With years of experience in the retail world and as an independent seller, Kimberly Harvey Chase is no stranger to the grind of making the leap and getting her products in front of a bigger and broader audience.
After years of working in markets as a vendor selling her handmade jewelry, the Bradford resident was able to open her own jewelry retail business, My Lil Gem, at Newmarket's Upper Canada Mall in 2020 before expanding to a second location at Barrie's Georgian Mall.
Now, she’s nearing the opening of a third store, but this one is a little different. Made It, an artisan store at Georgian Mall, will open this summer. Chase describes it as a “collaboration” concept because it will sell local artisan-made items.
“With COVID and all the shows going away I opened up a couple of stores because I had inventory,” she said. “Now that I’m restarting my show business, I thought, 'What’s a really good way I could help a lot of small businesses jump-start their business into retail and larger scales?' Not only is opening a store expensive, but opening one in a mall is extra expensive. It will really help them build their brands by being in a mainstream mall.”
After researching different models of collaborative stores, Chase took the aspects she thought worked best and used them in a way she thought would give local vendors the best experience.
“I looked for the most fair way that would really, truly make the businesses a partnership,” she said. “I’ve designed the store, so it’s chopped up in a way that gives the vendors the space they need and they all chip in their piece of the rent individually. That way they’re only spending a couple hundred bucks instead of tens of thousands of dollars to try and open their own store.
"Most companies like this aren’t open with the businesses about how it runs — where the profits go, where costs are. When I’m talking to vendors I’m going through numbers and telling them this is why things cost what they do, and this is what they get from it.”
Chase wants the partnerships she has with the vendors to be open and honest.
“We do a small commission of 20 per cent to cover service fees, shopping bags, and stuff like that,” she said. “Whatever is left over out of that 20 per cent is how our company makes money. All the fixed expenses are covered by each business themselves — everyone chips in a little bit. When we all sell, we all make money. It’s all collectively people succeeding at the same time. I went with this type of model because it’s a collaborative store where we all are really working together.”
While still in the process of partnering with different businesses for Made It, Chase has been looking for specific vendors that fit her locally driven vision.
“Mostly it’s handmade with a few exceptions,” she said. “It’s hands-on locally involved through the construction, design and the whole process, those types of businesses. We have everything from small businesses that have just started to a Barrie-based clothing company (Canadian Toggle). There are different types of businesses we’re working with, where some are already in stores and for others, this will be their first time. We’ll have all kinds of different levels of businesses in there.”
It’s been no small task for Chase to turn this idea into a reality. She’s been working countless hours to get the store ready.
“I’ve been working about 14 hours a day,” she said. "I (recently) went to the market in Bradford and talked to almost every business there. Just going through Instagram I’ve probably found about a thousand different businesses that are all relatively close to us and could easily come in with stock and I’m still searching.
"I’ve been using social media to connect and been going out to shows to connect with them. The goal is to get most of them signed up in April and May, June is my buffer, and July is when I’ll be freshening up the store and vendors will move in.”
Having a presence at a mall can give businesses a boost with products being that much more accessible to potential buyers.
“I can attest to it because I’ve got my two stores in malls, it’s a game-changer,” Chase said. “Even though COVID made the cost to operate difficult, we were doing numbers that I’d never done before when I was a full-time vendor."
Chase says feedback on the new concept store from different local vendors has been great, especially with many still dealing with the impacts COVID-19 has had on their business and looking for a way to get back on track.
“It’s been very positive,” she said. “Some people are immediately onboard and ready to go. ... Some of these vendors are really just coming back from shutting down their business for the last two years and have been working to build their stock back. I think (coming out of COVID) this is like buying stocks low and getting in when you know it’s going up.”
Vendors interested in being involved with Made It can reach Chase by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.