While the significance of shopping locally became apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, Erin Maynes believed in the importance of supporting small businesses long before it became a trend.
As the founder of FoodiePages, a gift delivery company that specializes in partnering with up-and-coming independent Canadian brands, Maynes has spent the last eight years searching for the best small businesses that consumers should know about.
With much of the country still in some sort of lockdown, FoodiePages has become a way for Canadians to both support small businesses and each other, all from the comfort of their own homes.
“People want to stay connected right now but they can’t see each other. Whether that’s in a business sense with clients or partners or teams working remotely, or just in our personal relationships, where you can’t go to the baby showers and weddings that you had in your calendar, you still want to let people know that you’re thinking of them,” said Maynes. “So, I think the timing for what we’re doing right now has never been more relevant.”
Each box, specialized for things like Virtual Cocktail Hour, a Night In, Healthy Snacks, and more, contains products carefully that are carefully chosen by Mayne and the FoodiePages team, to ensure the items are high quality and useful for the gift recipient, “We’re in this age of consumerism, where now everything is available to us all the time, so we try to be conscious curators,” said Maynes.
How did she get so good at finding the best niche brands in Canada? FoodiePages used to operate as a marketplace that connected consumers to the very brands that are now carried in their gift boxes. The change in operations came at a point when Mayne says they realized gift boxes that supported Canadian small businesses were what consumers wanted and needed.
Like many business owners, Maynes has had to pivot, but she’s remained true to her mission of supporting small businesses. For this week’s Women Who Lead Spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Erin Maynes, Founder of FoodiePages, about uplifting small businesses and connecting Canadians.
What was your background before starting FoodiePages?
I went to business school and I started a corporate job as so many new grads do. I worked for one of Canada’s largest restaurant companies in marketing and strategy. I guess I have always had a passion for food and restaurants and the experiences that bring people together around food. I was new to living in Toronto, exploring the city, shopping out a lot of indie independent places, and I was really inspired by all these small businesses. That was the inspiration for FoodiePages really: to kind of create a place where Canadians could connect with indie brands and provide brands with a new channel to commercialize their products. So, I ended up leaving my corporate job and starting FoodiePages eight years ago.
You were ahead of everyone, already trying to shop local and support small businesses.
Right now, the conversation is all around buying local, especially since the pandemic has started. What we’ve been doing has always kind of always been rooted in that. Shopping locally has always been my personal motivation. Eight years was a long time ago, and there wasn’t near the number of incredible small food businesses that there are today—it’s really exploded! When I first started, we were looking more to other parts of the world, like Brooklyn or London, for really cool indie brands, but the number of brands and how cool it is to shop locally is totally relevant right now. Shopping local is meaningful in a different way to everybody. The whole market has grown, which probably means that there are a lot more resources and support for starting new businesses as well now.
And with all those options now, because like you said, shopping local and just the ability to have your own small business has boomed with e-commerce capabilities, how do you go about choosing what brands or products to include with FoodiePages?
I think that’s the most exciting part. And probably what’s also changed the most in the last eight years. We’re in this age of consumerism, where now everything is available to us all the time, so we try to be conscious curators. As people have more stuff available to them, they’re like, “I don’t need this stuff. Don’t send me this stuff. I don’t want the waste. I don’t need tacky ‘swag’ that I’ll just end up throwing out.” It’s better, in my opinion, to look for and spend money on quality.
Ultimately, we probably work with at least 500 brands across Canada, mostly food and drink. We’ve also branched out beyond that to wellness, home, and beauty. So, we work across all different categories of brands, and we look for things that ultimately have great branding, great design, and great functionality—something that we know people aren’t going to throw out. It comes down to products that we think are awesome or delicious.
Was there any big hurdle or lesson that happened within the last eight years to get FoodiePages to where it is today?
I mean, we did change our strategy. Initially, FoodiePages was launched as a marketplace, like Etsy. We were connecting people directly with the makers and then you could buy indie chocolate or artisanal gems. But ultimately, that’s not what the market wanted. I think my biggest lesson—which is such a basic lesson in business—was product-market fit. Knowing what your customers want to buy, and then making sure that your product is positioned uniquely to address that.
