Brandy Tipper and her husband found themselves in a difficult situation when the Covid-19 pandemic struck in early 2020. Their 17-year-old son was finishing up his first year at carpentry school when everything shut down. His classes were cut short and many of the opportunities he was looking forward to after getting his diploma were no longer available. The renovations company Brandy and her husband had owned for the last decade was also out of work. So we asked, "What can we do to support him and still make money?”
The Tippers decided to combine their skills and started making and refurbishing furniture. After early success, they began to look for a building to run the new business out of. Then, when a large warehouse became available, Brandy felt inspiration strike:
“It was obviously too big for our needs, but it got my brain going and I couldn’t shake the thought of having a multi-vendor marketplace,” Brandy explains. “I knew that there were other people out there during Covid who probably were in the same situation [as us]. They didn’t have a place to sell their items, or they were starting a new business themselves—a lot of people got into crafty things, passions, and hobbies. So we knew that this was something we needed in our community.”
The Hidden Gem opened on July 1, 2021, and currently supports over 80 local vendors in the Okotoks area. The vendors offer everything from crafts and furniture to jewelry and skincare.
Since then, the family has opened a second store in a nearby town and are currently opening The Swap Shop, a space attached to the original store where they can sell antiques and more of their refurbished and remade furniture. The Hidden Gem now hosts an outdoor market every Saturday that offers farmers’ market fare alongside their usual wares.
“We do everything we can [to support the vendors],” Brandy says. “This has become a really big passion of ours–to support them–and try to help them grow. We have two rooms where we are able to offer workshop classes and we allow our vendors to use those spaces for free. We encourage them to use the space for taking product photos, shooting videos, and meetings of their own.” She continues: “Now, we’re starting to put together classes that we can offer our vendors like social media classes, product photo classes, even making mailing lists–anything that’s going to help them boost their business. These are things not everybody has knowledge about, but that might be able to help these small businesses grow.”
The Hidden Gem is set up like a typical craft market where each business rents its own stall, but the vendors are not required to be there in person. Instead, Brandy manages the inventory of each vendor and processes their sales all through her Clover POS system. This helps Brandy keep things organized and allows her vendors more time to create products and grow their businesses.
Brandy uses Clover Inventory and Reporting to keep track of her vendor’s individual sales. “We keep each of our vendors as a category in the system,” she explains. “We put each of their items in their category, and Clover tracks all of their inventory. Then, at the end of the month, I can go in and run an item sales report–broken down by SKU–and email it to them.”
Brandy uses the information to help her vendors improve their business strategies. “If their sales have gone up or down, we can look back and say, ‘Well, last month you did a lot better. What was different?’”
Now that the Tippers have realized their goal of serving the artisan communities of Alberta, the family is excited to finally spend more time on their true passions. Their daughter is opening a record store in the front room of The Swap Shop, while their son is spending more time building and refurbishing furniture with his parents.
“We’ve grown so much, and helping our vendors is such a passion of ours. Now that we have more time, we’ll be able to focus on what’s in our hearts—making and refinishing furniture and turning old things into new things.”