Al visits Tia Small, owner of Valley Online in Grand Valley, Ontario. After taking a leap of faith from a stable career in property management to running her own business, Tia faces the weighty challenge of growing her new business in a pandemic while learning as she goes. How is she doing? Listen now to find out. You can find out even more about Valley Online at https://www.valleyonline.ca
Al visits Tia Small, owner of Valley Online in Grand Valley, Ontario.
After taking a leap of faith from a stable career in property management to running her own business, Tia faces the weighty challenge of growing her new business in a pandemic while learning as she goes. How is she doing? Listen now to find out.
You can find out even more about Valley Online at https://www.valleyonline.ca
If you're the owner of a small business in Canada and you'd like us to help tell your story, email us at email@example.com.
Yes, We Are Open is a Moneris Podcast Production hosted by Al Grego.
Listen to music from Season 1 on Spotify.
Al Grego: Hello everyone, I'm Al Grego, and this is the Yes, We Are Open podcast.
Veronica: What about that girl, with the juice?
Tanya: I was trying to see what they had for sale. This is like a giant garage sale.
Al Grego: It's a warm, sunny Saturday morning in August. The family and I are on a road trip to Grand Valley, Ontario to check out a town wide market and yard sale. Grand Valley is a quaint community with a population of about 3000, just outside Orangeville, and about an hour Northwest of Toronto. The Grand River runs through town, playing a major geographic feature.
GPS: Turn left on Main Street.
Al Grego: The Main Street is a typical small Ontario town Main Street, untouched by any big retail franchises. The closest big box store is likely 20 minutes away in Orangeville. There's very much an artisan vibe to Grand Valley. As we drive along the Main Street looking for parking, we see an Ace Hardware Store with a walk-up ice cream window on the side. There are many small shops to look into. A couple of kids have set up a lemonade stand, hoping to capitalize on the increased foot traffic and hot summer weather.
Tanya: You took up two parking spaces.
GPS: You've arrived at your destination.
Al Grego: We have a great time walking through town and visiting the various vendors. To many, this is exactly the sort of event they've sorely needed after the past 18 months we've endured.
Near the bottom of the hilly Main Street, set up in front of a beauty salon, is the vendor we came here to visit. Her name is Tia Small, owner and operator of Valley Online. She organized this event and she happens to be the subject of this week's story.
A couple of weeks have passed since that market. And now I'm back in Grand Valley at Tia's home for her interview.
Tia Small: Hello, come in, come in. How are you?
Al Grego: I'm well, how are you?
Tia Small: I'm good.
I am Tia Small, and I'm the owner of Valley Online. Owner, buyer.
Al Grego: Only employee too, or?
Tia Small: No, no. I've got my delivery dudes. Yeah, I've got my six year old, my three year old and my hubby. My hubby delivers all through Brampton, Toronto, Mississauga on his way to and from work. And my boys do local deliveries with me.
Al Grego: How long have you been living in Grand Valley?
Tia Small: We've been here three years now. We came from Brampton, which is a very different community, obviously much larger, to a town of population of 3000-3,500 people. And the community spirit and family spirit here is untouchable. It's a giant family and it's fantastic.
We launched July 2020. Valley Online was kind of a concept in the making for quite a while. I'd always wanted to be in business for myself and do something that I was so passionate about. And just prior to the pandemic, my husband and I were actually looking into brick and mortar locations in Grand Valley, a store or a restaurant. We had gone to view, put in offers and nothing felt right. A couple weeks before the pandemic, I had walked away from a retail store downtown. It didn't feel like something that I was ready for at the time. And I backed away from it, and I said to my husband "This isn't done, but it's going to take a different turn."
I kept working. I was a property manager in Brampton and I loved what I did. I actually had a bit of an incident at work one day where I found a lady passed away in her unit.
Al Grego: Oh, wow.
Tia Small: That was [crosstalk 00:04:30] a little bit, yeah. I worked through it as long as I could, and then I ended up having to take a little bit of time off, had PTSD for a little bit actually from it. But while I was off, my husband said "You don't have the zest for it that you did, and you've been looking into things online and really pursuing some online courses and stuff like that." He said, "Just quit your job, just do it." I said, "What am I waiting for then?" And I quit my job and a month and a bit later I launched Valley Online.
Al Grego: It was a leap of faith.
Tia Small: It was an absolute blind leap of faith, yes.
Al Grego: And July 2020, I mean that's... You don't have a lot of businesses starting up in the middle of the pandemic. How did that go?
Tia Small: It was shockingly, overwhelmingly well received. We have such a beautiful small business community in Grand Valley, in Orangeville, in our little Dufferin community, that it's really been a blessing, yeah.
Al Grego: What were the steps that you took to start the business?
