A sister-run small business in Cape Breton takes an unconventional approach to attracting employees
Sandee Maclean was returning from a hike near her Whycocomagh, Nova Scotia home when she figured out how to recruit new employees to work for her in rural Cape Breton Island. “The idea just popped into my head. I thought, ‘I know exactly how to get people to come to Cape Breton,’” says MacLean, who co-owns Farmers Daughter general store with her sister Heather Coulombe in the tiny village.
Maclean’s brainwave was to offer three acres of land to anyone willing to move to Whycocomagh and work at Farmers Daughter (the sisters own about 200 acres in the area.) The pay wouldn’t be great, $11-$12 an hour to start, but if any employees stayed with the business for five years, they would own the land outright.
Farmers Daughter has 12 full-time employees that work at store year-round. But in order to grow the business, MacLean and Coulombe needed more. They tried traditional advertising to get new employees but it didn’t work. Armed with the land-for-work idea, the co-owners posted their pitch on Facebook.
The idea has worked brilliantly. The sisters have received over 3,500 job applications in response to their ad, and more media coverage than a six-figure marketing campaign could have gotten them. Oh, and they hired three new employees, too. The first, Kerry Watkins, arrived in Whycocomagh in late September from B.C. with her husband and two children.
The acreage is woodland with no services on it, and the employees will have to live off the grid if they build their homes on their land, yet the offer has been appealing to thousands of applicants. As small businesses struggle to attract employees and keep them in their rural communities, what Farmers Daughter has done proves that nothing is impossible when owners are innovative. “I would tell small business owners to do the same thing we did,” MacLean says. “We had our pick of so many amazing people. What a gift this has been.”