Local entrepreneurs find success by joining forces online

·3 min read

Many locally crafted gifts could be ordered online this Christmas season, as entrepreneurs joined together to offer everything from crafts to homemade treats at the click of a button.

In November, Women in Business New Brunswick launched Nujintuisgati’jig E’pijig, a website for Indigenous women entrepreneurs to promote their wares, said development officer Natasha Martin-Mitchell.

“Since the launch on Nov. 24, our website has been visited over 48,000 times,” said Martin-Mitchell.

Many women who joined had never used a platform like it before, so had no particular expectations, she said.

And while sales take place on separate artist-to-customer platforms, many said they experienced unexpected spikes.

Tahnee Simon, an artist from Indian Island First Nation who mainly makes jewelry and pop socks, said in the days following the launch, “I was in shock when I had emails and messages from all over.

“I thought it would be a few people who have heard of it from different reserves in New Brunswick,” Simon said, but noted she was getting inquiries and sales from other provinces including Nunavut and Saskatchewan.

Ashley Sanipass, also of Indian Island First Nation, used the platform to drive likes on her Facebook page Mi’kmaq Art Experience. Sanipass provides kits and instructional videos so people can make M’ikmaq crafts themselves.

“I definitely got more followers since joining the site,” she said.

Both artists say coming together on the communal platform allowed them to achieve more than they could on their own, reaching new audiences.

That's something many small businesses who joined the "I Choose Shediac Box" campaign by Viva Shediac also experienced, said co-owner François Poirier.

The company, normally a tourism business, pivoted to really focus on local products this year, launching the box program for Christmas, and selling out of their approximately 300 boxes filled with local crafts and treats, Poirier said. One vendor they worked with who makes socks sold hundreds of pairs for the first time as a result, he said.

Similarly, the "NB Box", filled with made-in-this-province items and sold to individuals and businesses, provided opportunities for many local entrepreneurs to thrive amid a challenging year.

The NB Box campaign is in its third year, but owner Ingrid Munroe said 2020 surpassed any other year in sales by a mile. She also estimated about a third of the vendors joined the campaign for the first time in 2020.

“It allows many of the vendors to have a bigger presence than they would on their own,” said Munroe, adding that many are not experienced with all that running an online business entails and, for some, the opportunity meant they didn't have to focus on what isn’t their greatest strength but on their talent.

In the hours after the pandemic began in March, Munroe said she saw all the corporate events for which she was providing boxes dry up, including one the very next day.

But it wasn’t long before she started to see individual orders climb on her site. In fact, initially she felt like her company was suffering from too much success as her household struggled to meet the unexpected demand from her home during the lockdown.

“Do I worry that the growth we are experiencing is because of the pandemic? 100 per cent,” said Munroe, while also noting she isn’t worried that all the business will dry up post-pandemic, either.

Munroe said she is witnessing a shift in corporate gifting, where companies want to support local in gifts they give out. Even if individual orders taper out to some degree as people return to shopping in-person, more often, she believes the change in corporate giving could bode well for local entrepreneurs.

“E-commerce is only growing, but we’ll roll with the punches,” she said.

Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal