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From Instagram to IRL Storefronts: How two Canadian small businesses turned their online side hustles into thriving physical spaces

November 3, 2021
How two Canadian small businesses turned their online side hustles into thriving physical spaces.
From Instagram to IRL Storefronts: How two Canadian small businesses turned their online side hustles into thriving physical spaces

The online shop to brick-and-mortar pipeline has been paved by the success of companies like knix, Frank and Oak, and Mejuri. Direct-to-consumer-brands and Instagram-sensations have discovered that sometimes there’s nothing better than experiencing something in person. The ease of setting up a virtual shop means that more people can start their own businesses and follow that dream through to opening up physical storefronts. 


For the businesses we spoke to, running an online marketplace was a great way to test-drive a product and discover what customers responded to. Luanne Ronquillo from Ruru Baked in Toronto started selling baked goods and ice cream online in 2017 as a side hustle while she worked full time at an advertising agency. 


“I was taking orders online for baked goods and ice cream every week and then I’d deliver the orders on Saturday and Sunday in my car. The ice cream ended up doing really well so it took over the business and became our main focus,” said Ronquillo. “It was a side hustle for the first two years. In 2020, when the pandemic hit, I thought this was as good a time as any to take on Ruru Baked full time. It ended up going insanely well and we had to scale and now we have a shop,” she continued. 

“It turned out I was making 300 pints a week. Quadrupling what I was estimating, which meant I was able to save to open up the shop—plus taking out a loan and financing some equipment.” 

Similarly, Shannon Whelan began selling bouquets from the flowers she grew in her backyard, a venture that quickly became a full-time job. Euclid Farms—a popular flower destination that recently opened up shop on Toronto’s Queen St. East—formed.


“In 2017, I started my Instagram account which was basically ‘look at my garden and what I grow.’ From there I started doing markets, I did the Toronto Flower Market and farmer’s markets. People liked how I was designing and through word of mouth, people started asking me to do their weddings.” 


Both entrepreneurs credit a strong brand identity. For Ruru Baked, that took the form of minimalist product shots and a cheeky logo. For Euclid Farms, it was a distinct style of bouquets that veer into works of art. By running successful online companies, they were able to accurately predict the costs and profit margins. Ronquillo and Whelan made the decision to open retail spaces with confidence in their pre-existing business model and customer data. A “calculated risk,” as Whelan referred to it. 

“The demand was insanely high. I could not keep up and I was working seven days a week. I was worried that once we were available all the time people were going to get bored of it and the hype would die down. Which we have seen a little bit of.”

“When the pandemic first started, I remember sitting on my couch and thinking, If i make 300 pints a month and sell them for $12 each, after the cost and the rent for my kitchen space, I’ll probably make around $2800 a month, and I can survive on that,” said Ronquillo. “Then, it turned out I was making 300 pints a week. Quadrupling what I was estimating, which meant I was able to save to open up the shop—plus taking out a loan and financing some equipment.” 


“The demand was insanely high,” she continued.“I could not keep up and I was working seven days a week. I was worried that once we were available all the time people were going to get bored of it and the hype would die down. Which we have seen a little bit of.”


Opening up a physical space is a form of betting on yourself. It’s investing in the hope that the business you created isn’t an online fad, but has the potential of being a neighborhood staple and attracting walk-by traffic. Running a brick-and-mortar shop is a completely different way of doing business, one that involves greeting customers, selling other vendors' wares, and having a larger staff. But by all accounts, it’s a risk that’s worth it. 

“It’s been a huge learning curve, but I’m so glad I made a calculated risk. It was a low risk choice because of all the work I did before, all the budgeting, really putting everything into it.”

For Whelan, her flower shop took off when she started offering porch pick up and deliveries in Toronto during the pandemic—at the expense of the business taking over her entire home. With the demand growing, including multiple requests for special projects, Whelan realized it was time to look for a space to grow into. After coming across a spot across from Trinity Bellwoods Park, she crunched the numbers and realized that the dream of opening up a little store could be a reality. 

“I realized if I did this and the whole thing flopped I would lose sixty thousand dollars. I budgeted everything. I truly believed that it could work. I wouldn’t pay myself for a year. I thought to myself that the only reason I wouldn’t do this is because I’m scared, which isn’t a good reason.” 

“It’s been a huge learning curve, but I’m so glad I made a calculated risk. It was a low risk choice because of all the work I did before, all the budgeting, really putting everything into it,” she said. “I realized if I did this and the whole thing flopped I would lose sixty thousand dollars. I budgeted everything. I truly believed that it could work. I wouldn’t pay myself for a year. I thought to myself that the only reason I wouldn’t do this is because I’m scared, which isn’t a good reason.” 

Is your side hustle business ready to take the next step? If you’ve been in business for at least three months, Thinking Capital can give you simple and fast access to funds from $500 to $300,000 for whatever you need.



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