Black Market Provisions
550 Osborne Street
1. Tell us a bit about your background and how you got started in the industry.
Personally, we met in high school and have been a couple for over 15 years. Ange is a Red Seal Chef and spent years working in fancy restaurants in Vancouver and then at Inn at the Forks/SMITH/Era Bistro here in Winnipeg. Alana is an Interior Designer and worked for the Provincial Government managing large construction projects. Our lives revolve around food, its not only Ange’s profession, but also our hobbies + passions. If we weren’t reading about food or watching food content on TV/Social Media, then we were planning entire vacations around which restaurants, grocery stores and markets we could cram into every trip. We were (RIP Travelling) lucky to have visited so many places across North America that had such great shops and we always dreamed about opening a business in Winnipeg that allowed us to showcase all the fun food items we knew + loved. Neither of us are huge risk-takers, so we started small by opening Pop Cart (where we made artisan Ice Pops and sold them out of cute mobile carts) as a way to “get our feet wet” with a small part-time hobby business, and it ended up being second full-time jobs for us and lead us to our big dream of BMP!
2. What is your current job title and what does your day to day look like?
We’re such casual folks that we don’t really have “job titles” but we definitely each have both shared and independent roles at BMP, and we also have a tiny but mighty team that helps us make it all happen. We both work in the front of the shop (Serving customers when the shop is open to the public, or packing orders when it’s closed), and Ange also works shifts in the kitchen too. We are both involved in research + development for new food concepts, flavours + items and sourcing of new products to bring onto the shop shelves. Alana handles the financial + marketing end of things as well as retail item inventory, and Ange handles procurement of the ingredients and packaging required to keep our menus going. In the beginning it was just us and our kitchen manager Santy (and Alana was still working full time at her “real” job) and it was A LOT to handle…we now don’t know how we got it all done, but in the last year we’ve been able to bring on two more full time staff and Alana is here full-time too, which has really changed the game.
3. Where did the idea for your store come from?
When we had Pop Cart, we started to also test the market by selling small batch ice creams, and had a monthly ice cream subscription service for a while. We knew that the next step was to open a brick + mortar location, but we also knew that we couldn’t just sell ice pops + ice cream all year round in Winnipeg and survive financially. We had the concept of BMP in our minds, but when people asked what we were going to be opening, we really didn’t know how to describe it…was it a “General Store” or a “Grocery Store” or a “To-Go Restaurant” and ultimately it’s all of that. We knew we didn’t want to have a restaurant in the typical sense where people could sit in and eat, as that comes with its own challenges, but we also knew that we were always finding the greatest treats + treasures that we’d love to share with our friends + family, so ultimately our love of food + cool things just became the concept for BMP.
4. What were some of the hurdles you’ve had to overcome? Particularly moving from Pop Cart to an established store front with Black Market?
There has of course been lots of hurdles and struggles along the way, but there is no business owner out there that will say that opening a business is easy, and we were prepared for that. We knew it was going to be a STRUGGLE and we built up our expectations to meet that. It took us two years of scouting locations, business planning, figuring out funding, and logistics before we even started renovations on the space we now call home. In the beginning our biggest hurdle was just how long it took to get the shop open. We had the space for almost a full year before we could actually open the doors, and the construction had a whole range of setbacks and bumps along the way.
9 months before we opened our doors our sign company accidentally installed our awning on the building which was also SUPER stressful for us, as we are both control freaks and also like to control our own narrative with our customers as much as we can, and having that sign up too early gave us so much anxiety because people were CONSTANTLY asking us “when we would be open?” (Pro tip: if your friend is opening a business, never ask them “how it’s going” or “when they are opening” - they’re already stressed enough. Stick with “anything I can do to help?” or “You’re doing great! Can’t wait to see it!”)
And the first year was just a grind, there’s no real way to glamorize it. Long hours, stressful days, figuring everything out that when it’s all new to you, etc) Our whole life revolved around the shop, which is just what you need to do when you open something like BMP, and we’re so thankful that things took off and that we’re now in a place where we can rely on our team more and have some shop/life balance.
And given the sort of year we’ve had, we have to ask, have you had to pivot your business due to COVID regulations? What has that looked like?
We like to say that we haven’t PIVOTED so much as we’ve ADJUSTED. We’re still doing all the same things we did prior to COVID, just in a different way. We’re both kind of safety nuts, and keeping our staff, customers + selves safe/healthy is always more important to us than anything else. We closed our doors + shifted to an online ordering model long before we “had” to, and we’ve stayed closed much longer than we were required to, because the shop is so small and it’s the safest + most efficient way to ensure customers can still have a good shopping experience, even if they do need to plan ahead. We are SO lucky that our customers have been willing to adjust along with us, and really can’t wait for the day that we safely re-open so we can thank them in person!
