In the era of big box brand-name stores, some local business owners are showing there’s still room for small businesses.
Little Monkey Designs was founded by Diane Reitano. She studied Graphic Design at Durham College and then worked in the field for 10 years. After her first son was born she suffered from post-partum depression and went to group therapy and treatment. After treatment, she decided to resign from her corporate job to start Little Monkey.
Reitano says her son’s favourite stuffed animal Little Monkey inspired her to create a full line of customizable and personalized growth charts, pillows and invitations.
The positive responses she got when introducing her products at local baby shows in Durham sparked the launch of her company.
“I attended a few babies shows and try to sell the things I had, and it went well. So, I asked if I had the opportunity to take an extra year unpaid,” she says. “So, I still had the security, a backup if I want to go back, and I guess you could say the rest is history.”
Reitano says she creates all of the designs for her products and, even though the graphic design has dramatically changed over the last decade, she has tips for those wanting to go into the industry.
“Don’t be afraid to kind of explore, and network with other people. With graphic design you can really go into so many areas,” she says. “There’s so many kinds of avenues you can go to make that dream come true.”
Handmade markets support other members of the community by selling gently used or hand-crafted items sold by individual members or local businesses. The goal of handmade markets is to sell authentic and unique handmade products in hopes of spreading the awareness of local shopping. However, running your own business means being on the clock 24/7.
Being local gives Chez Fleur room to grow in Durham with an online and market shop that sells succulents and cacti to local and international customers. “My friend and I started over a year ago, both of us have other businesses that are our main business and sources of income.” co-founder Martina Warwick says. She says ‘you are always working or having your phone go off. The demand alters with being local, depending on the product.’
Warwick says when owning your own business, there really aren’t any obstacles other than being busy all the time. She says with today’s social media, she is always working.
“In order to start your own business, you have to love what you’re doing, it’s what drives you,” she says. “We both do what we love, and when we are working it actually doesn’t feel like we are. Our Chez Fleur business is our relax time, planting helps us get away and brings our stress levels down.”
Having your own business means having the funds to invest in your company. “The biggest thing is you have to register your business. You have to be invested in it,” she says. She suggests going the “right and difficult path” rather than undercutting it.
“Love what you want to do, and if you don’t, then you’re not going to succeed. The better you present yourself, the better customer you’re going to get,” she says.
Handmade markets are events that happen throughout the year and allow members of the community or smaller businesses to promote and sell their hand-crafted items in a larger setting. She says it’s important that businesses do their part to promote these events so all businesses attending are be exposed to each other’s customers and gain more of their own. Warwick says they believe in community over competition, and that the handmade community is growing in Durham region.
“We want long-time customers and friends, and essentially this is what our community is becoming,” she says.
Chez Fleur and Little Monkey are just two examples of how small business owners are providing one-of-a-kind products. Warwick says people that appreciate the hard work that goes into each piece will choose local over big box.