Tia Small: Everything from finding a website host, to payment options, to building a logo and a slogan, a motto. My business plan is still... I think that's always going to be a work in progress, but it was overwhelming and exciting.
Al Grego: Did you have any help with that or you did it all on your own?
Tia Small: I did the vast majority of it. I reached out to the Orangeville Business Center and they helped me immensely. I did some courses through them as well, some webinars and things like that. I keep going back to this, but the outreach from the small business community is something that I've never experienced before. Having everyone's input and views and everything was just amazing.
Al Grego: I suppose if you're going to start a business, a retail business especially, in this pandemic, online first is probably the way to go.
Tia Small: Yes. If I would've taken the brick and mortar location downtown, I would've been closed. I wouldn't have had the options that I did. I wouldn't still be here. I'd be back at work likely in property management, right? So yeah, it's been great.
Al Grego: At what point, you start in July of 2020... How long before it felt like, I can actually make this work, this is a business and I'm making enough to make this worth my while?
Tia Small: That has only been recently. The amount of growth that I've experienced this year has been phenomenal and just really unexpected.
I think a huge part of it is being able to interact with people in person again. Markets are absolutely monumental, for me anyways, in getting my name out there. This year, I really wanted to focus on growing my business and my following and in turn building my client base.
It's been wonderful, being able to give my card out at events, being able to be at events and always social media is a huge, huge push. And I'm honing my skills on that too, which I'm sure is helping a lot as well. But these are all new things that, at least I had to learn, everything from social media posting to the business.
Al Grego: Have you had any kind of moments where maybe somebody shared something and it equated into a lot of sales for you or anything like that that you can...?
Tia Small: I did. When I recently planned the Grand Valley Small Business Market and Yard Sale, I had reached out to The Orangeville Banner because I know that they've got a really huge focus on community support. So I thought, at least if they'd be willing to put a little blurb in the paper for us and send a little shout out to Grand Valley that we've got this event going on, it would be awesome. They put us on the front page, a two page writeup, and it was really fantastic, the amount of not only social media growth we had, but we had shoppers here from Newmarket, from Barrie, from the other little towns...
Al Grego: Holland Landing.
Tia Small: ...surrounding us. Holland Landing, that's right. It was incredible. And the amount of people that said "I saw it in the paper and someone shared it and we had to come," and it was wonderful. And it's really helped my business as well as a lot of others in town.
Al Grego: It's been a year now, just over a year, happy anniversary.
Tia Small: Thank you.
Al Grego: What's the growth look like?
Tia Small: So far, my rough estimate is that at least my social media has grown about threefold since January. But more than that is that I'm now getting orders in Alberta, B.C., Quebec, Halifax, I ship to Nova Scotia regularly. And those are the things that really captivate me because those people are sharing with their friends, and then it's just such a wonderful outpouring of support.
Al Grego: Up next, after a strong start and a year of growth, it looks as if Tia is making a go of her new online business. Will she be able to sustain the growth? Stay tuned to find out.
You're listening to Yes, We are Open. Tia Small took a leap of faith. She quit her stable career as a property manager to make a go of it on her own with her new company Valley Online. Things got off to a great start, but is the growth sustainable as we approach the second year of this pandemic? Will Tia's learning on the job finally catch up to her? Let's find.
So if you were to talk about one moment or one event that happened that put your business in jeopardy, what would that be?
Tia Small: It would be, I think, a tie between two, they kind of go hand in hand. The pandemic and the technological side of being a business owner and being the only employee.
So during the pandemic, there is a huge push on social media, and that is definitely not my strong suit. That is, I'm not overly technical, but I'm getting there. That's been a real huge challenge for me, is getting my business out there without being able to be in person and learning the avenues, learning about marketing, learning about captivating posts and what will captivate an audience. And without that, you're going to flop now, yeah.
Al Grego: And cutting through the noise, right? Because of the pandemic, there are other, even brick and mortar retailers, that are going online, and so now you're also competing with them. It's almost... You would've been better off opening before this...
Tia Small: Yes.
Al Grego: And then you would've been established online and...
Tia Small: And then transition over.
Al Grego: Yeah. How dire did it get? Did it get dire at any point? I'm sure there were points where you were like, it was a nice run. I tried, back to property management.
Tia Small: I did. The first few months, I think, we were still a novelty, which was great. But then things die down, fizzle down. And then you question, is it my products? Is it my posting? Is it that I'm not out in person? I mean, you really do have to take a step back and, at least for me, I had to make a checklist of this is what I feel could be going wrong. And then you've got to make a battle plan for each one of those and combat it.
Al Grego: Let's talk about the battle plan. Can you give some high level kind of points? What that plan was then to bring business back?
Tia Small: I enjoy my community and I love being a part of something larger than my house and my family. So getting to be involved in the community was really important for me and for the growth of my company.