5. What sort of challenges have you found running a business with your spouse? On the flip side, what do you love about working together?
Great question! So, we are truly a perfect balance, which makes running a business as a couple much easier. As an example, Ange is naturally a “no” person that wants to make sure we have the capacity to take something on before agreeing to do it, and Alana is a “yes” person who wants to say yes and figure out how to make it happen, so we’ve learned to consult with each other before agreeing or declining anything. We also thankfully each have skillsets that are super important to running BMP and are able to let the other one focus on what they are good at. After over 15 years together as a couple we are generally great at communicating and also have no filters or hesitancy to challenge the other when we don’t agree with something they are doing or saying, which is super beneficial. We’re also very in tune emotionally and even physically, so one picks up the slack for the other if they aren’t on their A-Game mentally, physically or emotionally. We’re the best kind of team and neither of us would ever consider going into business with anyone else. HOWEVER - we don’t recommend it for everyone, its the ultimate test of a relationship and you don’t want your business or relationship to suffer as a result of the other.
6. When did you have that “ah-ha” moment and realize your business was going to work, you were finding success with it?
So we’re not sure if we’ve even had that moment yet, as we’re both naturally nervous nellies and never fully comfortable with any level of success - BUT - the day that Alana got to quit her job and come work at the shop full time was a really big deal for us personally and professionally, and we were really proud of how far + fast we’d come to it.
7. Balance can be hard to come by when you're the owner of a small business. Do you believe in it? If so, how do you balance entrepreneurship with a personal life?
We’ll disclaim this answer by saying that we realize that not all businesses are in a business or financial position to be able to do things like say no to opportunities to achieve balance sometimes, especially in a pandemic. But we believe in balance BIG TIME! We are always preaching to new business owners to remember to prioritize themselves before their business. When we decided to open the shop, we had a lot of conversations about prioritizing our personal lives and ensuring balance so that we didn’t get burnt out or grow to resent the business, and we’ve done a fairly good job of doing this. Don’t get us wrong, some times are hard and you’re working long hours and grinding to get it all done, but so long as you make sure to remember that you can’t be doing that all the time, then balance is achievable.
We also have to temper a business owner’s natural inclination to want to do more and make more money - don’t get us wrong, obviously the goal is to make money but there is always a choice between doing more and prioritizing yourself.
We also always say that just because everyone else does things a certain way doesn’t mean we have to. As an example, since day one we have planned two full shop closures each year, for vacation breaks. It allows us to take time off/away and allows us to let our staff have a break too, we for sure lose out on sales for those breaks, but we feel its worth it to help achieve balance.
8. Where do you want to go from here? What are your plans for the future?
Ooh loaded question! For now, we’re just happy to continue treading water through the pandemic and continuing to do a few new things within our current footprint here and there. We’re so appreciative and content to be open and operating and able to pay our team during these weird times, that planning for the future has really become so different than it was in our first year of being open. We sold Pop Cart this year, which has opened up our capacity to be able to focus our time + energy on the future a bit more and we’ll see what comes our way in 2021.
People are always asking if we will open another location but honestly that’s not a part of our agenda currently. We like to be in control of what is happening at the shop in terms of ensuring that our customers are getting quality products and excellent customer service, and we wouldn’t be able to do AS good of a job managing that over multiple locations - but of course, we never say never to anything.
We have lots of ideas for when we eventually live in a covid-less world, but we’ll keep dreaming about those for now!
9. And finally, we have so many people in our community looking to start their own business or are still dreaming up what sort of business they want to start. What advice can you share to others looking to start their own business?
We love talking to people that are starting to think about their own business journey and share our experiences in that regard. We’ve never lived our lives (personally or professionally) the way one is “supposed to” and always taken non-traditional or crooked paths to get to where we are, and we encourage people to do things their own way and outside the norm. We also always suggest that folks start small before FULLY jumping in with both feet. Don’t be in a rush…it’s hard, but good things come to those who wait. If you can start with your own version of “Pop Cart” before getting to your “Black Market” it’s a great way to go! Take the time to really figure things out and test the market and work out the kinks. We’re also big fans of Futurpreneur and Women’s Enterprise Centre, and any other business resources you can tap into - no one can do this alone, and leaning on whatever help you can get it vital!
A huge thank you to Ange and Alana for joining us "on" the Pink Couch this week!
"There is always a choice between doing more and prioritizing yourself"