An exclusive series by Carolyn Grisold that profiles female entrepreneurs in Toronto
Business Name: Toronto Flower Market
Owner: Natasa Kajganic, 28
Type of Business: Flower Market
Neighbourhood: West Queen West
Address: 99 Sudbury
Closest Major Intersection: Queen and Dovercourt
Days of Operation: May 11, June 8, July 13, August 10, September 14 (10am to 3pm)
How did you come up with the business idea?
I started Toronto Flower Market after I came back from visiting a friend in London, England during the Fall of 2012. While there, I visited Columbia Road Flower Market and I couldn’t shake my experience and wondered why Toronto didn’t have a flower market.
I started to research the industry in Ontario and found that 52% of all Canadian greenhouses were located in Ontario, so I had a large base to reach out to. Every piece of information built a stronger case that the Toronto Flower Market should exist. And with the support of the Flowers Canada (Ontario) pickOntario initiative, over Mother’s Day weekend on Saturday May 11, the Toronto Flower Market successfully launched.
“Toronto Flower Market” was the only name that I came up with. It clearly communicates what the business is without explanation, so it was perfect. Thankfully a Google search resulted in no exact match, mostly due to the fact that this kind of market had never existed in the city before, so it definitely felt like my ah-ha moment, and that I was on to something.
What did you do before?
Before this, I didn’t have any direct experience working in the flower industry. I spent the last eight years of my career working at leading advertising and design agencies in Toronto. As a hybrid account manager and producer, I’ve worked with a range of local and international clients where I led cross-craft collaborative teams in a variety of digital, analog and experience based projects.
What drew you into entrepreneurship?
I quit my job last August to become a freelance communication specialist and producer. My initial thought was it would give me an opportunity to do what I already knew while challenging myself to explore some of my other interests.
At the time, there wasn’t a business plan or even a concept for Toronto Flower Market. It wasn’t until I came back from London inspired, that the idea blossomed. I believed I needed to at least try and make it happen, especially since I had the freedom of a freelance schedule.
That’s the best thing about small business ownership and freelance; you manage your schedule and choose what you want to focus on.
Has your work become inseparable from your life?
Because I am still a freelancer, along with running Toronto Flower Market, the market is not my “life” (yet). I work on it every day, but it is important for me to find a balance that enables me to pursue my other interests.
I like being busy and working on multiple projects that differ from one another. They each give me the opportunity to learn new approaches to problems, engage in various points of view, meet new people, enhance my skills and grow, etc. Without the environment of a physical office and a traditional business structure of reporting into someone and learning from them, the combination of freelance and business ownership is ideal for me because it gives me the opportunity to further develop my business acumen.
Do you have the support of any networking groups?
I am currently involved in 30Network, a think tank of entrepreneurs and young professionals under the age of 30 from a variety of sectors. Run by a new global social venture call YouthfulCities, the purpose of 30Network is to explore what makes a city “youthful” and to move generated session ideas into action.
Participants are successful, motivated and opinionated, so the dialogue about the City of Toronto and global youth index is quite engaging. It has been a great reminder that Toronto has brilliant hard-working young entrepreneurs who seek to improve and evolve the city we live in.
What made you chose the West Queen West neighbourhood of Toronto for your market?
I set out with the intentions of finding a beautiful, accessible outdoor setting for the flower market. 99 Sudbury really ended up being the “perfect” location for Toronto Flower Market, to display the plentiful variety of flowers and plants in an urban setting.
The streetcars running along King & Queen would connect to the East and West parts of the city, Dufferin accessed the North and the Jameson exit from the QEW would be convenient for the growers coming into the city.
When I was first introduced to [99 Sudbury owner] Marco Petrocci, it was clear we shared a mutual interest in building something special for the community and offering our shared neighbourhood a new experience that would also attract people from different parts of the city.
Why is it important for small business owners to engage with their communities?
Our economy depends on small businesses and entrepreneurs. Engaging with your community and offering them a high-quality and unique service and product that a “bigger guy” just can’t offer is important. These are the kinds of businesses that make people feel connected to their neighborhoods and give these neighborhoods distinct character. We are lucky in Toronto that there are so many small, local businesses — there is such a diverse range of offerings in every sector of the market.
What kind of challenges did you face when you first opened?
As it was the first ever Toronto Flower Market, the main challenge was getting growers to participate as there wasn’t proof that people would come out, but thankfully I had a strong group of growers who really believed in the idea and signed on right away. At our first market on May 11 over 1,000 people came out to shop and each grower went home happy.
Do you use marketing consultants?
With a background in advertising and design I built out a communications plan for the market then I worked with Courtney Wotherspoon on the branding and design, as well as had Michelle Easton handle all the PR and communications outreach. They both have been extremely instrumental to the success of Toronto Flower Market, ensuring that the vision of the market was accurately conveyed in all aspects of consumer and media related materials.
What do you wish you knew when you started?
It’s okay that you don’t know all the answers or don’t have the connections.
Anyone that is hesitant on starting a business, don’t wait for the stars to align, you’re going to say “I don’t know” a lot and you are going to feel uncomfortable as hell some days, but it’s all part of the process. I found that those moments of uncertainty actually forced me to question my intentions and commitment.
I knew nothing of the flower industry going into this business, but I was interested enough to find out more and how I could do something special with it, so I just went with it and let the expertise of others guide me.
What have you learnt that’s been most surprising?
I continue to be surprised and impressed by how passionate and dedicated people are about supporting local businesses, such as the growers at the Toronto Flower Market. People care that the vendors at the market grow everything themselves and they enjoy engaging with the growers on a personal level.
What do you love most about it?
I love that I spend my time thinking about the market and how I will continue to shape it to be what I’ve imagined. I am responsible for creating something new because I did the work to make it happen, and that is a powerful feeling. It makes all your future goals and dreams seem possible.
What are you goals for the business?
In the short-term, the goal is to continue to have people come out with their friends and family, spend time and shop at the market. It’s easy for people to say the city should have a flower market, but the only way it can sustain itself and become an annual thing (which is also a goal) is by having people attend and support.
As a more overall long-term goal, I’d love for consumers to be more conscious of their flower buying habits. Just by choosing to purchase local/in-season flower and plant varieties, they are supporting the local Ontario-based growers businesses and being more environmentally friendly.
Is there an area of new growth that you’re working on right now?
I approach each monthly market as an opportunity to improve the experience, while maintaining a strict focus on supporting and promoting the Ontario floricultural industry.
The Toronto Flower Market will continue to evolve in ways that benefit local growers and provide consumers with garden/flower/plant related product offerings. The intention is to keep the market as a destination to get locally grown flowers and plants, and only featuring those that contribute to this industry in Ontario.
Happy growers and a sea full of smiling people carrying kraft paper wrapped flowers and plants as they leave the market.
The last Toronto Flower Market of the season takes place Saturday September 14 from 10am-3pm at 99 Sudbury.
Carolyn Grisold is a contributing writer to various print and online publications (Post City Magazines, Toronto.com, Gallery Magazine, Argyle Magazine). Follow Carolyn on Twitter @CityandCharm. To suggest a female entrepreneur, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.