So we did a few things. One of the amazing businesses downtown, Ace Hardware, the owner is lovely and reached out to her. And I said "Tanya, you know, for your opening day for the ice cream shop that's attached," she's got it attached to Ace Hardware. I said, "Can I sponsor your opening day? And I'll pay for all the ice cream in town for the kids." I said, "The kids come, give them a free kids cone, and I'll take care of the bill for the day."
And she said "That's wonderful." She said "Bring your sign down and we'll put up your sign," and I said "Okay." So I brought my lawn sign and went to put it in the lawn, and she said "Oh no, put it up on the building." That was incredible. My sign's still downtown in a very prominent spot because someone is kind.
Al Grego: What a brilliant idea. That was a great idea.
Tia Small: But you have to think outside the box.
Then I said to my husband "We can't do markets the way we want to, let's do our own. Everyone likes a garage sale, let's do the whole town, get the whole town involved." The town put up billboards on the LED sign for us, posted all over social media. We've really tried to get out there as best and as safe as we can, while thinking outside of the box and not necessarily having to be in people's faces, but do something for the community.
Al Grego: Okay, let's talk about that market because my family and I spent a really pleasant Saturday here. We loved...
Tia Small: Thank you for coming.
Al Grego: ...getting to know Grand Valley and I got to chat with some of the merchants.
So what's your name?
Valerie Chaney: My name is Valerie Chaney.
Al Grego: Valerie, and is this your booth here?
Valerie Chaney: Yes, I'm called My Little Farm Shed.
Al Grego: Do you know Tia?
Valerie Chaney: Yes, I do.
Al Grego: Yeah, and how do you know Tia? Uh oh, your stuff's blowing over again.
Valerie Chaney: I met Tia at a different market event. We've just become great friends.
Al Grego: How important are these events, especially right now?
Valerie Chaney: Well, I think they're really important, especially, we've been shut down for such a long time and honestly, whether people buy something from you or not, I just really love to see people out and about. Moms, dads, grandparents, children, it's so wonderful to see. And as far as the vendors go as well, it's great because they get to make their items and sell their items as well.
Sandra Stone: I'm Sandra Stone.
Al Grego: Sandra, and you're here with...
Sandra Stone: Local Home Finder Team.
Al Grego: Are you from Grand Valley?
Sandra Stone: Yes, yeah.
Al Grego: How important is it to have events like this [inaudible 00:16:42]?
Sandra Stone: It's really important because we want people to get educated. I am a local realtor, right? I have an agent and our team's called Local Home Finder Team, and we're here today just to educate people, right? Get our name out, give them free bags, hats. If they have any questions about the market, because a lot of realtors don't educate people, right? They just want business. And it's really important that people know what they're getting into, that proper value of their home, what happens when they buy, and what happens when they sell.
Al Grego: What's your name?
Al Grego: Lindsay, this is a nice lemonade stand you have here.
Lindsay: Yeah, it is. The kids are working hard.
Al Grego: Very good. You making a lot of money?
Lindsay: They are.
Al Grego: Yeah, I can see that. Do you know the organizer, Tia, of the event?
Lindsay: I've never met her, no. Sorry.
Al Grego: But how did you know to set up today?
Lindsay: We just saw it on social media actually.
Al Grego: And how important is it for Grand... First of all, do you guys live here?
Lindsay: We do.
Al Grego: You're from around here?
Al Grego: So how is it important for Grand Valley to have an event like this?
Lindsay: I think it's very important to get everyone out and in the community and shopping local and supporting one another. It's super important.
Al Grego: For sure. So hopefully, more of these to come?
Lindsay: I hope so.
Al Grego: And you couldn't ask for better weather...
Lindsay: Oh I know.
Al Grego: ...to sell lemonade, right?
Lindsay: It's perfect. Everyone wants it because they're hot.
Al Grego: You'd mentioned the Orangeville paper...
Tia Small: The Orangeville Banner.
Al Grego: ...put you on the front page and helped with that. What did it take to get this together? How did it come together?
Tia Small: That was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.
I reached out to the Orangeville Banner, I sent them a message on Facebook and said, "This is kind of my rough plan. Is this something that you'd be interested in writing a little blurb about?" And they said, "Sure, we'll send a reporter out and she'll get in touch with you. "And she did, and she said "We'd love to speak to you, and we'd love to speak to someone who has a brick and mortar downtown if it's possible." And so I contacted Daphne, who owns Beauty Bar On Main, and we went down and met the reporter at her salon, and she was wonderful. She asked brilliant questions and did a great job on the article.
Al Grego: And the organization of all the vendors, would you just put it up on social media? Is that how you got them all to participate?
Tia Small: For the most part, yeah. I put up a lot of flyers too. I went downtown Grand Valley to each business and knocked on doors and begged for everyone to put a flyer in their door. And every single business did and said, "We're happy to be a part of this." And I put flyers up on all the mailboxes around town and the gas stations coming into town and Facebook and Instagram.
