Founded by Toronto-based Steph La Posta and Kaela Malozewski, Common People Shop is a general store providing well-crafted goods from local makers and suppliers.
From candles to ceramics, art prints to skincare, Common People has a carefully curated collection and works to create a sense of community through workshops and events.
But their community-centered business didn’t grow overnight.
For Steph La Posta, the idea of opening a business was always in the back of her mind. Having worked in retail for over 25 years, friends would ask her when she was going to do her own thing.
She wasn’t sure whether it’d be a breakfast shop or retail space, but she had a feeling she’d build a business eventually. Then, one day while she and her partner were visiting general stores in the area, she realized they could open their own.
That day, they decided to make it happen.
When they started sourcing products from local vendors and Etsy shop owners, they had one goal: to share authentically. If they couldn’t imagine buying an item for their home or giving it as a gift, they wouldn’t sell it.
“We didn't want to bring in anything that we didn't want to own ourselves.”
On top of selling goods, they wanted to create a strong community. “It wasn't one hundred percent retail,” La Posta said. “Community engagement was super important to me.”
Through pop-ups, workshops, and even open mic nights, Common People shared memorable in-store experiences to build up an audience. But even as their audience grew, Common People experienced losses.
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Pushing through setbacks
In March, ahead of the government mandate, Common People closed its retail store’s doors temporarily.
“The first few weeks were scary...we never really devoted a lot of resources or a lot of time into marketing and really driving the online business,” said Steph. She wishes they had prioritized their online efforts beforehand. “We should have done something sooner,” she said.
Closing the shop’s doors, even temporarily, had an immediate impact on their business.
Before March, their in-store traffic accounted for 95% of purchases, so without visitors and community events to keep customers coming in, their business was at risk. And they weren’t eligible for government aid, either. “It's been pretty deflating,” said Steph.
“If something doesn't change really, really soon, we might have to close our doors for good...I don't want that to happen. I can't have that happen after years of work and investment.”
Taking small, creative steps
With so many setbacks and unknowns, Steph and Kaela had to get creative. They gave themselves the space to experiment with new ideas, including starting a GoFundMe to keep their doors open and providing curbside pickup to better accommodate their customers.
Now, because of their shop’s square footage, they’re adapting their events. Instead of their usual fall or holiday markets, Common People will have smaller, one-table events for vendors to share their products.
They’re hoping hosting one vendor at a time will help them build stronger relationships with local creatives. At the same time, when vendors come into the store, they’re bringing their followers and online community with them, adding to the Common People community, too.
Steph and her partner are choosing to take small steps, one day at a time. Rather than feeling too overwhelmed to choose a direction, they know they have no choice but to keep moving.
The future of their business depends on it.
One of the ways Common People is pushing through uncertainty is by meeting customers where they are. For now, that’s Facebook and Instagram.
“That feels right for us in terms of our demographic and where we already have a large following,” La Posta said.
They also plan to start working with a marketing expert, even though it means investing more money. “We can't afford to do that, but we also can't afford not to do that.” By starting where they’re already winning, Steph and Kaela are moving forward with confidence.
“There will always be the point where either she says to me or I say to her: ‘It's OK. We'll get through it. We always do.’"
As micro-business owners, Steph and Kaela have faced many ups and downs together over the last three years. They’re worried about what lies ahead, but they know they have to keep forging ahead.
That’s what resilience is all about.
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