When Annelies Geisler moved to Fort McMurray in 1991, she found one thing lacking in what was offered in local stores. Originally from Holland, she was discouraged to find that she could not buy food native to her home country—she always had to go to Edmonton to find it.
Having worked a lot in retail, the thought of opening a store has always been in the back of her mind.
“I’ve been a lot of different things, but I kept coming back to retail because I love retail, I love people and I love dealing with people,” says Geisler.
Her idea was to open a store that sold food from other countries—food that newly-arrived immigrants would still want to eat and cook with, but food that was usually hard to find in smaller communities. When the Import Connection opened in 2002, Geisler sold food not just from Holland, but also food from the Philippines and South Africa.
“When I opened it, I really did it for myself. I knew it was a needed thing, but I didn’t know how needed,” says Geisler. “For me it was just for fun because my kids were grown up, so I could dedicate the time.”
Catering to many countries
Now besides those three countries, the Import Connection also sells food from Indonesia, Jamaica, Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guatemala, Pakistan, India, England, Ireland, Scotland, and some from Japan. Geisler has also starting selling gluten-free food because it is difficult to find in Fort McMurray.
“I also thought that people here are so lonely when they’re new and I love people and I thought if those people come into my store, then maybe I’ll have time to stand and talk to them and maybe be their friend and make them feel at home. And we’ve done that, we really have,” says Geisler. “Unfortunately now we’re so busy, we don’t get to do that any more. That I miss, I really do.”
In the beginning, Geisler ran the store by herself, and got to know every customer through the door. Now she has a few staff members and a lot more people come through the door.
Some Fort McMurray employers bring prospective employees from other countries into the Import Connection to show them what food is available here. Many people come to the store to buy their staples because their national food is still really important to them. Others come just for a little taste of home.
Hard work and long hours
In the beginning, Geisler had to do a lot of research, from finding out what food to import to how to find, purchase and get the products through customs. It was definitely a learning curve for her because in the beginning, she didn’t know anything about Filipino or South African food—she had to learn.
Geisler says that people who are considering starting their own business should realize that it takes time for the business to earn enough income for the owner to make a living.
She also says that business owners should be passionate about what they’re doing because it’s hard work and long hours.
“But I loved it, and if you don’t love it, you won’t put your heart and soul into it. If you don’t put your heart and soul into it, people will notice,” says Geisler.
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