Vender of the Week: How Conscious Vibes revived a community through retail

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Who: Conscious Vibes Cafes

Where: St. George’s, Bermuda

Michelle Wales is, among many things, a retailer with guts. Thirteen years ago she moved to the beautiful village of St. George’s in Bermuda as a school teacher. Nine years later, she opened her Fair Trade businesses, Conscious Vibes, and CV Cafe, with her husband George.

Despite being in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, Michelle soon found St. George’s wasn’t removed from the long reaches of Wall Street – with the recession causing havoc and heartache in her idyllic corner of the world, with much of the community’s retailers leaving. While most would have joined the exodus rather than go down with the sinking local economy, Michelle boldly went in the opposite direction.

“When the next door store became vacant as well as a couple of other immediate stores next to us, we felt that we really needed to do something to change the downward trend, so we opened the cafe side of the business. Lots of people have ideas, but actually ‘putting your money where your mouth is’ is a whole different ball game,” says Michelle.

“We really believe that in our own small way, by taking a positive step to open when others were closing, we helped to restore some faith in the town. When we first moved onto Water Street in St. George’s just about every store was closed or closing down. In four years, we’ve seen a massive turn around with people taking a leap of faith and opening new businesses.”

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Michael and George, Founders and Owners of Conscious Vibes and CV Cafe, Bermuda

While the uphill battle has meant that it’s been a difficult journey for the Conscious Vibes Café, finding support and the right POS system have been instrumental to it’s current successes.

“St. George’s still continues to struggle, despite having been granted World Heritage status and being one of the prettiest villages on the planet”, she explains. “And we learnt a hard lesson when our computer system crashed also. All our inventory was on one computer! It had taken us many, many hours to upload all our inventory info, so when we lost it all in one go it felt like a big setback.”

“The idea of cloud technology was becoming more widespread, and so we started looking for an online POS system. We loved the fact that Vend let us have a trial period for free and it gave us confidence in the company. We loved the Loyalty program that Vend offers and customers love it too! Trying to keep your customers coming back is challenging but key, and we think that the loyalty program is something that many people like. In addition, it does all the tracking for you and eliminates mistakes.”

“As a new retailer it is also great if you can find some other new retailers (and even some seasoned ones) to bounce ideas with and to have a mini support system, it definitely isn’t easy running your own business, but it is worth it.”

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The ‘Chill Out Room’ in CV Cafe, St.George’s, Bermuda

Working Together

Outside café hours, Michelle spends her time trying to revive the community with a range of other initiatives. As well as collaborating with locals to organise art, music and poetry events, she has also successfully established a weekly market in the Olde Town.

Yet, Michelle is incredibly humble about her positive influence in the community, claiming that her work is easier than most to sustain despite the economic climate.

It has been easier for us to keep going in challenging times because ultimately we know that every fair trade cup of coffee that we sell or every fair trade item that we sell has already helped someone in a greater struggle than ours,” she explains. “Our advice for anyone starting up a new business is to choose products that they love and believe in.”

Moving Forward

For Michelle and the village of St. George’s, the future is looking bright. With ambitions sky high (and a killer POS system), the Conscious Vibes Café and Store is proof that it only takes one person to change the world – and stick it to Wall Street.

“I have Richard Branson’s quote posted above my desk “In business, as in life all that matters is that you do something POSITIVE”. I look at the quote quite often to keep me going!” says Michelle.

“The majority of the new businesses have brought new ideas and enthusiasm to the town and so we hold on in the hope that things will get better.”

About Grace O'Hara

Grace is a Marketing Assistant at Vend and helps make cool things happen behind the scenes. She enjoys talking to incredible Vend retailers from around the world and making the world a better place with her side projects. You can get in touch with Grace by email or connect with her on Google+.

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