Katharina Otulak, founder of FAIR/SQUARE online retail store for Canadian vegan products, is excited to be opening a brick-and-mortar store in Woodstock when the current lockdown lifts. While the store was a dream of hers that didn’t seem realistic, Otulak said the help she received from Innovation Guelph’s Rhyze Ventures program made it happen sooner than she’d expected.
When she heard about the Rhyze Ventures program, Otulak said the duration of it appealed to her because of the depth of support she would receive. She valued the lectures, mentorship, training and project work that was personalized for her business. Operating the online business from her home, FAIR/SQUARE was outgrowing the space. “I knew I needed warehouse space, but the program accelerated our pace,” she said. During the program her company celebrated getting the new space, incorporating the company, hiring their first part-time employee and creating a meaningful financial forecast.
When COVID happened last year the company pivoted introducing monthly home delivery which they have continued. Otulak credits that decision with increasing her customer base. Between 2019 and 2020 sales quadrupled as FAIR/SQUARE introduced refrigerated products like vegan meat and cheese. “We can ship refrigerated products Canada-wide,” she explained. “The growth seemed to be fueled by the change in customers increased willingness to shop online because of COVID.”
Valuing the 1:1 mentorship, Otulak said Rhyze Ventures also provided opportunity for participants to learn from and help each other through sharing challenges and cheering each other on. Her IG mentor Carol Johnston’s breadth of experience with the grocery industry proved invaluable providing a better understanding of the industry that ensures Otulak can continue to benefit from her business relationships.
Another mentor, Hari Stirbet, helped with sales analysis and creation of a sales forecast that proves accurate as FAIR/SQUARE achieves its goals. “This tool allows me to confidently order enough inventory so I don’t miss out on sales,” Otulak said.
A core element of FAIR/SQUARE is their commitment to giving back, their progressive principles that support small vendors and producers, and their commitment to ethically sourced products. The company gives 10 per cent of their proceeds to the vegan community through a food bank, farm animal sanctuary and animal justice organization.