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Staples International Women’s Day Spotlight – Jody Steinhauer, The Bargains Group

Today, in celebration of International Women’s Day, we find out how one philanthropic entrepreneur built a profitable business on her passion for charity and love of a bargain

She’s been named Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, and Humanitarian of the Year. She’s both president and CBO (Chief Bargain Officer) of the Bargains Group—an award-winning discount wholesale and promotional products company—that has been credited with revolutionizing the Canadian business landscape. But above all else, she’s a mother and an empowered female entrepreneur. Since launching her business 25 years ago, the Bargains Group has outgrown its original premises (her former apartment) and has now morphed into a multi-million dollar-a-year business. Today, Jodi shares her entrepreneurial journey with us, offers her best advice for achieving work-life balance, and explains why for her, giving back makes good business sense.

What inspired you to start your own business?

It was a combination of my passion for helping people and my knack for being an expert in spotting a bargain, coupled with the right opportunity at the right time.

How did you get your business off the ground?

Fortunately, I was able to get my business off the ground immediately as the company I had been working for went bankrupt. By leveraging my solid reputation with my vast network of business suppliers and customers, the Bargains Group was born!

How long have you been in business?

This is our 26th year in business. Time flies…

What is it like being a female entrepreneur?

I believe that women still face challenges in business as it’s still a very male-dominated world, but I do feel like it’s changing. One of the things I often say is that a woman’s intuition is never wrong, and we need to overcome our fear of failure. Also, our ability to ask for help when it’s needed can also help us get further ahead than our male counterparts.

Who is your ideal customer?

Anyone wanting a bargain—and let’s face it, who doesn’t love a bargain? Businesses, service providers, and not-for-profits love that they can get good old-fashioned customer service with the Bargains Group. Also our customers love that they can purchase very low minimums, but still be made to feel special as though were buying thousands of units.

What makes your business unique?

We’re often told that our business is unique due to the fact that we truly help our clients get the best bargain for their dollar using our traditional, one-to-one customer service, which seems to have become rare due to everyone automating their processes and outsourcing that human interaction. We also truly believe that giving back makes great business sense, and have created many programs and projects (such as the Full Circle Donation Program, Project Winter Survival, and Project Water) and have founded the national charity ‘Engage and Change’.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

I’ve been blessed with receiving several prestigious business awards, such as Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 award, Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award, and the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s Business Leader of the Year award, among many others. I’m also very proud of the fact that after a great deal of practice, I have figured out how to run a profitable business while making an impact in my local community. This gives me an incredible sense of personal fulfillment and pride, as I have the ability to help change lives. Fourteen years ago I founded two charitable projects—Project Winter Survival and Project Water—which are now being run by the national charity, Engage and Change, which I founded in 2013.

How do you find having to juggle your home life with your business?

I try to run my personal life in much the same way as I run my business. It’s all about planning—without planning, my life would be a complete circus. I always ensure I commit to spend one-on-one time with both of my children individually while still trying to find some time for me. Learning how to delegate, and also making friends with the mothers in my neighbourhood has been instrumental in helping me become not only a successful businesswoman, but a mother as well.

What marketing channels have worked best for getting the word out about your business?

Many channels working together in conjunction—not just one. Word-of-mouth marketing and referrals have worked very well for us. Emails and fax broadcasting and have now morphed into social media, but we also get an incredible amount of business from my many speaking events, as well as online with group buying sites.

What’s the best thing about owning your own business?

Being able to be paid to come to work everyday and build my daily activities around what challenges me, fulfills me, and allows me to make a difference to both the Bargains Group family and my clients. I also love having my very own sandbox where I can innovate on a daily basis, give back to those that need our help, and mentor and empower my employees to do the same.

How has your business evolved over time?

When we first started the company we bought and sold bargains, wholesale, to retailers across Canada. We then branched out into helping the not-for-profit sector with the supplies the desperately needed but did not get donated (things like socks and underwear for the homeless). This sector of the company was a result of my volunteer work, where I discovered a huge need for these supplies. We then branched out into custom-designed promotional products, and our website evolved from a simple brochure to an ecommerce site. At the same time, the company also expanded from just one member of staff (me) to over 25. No matter where our office is located or how many members of staff we have, the culture and core fundamentals of the business have always remained the same—making people happy by allowing them to save money without sacrificing quality.

Is running your business harder than you thought it would be?

To be honest, that question has never crossed my mind. As an entrepreneur, I often genuinely forget that I’m working, as when you absolutely love what you do, there’s an invisible line between work and play.

What challenges do you think female business owners face?

I think many female business owners lack confidence and are sometimes adverse to taking risks—especially when it comes to seizing opportunities that will enable them to grow and take them beyond their comfort zone. Accessing capital and taking on debt for future reward seems to be an area of discomfort for many women business owners I speak with.

What is your best time management tip?

Go ugly early. Tackle the big tasks early in the day when you’re fresh, sharp, and ready to take them on.

To what do you attribute your success so far?

I attribute my company’s success to a few things, namely my old-fashioned values of working hard and treating others how you would like to be treated, and the ability to recognize opportunities when they arise.

What are your goals for the future?

Our ultimate goal is to increase our online presence to automate sales so that we can eventually become theAmazon of the Canadian wholesale industry, and continue to grow our charity, Engage and Change, so that it becomes a household name.

How has Staples helped you ‘make more happen’ for your business?

We love shopping at Staples—both online and in store—as they help us work more efficiently and save money. Staples is a one-stop shop and has helped save us a great deal of time and money over the past 25 years.

If you could offer one piece of advice to female entrepreneurs, what would it be?

Trust your gut—women’s intuition trumps any amount of data or research I have ever seen! Do what you truly believe in; if you’re not passionate, don’t build a business around it. If you are passionate, truly believe in something, and work hard enough, that is a surefire recipe for success.

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