Candace Ippolito is a co-owner of SaskMade Marketplace in Saskatoon. She has a degree agriculture and has experience as a primary producer with her 3rd generation family farm. Her and her partners have been in business together for 4 years and have recently expanded their store.
- 1. Why did you chose to be an entrepreneur? What was your start-up experience like and what made you decide to expand?
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. We made our own decisions and had the freedom to operate as we wanted to. Personally, I love to problem solve, grow in a creative way and help others grow. My business partners and I bought SaskMade Marketplace four years ago and we were able to refocus the vision and rebrand the store. We all have a background in agriculture and primary production, and we all love food. So we were able to combine our skills and interests with market demands. I wanted to be able to tell the story of our vendors with confidence and put products in my store that are unique and value-added, and are more than a commodity.
I live in Regina, so sometimes the distance can be hard on the store, but I have a capable team. You have to empower your staff. You can’t look at the small stuff. I look at the “big business” picture, not if that floors are clean or if the shelves are stocked. That’s my staff’s responsibility and I need to empower them to do it, get out of their way and let them be successful.
This is our second year with a pop up store in Regina over the Christmas season and our first year trying a pop up store in the Mall at Lawson Heights in Saskatoon. We are planning on opening a store in Regina in 2015 and the pop-up gave us a way to test the market without commitment. My goal is to have the biggest local retail footprint in Saskatchewan.
- 2. Why do people buy your product? What competitive advantage do you have that your competitors lack?
Our products are local treasures. If it’s rare, unique, locally made, and manufactured or value added in Saskatchewan, we have it. Also, we like to consider ourselves an education centre, our staff know where our products are from, some are even good friends with the vendors, so I know, with confidence, what I am selling.Buying local and understanding where food comes from is in my opinion, a lifestyle. Maybe it is a trend, we’ll see how long it lasts, but I don’t think it is. Also people have changed their buying patterns and are researching before they buy, and I think food falls into that, so we respect that our consumers are conscientious. Lastly, we have positioned ourselves as a gift store. We do corporate baskets and other gifts with a high level of customization. We want to be a partner, not a transaction. We are propagating other local businesses.
- 3. Who do you sell to? How do you communicate with your customer base?
Primarily females. Baby boomers, because of scratch cooking and nostalgia. And Millennials, because they like to buy on virtues and ideas. We also have our online store. We have shipped products to U.S, China, South Africa, Japan, Germany, Poland, and Australia, and other places. Some people are expatriates who want the flavour of home and some are past tourists. We like to communicate with our customers all the time through social media. We have a recipe centre, and Twitter and Facebook where people are sharing their experience and asking if we can carry what they are looking for. Most of it is word of mouth, that’s a huge factor.
- 4. How do you learn about your customers? Do you know what brings them into your store?
We have a list of requests. You just need to listen to what the customer is asking for. Secondly, we are all foodies here, so we have a lot of taste tasting and sampling in the store. Before we bring products in, our team tries them to for quality. Also, my team cares. They care about the vendors and the customers.
- 5. How do you mitigate risk and maximize reward?
As a small business, we are nimble and can make quick decisions. We have a business plan and a detailed budget, and we monitor and conduct quarterly checks. So we actually measure what we do regularly and make adjustments as we see fit. Another way we mitigate risk and maximize reward at the same time is by being connected, whether it is resources like Square One, or personal resources. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Take a step back and evaluate your network and their life experiences. Think of them strategically, and without a doubt, reciprocate. Collaboration is key. A strength of ours is building a plan and executing. You have got to follow through. Even if you think that it won’t give you the rewards you’re looking for, complete the task and learn from it.
- 6. What prevents you from implementing change? What factors keep you from changing your business?
Typically money. We have a budget. It’s about compromising and seeing if we are willing to take funds from one opportunity and move it to another area. If we don’t have the funds or are not willing to compromise, then maybe it’s not the best opportunity. Also, intuition. If you’re an entrepreneur, some decisions are based on intuition.
- 7. Have you joined forces with other local businesses in order to achieve common goals? Why did you decide that a partnership would be a good thing?
Currently we have strategic alliances with Tourism Saskatoon, Tourism Saskatchewan, and the Ministry of Agriculture. I’m a big believer in reciprocating business. That’s how you grow. If I work with an insurance agency, and all of the store’s insurance is bought there, they would reciprocate buy buying their corporate gift baskets from us, and not from a huge grocery chain. I want to deal with partners, and collaborate. I do not want to be a transaction.
- 8. What counts that you are not counting?
Integrity and how people perceive or store and the people involved. This means following through with what we say we will do, and being honest with our clients and delivering to the best of our ability.
- 9. What was the most pivotal discovery or situation that directed you towards your success?
I don’t think there was a specific moment. There were tidbits of information that pulled us through. For example, when the Ministry of Agricultural started ordering gift baskets from us. Just little winds that encouraged us and let us know we were on the right track and need to keep moving forward.
- 10. Do you have any mentors or role models? How do they contribute to your success and attitude towards your business?
My family. We are farmers, so being an entrepreneur was instinctively there. The mentors and role models have changed over time. Of course, Brett Wilson, he’s dreamy and fantastic. My business partner, April, is my biggest fan, and we are each other’s sounding boards. I have many good friends that are invested in my success and are always willing to help out when needed. I am really lucky that way! But also others who are doing well in Canada. There are a lot of successful women in agricultural, and a lot of successful people in Saskatchewan. Look to your network. Learn from your network.
- 11. Describe the entrepreneurial path to potential entrepreneurs.
Scary! Challenging. But definitely rewarding. You have to be all in.