I think we’ve seen a huge growth in our business over the last nine months and I feel really lucky to say that because a lot of businesses have been challenged. But again, it’s just a case of the right product at the right time—people want to stay connected right now but they can’t see each other. Whether that’s in a business sense with clients or partners or teams working remotely, or just in our personal relationships, where you can’t go to the baby showers and weddings that you had in your calendar, you still want to let people know that you’re thinking of them. So, I think the timing for what we’re doing right now has never been more relevant.
When coupled with the conversation around buying local, people are really understanding it is like a make-or-break time right now in small business. So, we’re seeing a great response to what we’re doing. I think it all comes down to having something relevant to the time and meaningful to what people are looking for.
You guys recently had a box that was full of female-founded brands, why was creating that important to you?
Most of the brands that we work with just happened to be women-owned, I think it’s the reality of a lot of small businesses. At the start of the pandemic, one of the women we work with, the founder of a brand called Jing Well, came to me like, “Since FoodiePages has so many relationships with so many vendors, why don’t you do something in the wellness space around women, specifically?” And I thought it was a great idea. So, she kind of spearheaded that.
We got a great group of women-owned, Toronto-based brands together and we launched a gratitude gift box. I think if there’s one thing, 2020 has taught all of us, it’s that we need to be grateful for each other, and also have gratitude towards ourselves and take it easy on ourselves.
The idea was really to have a wellness-inspired box that supports all these women-owned brands. I think there’s been a lot of conversation lately about which small businesses are most more adversely impacted by the pandemic; the reality of women-owned businesses is that a lot of women are also juggling families and kids at home. From what I’ve seen, there are more adverse effects on women-owned brands and minority-owned brands during the pandemic. So, the gratitude gift box was a way for us to create something to help further showcase and support these amazing women-owned businesses.
On a more personal note, as the world has been flipped upside down, what have you been doing to help you stay productive and inspired during this time?
So much of what I where I draw inspiration from is the businesses that we work with. We work with so many amazing businesses and watching each of them, how they’re pivoting and managing, and talking to them because they’re also friends, inspires me. I think a big part of it is just listening and watching and seeing how other people are reacting and coming up with new ideas, as we did with the gratitude gift box.
I think if you’re not collaborating in this day and age, you’re not moving forward. So, we always want to be part of the conversation. I think our business has done a good job of kind of morphing to continue to do that. I also have two young kids, a one-year-old and a three-year-old, so you can’t get too caught up in the stress of work and the path forward when you also have a family. It is a balance.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started FoodiePages?
To trust my instinct. I think we all have this basic instinct about what we should be doing or what’s right or wrong when making a decision. I would lean harder into trusting myself and in my instinct.
Along those same lines, throughout your career, or maybe even before that, has there ever been a piece of advice that you’ve received, that you lean on?
That is a piece of advice I received, actually [to trust my instinct], so I think that that is it.
When you’re an entrepreneur and you’re going out, chasing a new business idea, there are a lot of hurdles in the beginning. It’s a lot of work. Have the confidence to trust your instincts in why you pursued it in the first place.
Also, remember that you’re not alone. A lot of solo founders can often feel isolated, especially when times are tough—and it will be a rollercoaster—but remember that you’re not alone and reach out to family and friends if needed.
Is there a woman who leads in your life that inspires who you are today?
My mom for sure. My mom has been a part of FoodiePages since the beginning, in different roles, and inspires me to lead. She’s the ultimate career family woman who can balance it all and I love working with her.
Is there anything we haven’t touched on that you’d like to talk about today?
I’m just happy to be a part of the conversation around the importance of supporting local brands right now. I think that’s ultimately what FoodiePages is: a business that supports other small businesses. We’re really happy to have opportunities like to work with new customers and clients and new brands and to be part of that conversation that’s so important in retail.