Clients: Danielle Ferchoff and Robyn Smart
Business Name: Violets
Launched in: September 2021
Violets on Instagram
Violets is owned by two friends in Edmonton, Alberta. The shop is a curated selection of homewares and giftware with a strong design focus. Violets focuses on supporting like-minded people and businesses, curating a diverse vendor list by striving to uplift and support underrepresented groups in their craft while using sustainability practices wherever possible. Simply put, they carry really cool stuff. We connected with shop owners Danielle and Robyn to ask them about starting their business online amidst a global pandemic, and what’s next for them as they look forward to opening their first brick and mortar location.
Before they even met, both Danielle and Robyn dreamed of opening their own shop. “We left our part-time jobs at the same time and knew we wanted to keep working together. It was a natural transition.” One of their first steps was going to the ATB Entrepreneur Centre for resources. After meeting with a strategist (who asked them a lot of questions), they left with a business plan template to fill out and leads to resources that would help them get started. That’s also how they got in touch with our Business Link team. “We came to Business Link after seeing a strategist at the ATB Entrepreneur Centre. Amy, who helped us at the time, let us know that Business Link was a great resource for obtaining financial and market information on other similar businesses, so we were really eager to have access to that. It helped us understand our finances and further build and guide our business plan. A few months later, we also signed up for the Support Local AB Business Directory.”
They spent a lot of time on their business plan, deciding what would be important to them as business owners, identifying what gaps they would be filling in the market, and how they could make all of the things they love come together. “We’re starting off as a very small team. Aside from the two of us, our team includes Jake Belke who does all of the design work. Throughout this journey, we’ve also had lots of help from family members and friends.”
Danielle and Robyn first intended to open as a brick-and-mortar space that would act as a community hub. Then of course came the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a switch to an online-only business model.
Q. How has your business changed or grown since you launched?
A. We officially launched on September 4, 2021. Originally, we had big plans for a brick-and-mortar that would act as a community space where we would connect with artists and designers. However, when the pandemic hit, we had to pivot. We spent all of our time investing in the online store so that we could still launch and showcase the designers and products appropriately and focus on building our brand.
Q. Tell us about setting up your online business. What was the most challenging part?
A. Investing in a good platform was key. We went with Shopify and that’s made things easy to manage from an inventory perspective. The most challenging part of running an online business is managing social media. We had a really challenging time setting up the shopping feature across Facebook and Instagram and investing so much time in playing around with those apps really adds up. Since posting every day and engaging with accounts is so important when it comes to these apps, it’s been difficult to step away from social media even though we understand the importance of taking breaks from it. It’s tough to balance.
Q. How else did your business have to adapt throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
A. We mentioned before that we had to pivot from our original business plan, and this was a difficult thing since everything was still so new. We had so much planned that required being in person, like building a community hub and connecting with everyone, as well as hosting artists and designers in our space so they could do pop-ups. Since we did pivot and focus on building our website and our social media following, we now have time to focus on other aspects of the business such as the brick and mortar.
Moving into their new space is an exciting step forward for Violets; they’ll be opening in The Great Western Saddlery building on 104th Street in downtown Edmonton soon. Through a connection of Robyn’s, they were able to secure the space and worked with the building owner to transform the lobby and make it their own. “It’s really difficult to find tiny spaces that are appropriate for small businesses, so this was a game-changer. Taking this leap is a major expense, so ensuring we could afford the space, understood the financial risk, and felt comfortable with the location were very important factors in our decision.” This is the next big milestone for Danielle and Robyn after several others, like making their first sale and reaching new audiences and international customers.
Q. What are you most proud of? What is your biggest success?
A. We’re proud of taking the leap to open a shop during these uncertain times. We’re also proud of what we’ve created so far. Our branding, our website, and the designers we work with… and hearing from other artists that they love the brand, love our vision. It makes everything worth it.
Q. If you could go back and do one thing differently, what would it be?
A. In the beginning, we were struggling to find a name and left a lot of other aspects out of our meetings. We would spend hours focusing on naming and that seemed like the most important thing at the time. Looking back, we would definitely not put so much importance and focus on one thing. Staying fresh and stimulated can mean stepping away and focusing on something else for a while.
Q. What advice would you share with others who want to start or grow their own businesses?
A. Be prepared to spend a lot (time, money) and potentially not see a lot (rest, income). Have a good, solid support system and use it! People truly want to help.
So what’s next for Violets? Opening their brick-and-mortar shop, of course, and getting to finally meet all of their customers and followers in person. But that’s still just the beginning. You can follow them on social media to get a sneak peek of their space, catch details on their opening date, and find out what markets they might be popping up at next.
“We can’t wait to meet everyone and be able to showcase our product and the people behind the work! Being in a physical space is going to change everything for us, and we can’t wait to work closer with one another every day and feel the satisfaction of entering a space that we’ve created.”