This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That. We've asked readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories. Their answers are edited.
Introducing Emily Dobbie, owner and founder of Vocado, a clothing boutique specializing in Canadian designers and other unique brands located in Toronto and Oakville.
1. Let's start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
Vocado is more than just a clothing boutique, we're a shopping experience. We get to know our customers and provide individualized service to cater to each customer's needs. We're affordable fashion with high quality merchandise. We carefully edit our brands and collections each season to ensure our product mix is top notch. Our customers love us and we love them. We're making the neighbourhoods that we operate in a little bit happier and a lot more fashionable.
I opened my first store in Liberty Village in 2009. Along the way I've opened a second location in Oakville and most recently an online e-commerce store.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
Before starting Vocado, I worked as a chartered accountant for a large firm. One day I woke up and realized I didn't like anything about my job or career path. I knew I needed something more creative and dynamic. I started to focus on what I wanted to do both on a day-to-day basis and what I wanted for myself long-term.
I absolutely love retail. I like how it's constantly changing. I enjoy how involved I am with my staff and my customers. I really like how quickly things move in a small business – if we want to do a marketing campaign, we just do it, and we see the reaction. Fashion was an obvious choice for me. I spent most of my childhood playing 'store' with the items in my closet. I think it's something I always knew I would do.
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
We're a neighbourhood store in each of our locations and have become part of the community and are an integral part of the shopping experience. Our customers range in age from 18 to 60, with a focus on 25 to 40-year-old women. They're fashion-loving and affluent, but want good value. They're constantly coming in and checking out the newest pieces each week. We're very much a word-of-mouth store. Our customers have great experiences and literally tell all their friends about us.
We're what you might call the 'hidden gem' and customers are ecstatic when they find us. We're very active on social media (Instagram, facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) and are rapidly expanding our brand and customer base through our online media presence.
4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
I'm the founder and sole owner. I do absolutely everything. From budgeting and trend forecasting to inventory management. I create our weekly e-blasts and on a good day, I'm the IT department. I have a great team who manage both my stores, along with some great sales staff. Currently I have 10 employees.
5. You've been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
I take an active role in my business. I hear from my customers and staff what they need and want and I react. I'm constantly communicating with my suppliers. We're always looking for new ideas and new ways of doing things. I'm open to trying almost anything; I engage my staff to brainstorm new ideas and help execute. The minute we get bored, we start something new. My financial background has been a cornerstone to helping me both manage and understand my business. Add to that a lot of hard work and genuine love for what I do!