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Exterior shot of EfstonScience store in Toronto.
Exterior shot of EfstonScience store in Toronto.

Grow: Mia Wedgbury

'We had to diversify or die' Add to ...

EfstonScience has become an unofficial Toronto landmark.

Even if you’ve never been in the science and astronomy shop, you’d know it if you’ve passed by it – it’s the store with the huge telescope on the roof and the wind turbine out front.

This year the company is celebrating 40 years in the business, a milestone that has earned it a long history and a solid reputation. Its record of success has also empowered the team with the confidence to be ambitious, both in business and in public relations.

EfstonScience has long been known for the cool products it sells – everything from telescopes to educational toys. But during the economic downturn, the company decided to expand to an entirely new market and it opened a renewable energy division.

“The market was ripe for opportunities,” says Irene Efston, vice president of marketing and strategy development. “It was the recession, but we didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about it – we just said, ‘let’s see what we can do.’

“Being conservative is safe, but it doesn’t necessarily get you ahead if you’re just maintaining. We had to diversify or die.”

The idea was a great one. The new division’s phone is ringing off the hook – EfstonScience has quickly become known as an expert in green energy. But as we all know, good business decisions are nothing without a strong communications strategy to drive you forward.

The store has diversified its product offering, but the team is also significantly expanding its public-relations strategy to communicate that fact. The shop didn’t immediately dive into a snappy advertising campaign – just as it had evaluated the market before expansion, it also examined the audience it was expanding to.

“When creating our new marketing materials it was important that we really listened to what people were asking us,” Ms. Efston says.

“When we met people at trade shows, we realized that they were asking us very basic questions. They didn’t know very much about renewable energy, so we created informational brochures and materials that helped educate people on the science.

“Our brand had the credibility and the trust, and we had the knowledge, so we leveraged that for our communications.”

EfstonScience has evolved from “a mail-order company” that used to distribute 32-page catalogues, to a shop that still has flyers and visits trade shows, but has also integrated three websites, community information sessions, and its first social networking strategy into its communications plan.

“We want to be engaging and enthusiastic about what we’re doing, which is easy, because we are,” Ms. Efston says.

I meet a lot of companies in my travels, and I’m always so inspired by those that haven’t stagnated or become comfortable with meeting the standard.

You don’t have to be in business for 40 years to take a lesson from the EfstonScience team, which is: be hungry. Break down your own boundaries, and never stop striving to be the best there is.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Wedgbury is president of the Canadian region for Fleishman-Hillard Canada and its sister company, High Road Communications. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing award-winning communications agencies. Her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle. She works in partnership with her clients to build brands, mitigate risk and shape communications strategies.

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