Candace Ippolito and April Nichol, co-owners of the Saskatoon storefront and its web shopping site with two other partners, are very deliberate about the work they are trying to accomplish.
“When people walk into the store with a great product idea,” says Candace, “they are still 25 steps away from having their product on the shelf. We understand the opportunities. We challenge them to know what their long term goals are.”
This kind of business coaching is hard and often long work. But for SaskMade to succeed according to the vision the partners have for it, it is necessary.
“We spend all our time on clients right now,” says Nichol. “People who are interested in growing their business like it—it’s a refreshing change. As a new business person, you don’t know what you don’t know. We ask the third and fourth questions. It’s not just about the transactional issues—what price and how many. We want to cultivate trust and mutual benefit.”
This is unique thinking from the retail scene that most new product developers face. Box stores and large retailers simply do not offer supportive business advice to potential sources of product. Getting things for the lowest price is often the only imperative for retailers.
For Nichol and Ippolito, the variety of products they are marketing through SaskMade means they have to customize their business coaching to each of their new clients. The store has a blended focus on food products—some of which are very new to Saskatchewan consumers—and on visual art, crafts, and a wide range of personal products like soaps. “We still have jams,” laughs Ippolito, “but we are bringing people a lot more.”
That includes things as diverse as coffee, ciders, vegetarian cuisine, frozen foods (including perogies), wild rice, chick peas, dainties, nuts, chocolate, jams and jellies, honey, soup mixes, pastas, curry and steelhead trout.
New additions to the range of food available at SaskMade are chosen with a specific goal in mind. “We like to be able to show customers that they can prepare three to four meals a week with locally grown food,” says Nichol.
“Seasonality,” adds Ippolito, “will play into that. But this is about the community we are creating in the store of producers and consumers.”
Creating that community means a very first-hand knowledge of the things they sell.
“Playing with the products personally has been fun learning,” says Nichol. “We’ve been exploring what our customers can do with things like dried mushrooms and different herbs.”
Both owners give great credit to store manager Ken Neuman and the staff at the market for the thorough knowledge they have of the products they sell. Some staff have their own products in the store. That is a kind of investment into customer service that most employers only dream of. But it is also exactly what they have based their vision on.
“We always knew that we wanted to be educators,” says Ippolito. “The greatest loyalty you can develop is through education.”
It’s a natural fit for the business partners because, at the same time as they are building the SaskMade Marketplace, they are maintaining full-time jobs working as advisors to farmers—Nichol as a crop development specialist and Ippolito as an animal nutrition lead, both for Blair’s Fertilizer Ltd. To complete the circle, the owners at Blair’s Ag Cattle Company, a division of Blair’s Fertilizer, are also co-owners at SaskMade.
“For the last eight years we’ve talked about doing something directly involved in the food industry,” says Nichol. “We love working together and we’re passionate about food.”
With a year behind them at the helm of SaskMade, it seems certain this path was a good choice for everybody.
Visit the SaskMade Marketplace in Saskatoon at 1621 8th Street East or shop online.