Al Grego: Post event, was there any kind of measurement to know how well it went? Did you hear from the other vendors or...
Tia Small: I did. Nearly every vendor reached out to me afterward to say that they had done incredible sales, which was fantastic. That's what we hope for, right? Bring a community together and support local. And it was so well received, actually, that the day of the market, by the end of the day, I had started planning a Christmas market for our small business vendors in town, because it really was eye-opening for everyone who had never done a market before. And they said, "This is fantastic! It's a big outdoor mall. Let's do it, right?" So we're doing another one in December.
Al Grego: Coming up after the break, we find out what the future holds for Valley Online.
Mat Belanger: This podcast is sponsored by Moneris. As a business owner, change comes at you fast. That's why Moneris is right by your side as you innovate and adapt, so you can get paid. With solutions for businesses of all shapes and sizes, we're proud to help Canadians like you achieve their goals. From online, in-store, curbside, and pickup solutions, Moneris is there to help your business succeed every step of the way. To talk to one of our business advisors, call 1-866-Moneris or visit Moneris.com.
Al Grego: Welcome back to Yes, We Are Open. After a promising start in her venture with Valley Online, Tia Small needed to learn quickly on the job and get creative to continue growing her fledgling business. And boy, was she ever creative. From buying ice cream for the children of Grand Valley, to planning a town wide market and garage sale, it's safe to say Tia is not short on big ideas. But were those ideas big enough to keep her going? Let's find out.
What does the future look like for Valley Online?
Tia Small: The future is bright. We've been changing and pivoting since July 27th, 2020. Every time something takes a turn we're ready. We're trying to be as ready as possible, and I think we're going to be switching gears a little bit going forward in terms of product. I really want to maintain as high a quality standard as I can in any products that I get in. The majority of my products are from Canadian suppliers, which I'm incredibly proud of. So we're definitely going to stick with that, but we're going to get bigger.
Al Grego: Plans for more markets, or what about brick and mortar in the future?
Tia Small: I would love to have a brick and mortar in the future. I don't think now is the time. And I don't think it will be for a few years. But eventually, no matter which direction Valley Online goes, I think there's always going to be a retail opportunity for me somewhere, yeah.
Al Grego: So any plans for expansion? I mean, you jokingly say you've got three employees, your kids and your husband.
Tia Small: I do. I mean half jokingly, they are. I think one of the biggest things about starting a business, especially during a pandemic, is what my kids have picked up on. So my husband and I have always been go, go, go. We don't sit around, watch TV a lot. We don't, we're out gardening, doing stuff. And the kids see that and they pick up on it. And then I started the business and quit my job. And they were excited because mommy would be home, but not realizing that mommy will be home, but mommy is still working, just differently.
Al Grego: Right.
Tia Small: So my oldest has now started his own business, making donuts and cookies. He started it for the Grand Valley Market we did, and he sold out. And so now he's doing by appointment only.
It's really touching to see the work ethic he puts into his business and he will say, "I'm working hard Mom, because I see that you and Papa work hard. And I know that if I work hard I'll get rewarded, right?" And it's incredible to watch his work ethic now.
Al Grego: He's had great role models.
Tia Small: I hope so. That's our hope, right?
Al Grego: That's the story of Valley Online. It seems a common thread through many of the stories so far in this series has been the importance of strong community support for new small business. It would therefore stand to reason that a key to starting a successful new business would be to move to a community like Grand Valley to get that support. But I would argue that for any community to become a community, that support's already there. It's up to you as the new business owner to tap into it. But how?
Tia and her family were relatively new to Grand Valley, but she took initiative. She got to know the locals and made sure the locals got to know her. Those relationships became paramount to Tia's success. They allowed her to make that deal with Tanya, the owner of Ace Hardware, to sponsor her ice cream stand. They allowed her to organize the Grand Valley Market and Yard Sale, by getting the vendors to participate, many of whom had no idea who she was. Tia's creativity and work ethic are surpassed only by her ability and willingness to put herself out there and form those important relationships. It seems her sons have already inherited Mom and Dad's work ethic. If they can get that quality from Mom as well, then they're in good shape for their future, and so is Valley Online.
Yes, We Are Open is a Moneris Podcast Production. I'd like to thank Tia for taking the time to share her story. You can learn more about Valley Online at valleyonline.ca. You can also follow them on Facebook or Instagram. For more information about this podcast, visit our site, yesweareopenpodcast.com. If you'd like to support us, rate us on apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. If you're a Canadian small business owner or know of one with an interesting story of perseverance to tell, I'd love to help tell it. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tune in next week for another story of small business struggle and survival on the Yes, We Are Open podcast. I'm Al Grego. Thank you for listening.