Many of our success stories showcase entrepreneurs who have brought a service or product to market successfully. Today, we’re sharing the story of two entrepreneurs who wanted to give back to their community and provide space for business owners to share their arts, home-based, online, and startup business ideas. But, if you’re a startup nerd like me, even more important than their success is the way they got their start.
“I wish there was a space locally where we could go and make things and sell things.”
Little did Lisa Jones and her business partner Bobbie Forno know that by identifying this need, they had started a journey that would change their lives. Entrepreneurship was their new destiny—they started out on the right foot by asking questions of, listening to, and learning from potential customers. They didn’t know that their instinct to spend time cold-calling, visiting market/trade booths, and trawling social media was in fact the most important part of the early startup process: primary research. Primary research is the most important way to validate your idea, and without it, your brilliant idea is next to useless.
Lisa and Bobbie were lucky—the data they collected showed that they were on the right track. The foundation they built from collecting data allowed them to build the confidence they needed to move forward, take the leap, and sign a lease.
And that lease? The right lease is the second best part of this story, so please forgive me for geeking out a bit. They say, “location, location, location” … but it’s more than that. Affordability in the startup stage is key to sustainable cash flow.
This is where the Town of Okotoks deserves kudos for the investment they made to contribute to building a vibrant business district. The Town invested in purchasing an older building downtown. They put out an RFP for tenants to apply to lease the publicly-owned building and received over 20 applications in the first hour. This project was a great example of Okotoks staying focused on their Economic Strategic Plan (setting a great example for entrepreneurs). Their plan included a vision of growing entrepreneurship and supporting local small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to keep the culture alive in the downtown area.
Lisa and Bobbie jumped at this opportunity, saying in their application “we are exactly that fit.” They had the research to back up their claim—there was a need for a makers’ market and a desire for makers to sell without having to worry about dealing with customers and transactions. Sixty days later, Shared Spaces opened its doors as the potential home of over 100 entrepreneurs.
Why such success?
Lisa and Bobbie did their homework first: they listened to the needs of the clients they wanted to serve, they customized their options to fit potential clients’ budgets and needs before opening, and they did primary research.
In Shared Spaces, you can rent wall space, a change room, or a simple shelf or rack. Offering so many options for many different budgets means every day is still a learning curve for the partners. They continually adapt their business model to accommodate new needs or opportunities; nothing is set in stone—except for that strong foundation they used to get started!
Listening to the customer is key; growing businesses is the goal
The final key that contributes to Shared Spaces’ startup success story is their social responsibility to the community. A percentage of every sale goes to a local charity—this year, they are giving back to Foothills Country Hospice.
If I had to use one word to capture this business model story, it would be community.
Local tax dollars were used to purchase a building to grow local entrepreneurship that gives back to local community charities. This is community economic development—this is entrepreneurs growing entrepreneurs.
Be sure to stop in at Okotoks’ Shared Spaces to experience this grown-in-Alberta success story, knowing that with every purchase you are supporting local business and giving back to the community.
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