Life is like a box of “local” for Halifax-based entrepreneur Allyson England. Her business Nova Box was born after her passion for local companies and her entrepreneurial streak merged.
She started to research her business idea just over a year ago by asking the question, “Is a Nova Scotia box of treasures something people want?”
England has a business degree from Mount Allison University with a major in marketing and minor in psychology. After she graduated in 2009 she worked for a tech start-up, but being an entrepreneur was always her goal. “My dad is an entrepreneur,” says England. “So, I was always inspired to have my own business but I didn’t know what that business would be.”
Her company is called Cedar Dog. It started consultancy, advising small businesses and start-ups. After working with a few companies, England says the idea for Nova Box started to take shape. Dinner with a friend in October 2016 pushed her to take the plunge.
“She says why don’t you do it? And I says, well, it’s October…I really should have started in August,” England recalls. “And she says, you should just make it happen… I did some research on the structure of the company and what I wanted to have in the first box and then I crafted an email and had a concept board for what I wanted the website to look like.”
The next step was emailing companies to partner: they were all on board. Within a few weeks, Nova Box had a website and, not long after, the first orders started. “I wanted to know what price point resonated with people, what items were popular, what my demographic was so really it was just a big test to see whether or not it could be a viable business,” England says.
The results gave her the confidence to keep going. “The first Christmas box, I wanted to sell 50 and I shipped 65, so I was pretty happy with that,” says England.
She tracks her progress quarterly since she releases a new box for each season. Ever since the first Christmas box last year, her sales have continued to grow and her business has adapted as she learns more about her customers. “It’s local people that support it but also people who want a reminder of home whether it’s their birthday or they just moved into a new house or they’re having a baby,” says England.
She’s also working with some local companies to do custom boxes to suit their needs. One of them is real-estate broker Donna Harding, who says Nova Box provides her with perfect gifts for her clients who are buying and selling homes.
“Even sellers that are going away…to get something purely Nova Scotian to bring with them, I mean it’s a great concept,” says Harding. “And then for someone coming in from out of province, even better. At the end of the day, we get rave reviews on Nova Box.”
For clients like Harding, supporting local is also a priority and Nova Box is a way to support several companies all at once. “I think it’s hugely important if you’re going to be a small business in a community to become part of the community,” explains Harding.
The idea of small-business owners supporting each other also drives England to encourage others to move forward with their entrepreneurial ideas. “Sometimes you just have to put something out there and then continue to improve on it,” she says.
That’s what happened with Nova Box. One year later, the purpose of the company is the same, but a lot has also changed. “I really streamlined it quite a bit,” she says. “I would say it looks completely different. The website is different, I have a professional photographer, my pricing is different, my process is different, my packaging is better.”
These are things that England is happy to be working on because she took the plunge and is now helping to support companies across the province. “I do a lot of research online, social media is really helpful,” she says. “It helps identify what the look and feel of those companies is and how they represent themselves online.”
She also goes to craft fairs throughout the province and to stores that carry goods from local artisans to find new additions for the next box. “The pillars I keep in mind are quality and simplicity,” England says. “I want to give a great gift that’s thoughtful and also simple for the gift giver.”