When Les Falconer, founder of Nova Scotia Fisherman, turns on his computer in the morning and sees that there are “a couple of dozen” online orders in his inbox, it always puts a smile on his face.
“A lot of them will be first-time orders,” Falconer says. “But then there are the repeat ones too, the people we stay in touch with.”
No matter the size of those online orders, they’re mailed to customers with a handwritten thank you card.
“We’re still a small company in a small town,” he says of his line of natural skincare products. “When we get a repeat order from a customer in Germany, well that’s quite nice.”
From his base in rural New Minas, Nova Scotia, which has a population of just over 4,000, Falconer has grown Nova Scotia Fisherman products from a small family business to a thriving company with a staff of 10. You’ll find Nova Scotia Fisherman soaps, skincare products, lip balms and candles on the shelves of Canadian Tire, Sobeys and Lawton’s stores across Canada. Falconer also has a distributor in Japan, and a substantial flow of online orders through their e-commerce site. Today, they ship to eight countries, as far away as Australia.
Back in 2000, Falconer and his uncle, Perley Beairsto, started Nova Scotia Fisherman as an all-natural wax candle business.
“After a few bruises in that very competitive market, we made our first skincare product in 2013. This was our Rescue Balm, which is still one of our biggest sellers,” he explains. Fundamentally, he says the values of the business were the same as today: to create an all-natural product using nutrient-rich ingredients harvested from the nearby Atlantic ocean.
Designed to protect and soothe the skin in the harshest of conditions, and adorned with a picture of a bearded fisherman, the Rescue Balm was fast-embraced by local gift stores and tourism-related businesses. Then, the pair started making cold-processed soaps, and from there, the product line grew and grew. Within a year, Falconer had signed a contract with Sobey’s and his products were selling outside of the Maritimes.
Falconer has grown his company significantly while never compromising on the quality of the products, which are made from ingredients like sea buckthorn and kelp harvested off the Nova Scotia coast. Falconer even turned one retail giant away, after they asked him to cut corners and lower costs in order to place his products on their shelves. “Well, you can’t,” he says, resolutely. “You have to maintain your principles or you’re just not going to be the Maritime company that you were when you started.”
Small town shop with an international following
Falconer admits that there are challenges that come from being based in a rural area, mostly around shipping products out and obtaining supplies in a timely manner – though this is less of an issue now that the company has a healthy cash flow to buy, say, four barrels of coconut oil at a time. Increasing freight costs are a concern, but Falconer says that’s no different for any other business.
Falconer knew that having a solid online presence was important from the inception of the company. “Social media has certainly helped, but you’ve got to stand out,” he says. “There’s a lot of competition and noise out there, and it’s getting harder and harder to be heard as these platforms have changed significantly over the past few years.”
Employing a Halifax-based contractor to handle the digital marketing side of things has been instrumental to growth.
“By trying to do everything, you’re either screwing things up or leaving too much on the table,” he says. “It’s better to hand it over to someone who’s going to be much more effective.”
“Our guy does a bang-up job, and he’s not afraid to tell me when I’m wrong – which is hard to hear, but he’s often right, and it’s good to have those voices at the table.”
The brand has grown its Instagram following to more than 33,000; its Facebook following to 12,000; and keeps up with 13,500 subscribers by email.
When orders from retailers slowed during the pandemic, Falconer says the company really leaned into the e-commerce side of things, being “more adventurous” with social media and email marketing. “Because everyone was working from home, they were opening our emails, and we saw a benefit in that,” he says.
For Falconer, the positives of being based in a rural community – including the pace of life that comes from living there – far outweigh any negatives. A big part of what makes Nova Scotia Fisherman products stand out is where they are from. It’s not just because of the brand, but because of the people behind every shipment, and how Maritimers are (accurately) perceived in other places.
“You can’t fake those values and service,” Falconer says. “Even if someone with a boatload of money wanted to replicate our products, they just couldn’t do it.”