Introducing The Little Market Box
It’s been just over a year since Shawnda and Julianna took their business idea and jumped in with both feet. With the expectations of starting small and working their way slowly towards their business goal, they never expected to be embraced by the community with such force that they would surpass their goal and have had to expand dramatically in such little time. The Little Market Box is changing the future of the farmers’ market community. So without further ado, we’d like to introduce you to the gals from The Little Market Box.......
REALTOR® /Mortgage Associate
Describe your business: The Little Market Box is an online farmers’ market and small retail hub that fosters the success of local producers and small businesses by fusing the concept of a traditional farmers’ market with technology and centralized marketing, customer service, and fulfillment methods.
Unlike most retail stores, we do not purchase wholesale. Instead, like a farmers’ market, we are membership based and focus on putting the dollars from each sale back into the hands of the producer.
Our online farmers’ market is open 24/7, allowing customers to browse local products any time of any day. We gather those orders twice a week and send them directly to our producers. Every Wednesday and every Saturday, those items arrive fresh at our small retail hub where we package and deliver orders all across the city. Customers are also welcome to shop at our retail hub six days a week, seven hours a day, making it easier than ever to access fresh, local goods.
What drives you to do what you do? What motivates you? Both owners (Shawnda of Benlock Farms / Julianna of Those Girls at the Market) have been vendors at the farmers' market and understand the importance of the farmers' market culture and its impact on the local economy but we also understand the challenges. We wanted to create a platform that could embrace the farmers' market culture but also overcome its limitations so our local vendors could thrive. As small local producers ourselves, we know how much of a difference it has made in our personal lives, and knowing that we're also helping every single one of our producers is something that\'s really meaningful to us.
What has surprised you most when owning your own business? What surprised us the most when we first started was how much trust our producers put in us. We were just two gals doing a little thing, and a handful of producers stepped forward and put all of their eggs in our basket. We thought maybe one day we could on-board 30 local producers to join us and within just over one year, we're close to 100 local producers!
What was it like when you first started? We were totally winging it. We had an idea, but we didn\'t exactly know how it would work. We knew there was something to it, so we committed to the idea and ran with it. It was fast, wild, and messy but we did it. The learning curve was very steep but here we are just a year after opening, outgrowing our current space and looking to expand. Neither of us had any expectations, but this project has become something that has changed both of our lives!
What is something people don’t know about your business? It all started when our landlord came to me with a dream- she said she envisioned a little local market in the space next to our chocolate shop (which we had JUST opened). I pitched the idea to Shawnda on a Sunday afternoon and we were looking at the space on Monday (literally the day after). It was a very spontaneous thing.
What would your customers say they love most about doing business with you? The products are top notch (local, fresh, unique) but the PEOPLE we have on our team are what make shopping with us really special.
What are some odd requests you've had from clients? Well, this isn't exactly an odd request (it is totally understandable) but we have two shop cats (Gary and Bucky) and sometimes we think our customers are coming to see us, but we can't even count how many times our customers have admitted they've actually come to visit the cats. We get a lot of requests from shoppers to come to the back office to visit Gary (also known as Mr. Noodles) and baby Bucky.
How do you motivate and encourage each other? Yourself? Having a team of very caring people who support each other and encourage each other to grow makes coming to work at The Little Market Box the adventure of a lifetime. We're currently all doing a three month "Aligned" planner & journal that prompts us to identify our dream goals, take steps to move towards those goals, reflect and journal every day, and overcome negative thought patterns.
Where do you see your business in the next years? We see ourselves growing into a larger space very soon to help us better facilitate our online pick-up & delivery service, welcome more vendors to sell through us, and comfortably facilitate higher traffic in the shop during our hours of operation. We'd also like to integrate an incubation aspect to our business where we can help foster the growth of small businesses by providing a space to take the next steps- jumping right into your own brick & motor shop is sometimes a big leap and we'd love to provide businesses their own space without having to jump right into a full storefront.
What are your greatest challenges? When you're dealing with close to a hundred local producers, communication can get a bit messy. With so many methods of communicating (email, texting, facebook or instagram messages, phone calls, face-to-face conversations etc.), keeping up is a constant challenge... our office is FULL of sticky notes to help us remember things.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
Shawnda: I am a certified laughter therapist!
Julianna: I am a total foodie now and I love deeply nourishing & simply good food, however growing up I had to worst diet. I lived on instant noodles and ice cream sandwiches (I used to get two ice cream sandwiches every single day in middle school)! I cringe when I think about it.
What do you love most about your town/city? The local culture and community is outstanding. There are so many creative and incredibly talented locals who are doing what they love and producing absolute magic. We are really so lucky to see so many small local businesses, organizations, musicians, and artists being able to express themselves here in Saskatoon.
Why do you think it is important for people to support local? Choosing to support local is choosing to enhance the lives of your community- those dollars go back into the families who are also your neighbors, your relatives, and your friends. When we support each other by shopping local, we strengthen our local economy and uplift the entire community. Every single local purchase makes a difference in someone's life for the better and that's pretty powerful and meaningful.
What are your favorite restaurants? Oh boy- as foodies, this isn't an easy question because we could go on and on! We order Sushi Raku for the team very frequently, but we also love the team at Odd Couple (they are great customers of ours), Christie Peters from Primal (she is also a vendor with us), and we can't forget about Bill from Gangster's Italian Sandwiches. He has a little sandwich shop two doors down from us (and by little, we mean teeny tiny), but it's often lined up down the block! It's totally a hidden gem of Saskatoon.
What are your favorite things to do locally? It's tough to beat walking along the river- our shop is located just steps away from River Landing and we love popping out for an afternoon walk!
Shawnda Blacklock & Julianna Tan
Address: 808 - 16th Street W Saskatoon SK S7M 5Y4