. Scott’s motto is, “If it isn’t fun, we aren’t doing it.”
I am constantly inspired by Scott’s vision and commitment to producing the highest quality products. It’s always satisfying to be a part of a team that stands for fun and quality together. I can honestly say that there has never been a day in the past 30 years that I have not enjoyed working with this company. Creating Avonlea Village was an enormous financial risk as the tourism season in Cavendish is largely seasonal, but the mortgage payments continue year round. There was a substantial investment in all of our resources that went in to building this magical place. That takes guts and passion and Scott has both and those of us that get to work with him are truly lucky to be a part of it.
Q: Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
A: About 60 per cent of our customers are families and the other 40 per cent are couples travelling without children. Typically at least one person in the family has read Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables . Millions of visitors have come to see the beauty of our Island that Montgomery wrote about, and they are not disappointed. Our goal at Avonlea is to be the icing on the cake for the Anne fan, and to let them be immersed in the story in a very unique experience where the residents of Avonlea take visitors back into the past and join them in all activities from barn work to square dancing lessons to learning how to weave or play the spoons. It is very interactive and experiential.
Q: How many employees do you have, and what is your role in the business?
A: Avonlea Village employs 60 people and creates opportunities for 12 artisans. I am the general manager of Avonlea and am involved in every aspect of the operation.
Q: You’ve been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
A: This is easy. The one thing I pride myself on is finding and surrounding myself with amazing people. Avonlea is full of genuine, warm, friendly, talented Islanders and that is what we get our rave reviews about. People know when they come to Avonlea that we are grateful that they did and we will do everything we can to make it the best day of their visit to Prince Edward Island. And we succeed. I get to take the glory, but the villagers of Avonlea are 100 per cent responsible for our success.
Do you have a favourite small business you’d like to learn more about? Make suggestions and join the conversation on the Globe’s Small Business LinkedIn group, use the comments field, or email us at email@example.com. You can follow the series on our Pinterest page.