First Nations Business Award of Excellence

By Liz Cowan

Business owner Connie Boyd isn't daunted by the distinction of being Cobalt's only retailer. The Silver Moccasin opened on the town's main street in 2007 and she hasn't looked back since.

Her array of native-inspired artwork, jewelry, hand-made moccasins and mukluks have attracted local and regional customers to the store on Silver Street, and worldwide customers through her online business.

"I am investing more on the online side," she said. "Those sales are outperforming the store sales. Most of my online customers are from Canada but I am getting more from Europe and the U.K. It's still exciting everytime I get an international order."

Boyd is Aboriginal and has always had an interest in native arts and crafts, and painting. She worked for the Métis Council in Haileybury and was instrumental in opening up a native gift shop as a means of raising funds for the council. The office and shop eventually had to close and she decided to open up a similar store in Cobalt where she and her husband live.

"I had established relationships with the suppliers and the native community in the region and there wasn't a similar store anywhere in the area," she said.

When the store opened, she also established her website but it took a few years to get noticed.

"I had to figure out Google Ads and it was a steep learning curve. But once I did, and capitalized on it, it made a huge difference in online sales," Boyd said.

In 2011, her business caught the attention of the Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund Business Awards when she received Business Woman of the Year.

Her biggest-selling items are moccasins which are supplied by Aboriginal-owned companies, a local person and occasionally herself.

"Finding suppliers of Aboriginal handmade moccasins isn't always easy," she said. "People want them to be authentic and Canadian and they are willing to spend the extra money when they find that they are."

The store attracts regular clientele from the immediate area and those from Timmins, Kirkland Lake, North Bay and nearby Quebec.

Her Métis products, like sashes, are popular online purchases, which she sells across Canada and the U.S. and often in large quantities at a time.

As for the location in Cobalt, Boyd said the overhead is lower than it would be elsewhere and she can walk to work. The post office is a few buildings away so shipping orders is hassle free.

"I just pile everything on a cart and wheel it down," she said. "It doesn't get easier than that. Besides, I really don't think it makes much of a difference being here and not somewhere else. I am happy because I am close to home."

Her store is open Monday to Friday and usually she is the only one working. In the fall, she wants to offer native craft classes at the store and start a cultural program where visits can be made to schools and groups where crafts can be taught.

"I do get requests to go to schools and I have done it but I really don't have the time," Boyd said.

This fall, she will have another staff member, who is also Aboriginal, and she will be able to help with the outreach programs.

"Lots of people think I am crazy but I look forward to coming here," she said.

When she has a sale, people assume it is because she is closing.

"At least a few people ask whenever there is a sale sign if I am shutting down for good," she said. "But I am still here."

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