Good Deeds Make for Good Business
When Jérôme Gagnon-Voyer and his partner, Gelaine Santiago, used their IT and marketing skills to design and launch an information website (ChooseSocial) to tell the stories of social enterprise initiatives in the Philippines, they had no idea that their good deed would lead to a good business.
“We created the website to tell people the story of social enterprises in the Philippines,” said Jérôme. “The website turned out to be very popular and gathered a lot of attention.”
Rural poverty is rampant in the Philippines so many families are using their talents as skilled craftsmen and artisans to support themselves and others. They produce everything from handcrafted wood carvings to exquisite jewelry which, in the past, has been sold primarily to tourists. But increasingly, the products are in demand in North America where socially conscious people find they can have an impact in the under-developed world by choosing to buy gifts for more than their aesthetic value.
“By talking about our project, we got people starting to ask us if they could buy the products…and could we bring the products here,” adds Jérôme. “At first, we said no – it is purely an informative website. But then we thought it would be a good moment to start a business. It seemed like the natural thing to do.”
And with that, Cambio Market was born in October 2015. Cambio is the Spanish word for “change” and while the business was certainly a transformation for Jérôme and Gelaine, that’s not the reason they picked the name.
“We chose the word change because we want to change consumer behaviour,” explains Jérôme. ”For us, it’s important that people buy products and learn the story behind the products. Maybe they are purchased as a way of fixing social issues and changing the world in a way. We want people to think of what came before the product arrived in their hand, who made the product and was the person exploited or are they making a good living. It’s about changing the consumer’s mind about what they purchased so they start thinking about how their products are made. We think that can change behaviour, what type of products they want to buy and what type of questions they will ask. That’s what the change is about.”
Cambio Market started by selling its handcrafted and ethically sourced products online – including home décor items, eco-ethical jewelry, handmade hair accessories and fair trade greeting cards. When the time came to grow the business the direction was obvious – to begin exhibiting at numerous flea markets, pop-up markets, conferences and all types of in-person events in and around Toronto. The pair also uses social media to help grow their business.
“We try to get more people to know about us in person to get word-of-mouth marketing working for us. That was a big growth strategy. We also use social media – Instagram mostly, a bit of Facebook,” says Jérôme. “Our business is a social business in the sense that it’s not a charity model. It’s not people donating money, it’s a business. Artisans are making products, and then we buy and resell them in the Canadian and U.S. markets. We believe that the business has a power to empower people and as a way of giving back, which we find is a more sustainable model than a purely non-profit model.”
Handmade in Peru, this scarf is entirely and solely created by one individual woman – the one who signed it!
Handmade in Philippines. Inabel weaving is at risk of extinction, with only a handful of master weavers left alive.
Like any other business, Cambio Market aims to make the shopping experience delightful for its customers. That means making it easy to pay for purchases at all of their live events. To accomplish this, Cambio Market chose Dream Payments, an intuitive point-of-sale system that is easy to use for merchants and vendors alike.
“It’s reliable and easy to use for the customer,” says Jérôme. “It looks just like a typical debit machine they would find in any other store, so they don’t need any kind of instruction. You put the card in and they type their pin and select their account. It’s very straightforward and it’s reliable. The debit transactions go through and reliability is extremely important.”
The ability to accept debit and credit cards was especially important to Cambio Market.
“I’ve noticed at shows throughout the year that people would sometimes only have debit and it started happening more and more,” said Jérôme. “We could say there’s a bank machine across the street and people would say they’d come back, but never did. The biggest reason we went to Dream Payments was not to lose those kinds of sales.”
Losing sales is the last thing any start-up wants, but even on days when things are challenging, Jérôme says it’s easy to stay on track.
“We think about our partners – all those people we’ve worked with since we started. We know all the good things we’ve done with those partners and how we got to know them, how we got to visit some of them. We know already that our work has created an impact. It’s good to have a business where you’re really proud of the business practices. We are really proud of our products and the story behind them. The reason we love what we do is because we can always remind ourselves of those things.”