Goats on a Roof! And What’s Your USP?

As far as unique selling propositions go, goats on a roof are pretty unique. And this offline-only retail location on Vancouver Island has turned them into a long-term success story without selling a single goat.

Once upon a time there was a tiny fruit booth near the Trans-Canada Highway that served Vancouverites en route to their weekend and summer houses as well as tourists exploring an island full of natural beauty. That was back in the 70ies when Kristian and Solveig Graaten, who had migrated from Norway 20 years earlier, decided to start a small retail business on Vancouver Island.

In the meantime, this little fruit stall has become the queen of retail locations and one of the most frequented tourist attractions on Vancouver Island: The Coombs Old Country Market.

How Did Goats on a Roof Come About?

Step by step and by trial and error – clearly more trial and less error. The main trick that got everything started, was what modern economists would call a marketing stroke of genius: coming up with a truly unique selling proposition (USP).

The booth soon became a stall. And when the time for a roof came, the couple decided to make it a sod roof, just like they were used to from their home village back in Norway. Perhaps that was their choice because they wanted to stand out from other food booths, perhaps they also had nostalgic or financial reasons (the oil crisis was still fresh in peoples’ mind). Sod roofs – today we’d call it urban gardening – keep cool in summer and insulate in winter. They thus save costs while being environmentally friendly.

However, a sod roof will require regular trimming. When preparing for the Coombs Farmers Fair, the Graatens had the idea of renting a few goats and have them trim the grass on the roof with the added value of a little visitor entertainment.

USP Goats on a Roof

Goats on a roof (Photo: Old Country Market)

This idea turned out to be a great success. Goats are very intelligent, social and curious animals and they seemed to enjoy the fair as much as the visitors. The pair kept the goats and made the sod roof their permanent home. An added small shed gave the goats some privacy whenever they got tired of feeding and entertaining themselves by watching the bipeds watching them.

The market is located on Highway 4 – the only highway leading to Tofino and the Pacific Rim National Park – and close to the popular Trans-Canada Highway. Almost every tourist arriving by ferry has to pass the place on their way to the west coast. Over time, it became a popular destination for visitors and locals alike. The goats particularly attract children; and parents are always keen on a break that will keep them happy on a long drive to  Vancouver island’s east or west coast.

The internet had yet to emerge, so word of mouth worked its charm instead. The goats on a roof were soon featured in newspapers, magazines and tourist guides (even the Lonely Planet recommends a visit). And the place naturally had its USP long before having one became the mantra of every marketing course.

Increasing the Length of Stay

USP Kids Icecream Heaven (Photo: Heike Blank)

Kids’ ice cream heaven (Photo: Heike Blank)

The owners quickly understood that visitors would be more than happy to grab some food too and hence the offer grew from a few simple snacks at first to some fast food and later to a full restaurant, or two or three. To keep the kids happy, an ice cream heaven was added. It offers 96 flavours, a third of which are homemade from local ingredients. To allow children to make their own choices, stools are provided to give them a good view of the huge display.

When the surfer community discovered Tofino and turned it into their hot spot of Canada, a new surf board and supply store began selling all the top surf brands and turned the market into a choice destination for surfers too.

Wabi Sabi Surfwear (Photo: Heike Blank)

Wabi Sabi Surfwear (Photo: Heike Blank)

Interior design and plant shops opened to cater to the Vancouverites looking to equip and embellish their weekend homes. Souvenirs have been added for the growing number of foreign tourists wanting to take a memory of their vacation back home.

More Entertainment & Stores

These days the location plays host to:

  • A grocery store and deli offering freshly baked goods, anything you might need during a vacation in a rented house or apartment, including bad-weather toys for kids, souvenirs, gourmet food, fast food and a coffee shop.
  • ‘Billy G’s Doughnuts’ with freshly baked sweet doughnut dreams in many different flavours and décors
  • ‘Our Root Seller’, the fruit and vegetable store
  • ‘Wabi Sabi Boardwear’, the surfshop now not only selling surfboards but becoming a surf lifestyle store offerring the brands that attract the surfer community at large
  • ‘Old Country Market Greenery”, a plant and pottery store
  • ‘Billy Gruff Creamery’, the Ice Cream heaven
  • ‘Zolena’, a design store selling organic cosmetics, fashion and jewellery, plants, interior design items and other design trinkets
  • A ‘Mexican Canteena’ with a beer-garden styled patio
  • And ‘Cuckoo Trattoria and Pizzeria’ for fine dining
USP of Old Country Market (Photo: google maps)

Old Country Market – Today (Photo: Google Maps)

The Old Country Market has grown along with the number of visitors to the island, outsmarting other retail locations by perfectly catering to the particular needs of tourists and weekenders. It takes on board the changing lifestyle of its visitors and offers an ever attractive assortment to meet their needs and desires.

That sounds like the basis of pretty much any successful retail business. And it is, but many traditional retail businesses just don’t make it this far because they fail to keep pace with the changing demands and habits of a global consumer base.

What Is Coombs Old Country Market’s USP?

The Old Country Market in Coombs is a true offline-only experience. It speaks to every single one of our senses and provides not only goods for sale but offers entertainment and a unique experience not to be missed. There is no other place on Vancouver Island where you can spend your money on things you actually need, along with things you want (now that you have discovered them), with so much added fun and entertainment for the whole family. 

And then there are the furry inhabitants. The goats on the roof are still the key USP for The Old Country Market’s marketing as a tourist destination beyond a pure shopping location. But only the full package made it such a success over the span of more than 45 years.


About the Author:

Heike Blank has worked for big organisations such as VF Europe and s.Oliver but also for niche brands such as Ecko Unltd. and Zoo York in top executive positions. Her extensive experience with opening and managing own retail, partner stores, concessions and shop-in-shop in 23 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia make her an expert in expansion. Get in touch with her via e-mail to discuss your own USP or read more from her here.

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