More and more, Canada Post is taking on a new role: discovering small and start-up retailers in any corner of the country and reaching out to them to see if we can help them succeed in the digital economy. Mostly this help comes in the form of shipping, e-commerce and logistics support. But just as often it’s about the details – like ensuring the online orders they are sending to their customers are properly covered from store to truck during a Vancouver Island rainstorm.
In the Spring 2016 issue of Canada Post’s Delivering the Online World magazine, we profiled Olive the Senses, a small olive oil and vinegar retailer based in Victoria, B.C. The company had just recently launched its online channel. You can read the story, as it appeared in the magazine, below.
Start with a niche product, mix in multiple touchpoints, and top with community – this west coast start-up proves it’s a winning recipe
When creating their fresh olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting room in Victoria, B.C., Emily Lycopolus and her husband, Stephen, weren’t exactly sure who their customers would be. As it turns out, just about everyone is a fan.
“Once I saw a mom and she had her baby with her in a carrier,” says Lycopolus. “She fed the little one a spoonful of peach white balsamic vinegar and the smile on the baby’s face was so sweet. We realized that anyone who loves really good food and cares where it comes from could be our customer.”
The duo opened Olive the Senses almost four years ago after returning from Europe where they had spent time with Stephen’s Italian relatives, who owned an olive grove.
“We moved back here and we couldn’t find real, fresh olive oil,” says Lycopolus, noting that the best olive oil should be thick, rich, creamy and less than one year from harvest. “So we started importing it and opened our own store.”
More than a store
But what they have built goes far beyond the conventional store concept. “When people walk in the door we want them to feel like they’re getting a hug,” Lycopolus says. “We don’t want them to feel marketed to when they come here. We want them to come and hang out with us and to be part of the community.”
So Olive the Senses, whose playful name mirrors the owners’ sense of fun, is also an event space, a cooking school and a philanthropic partner that has helped feed almost 45,000 people in need through its commitment to donate a portion of every sale to global food initiatives. As well, customers can buy Lycopolus’s The Olive Oil and Vinegar Lovers’ Cookbook, which was released last November.
Online, customers can connect through the blog and multiple social media channels, or try one of the 300-plus posted recipes (balsamic caramel popcorn balls, anyone?). As of last fall, they can also place online orders.
The company has always attracted a sizeable number of tourists. Even Princess Cruises lists the store as an excursion destination in the port of Victoria, tempting passengers to “try olive oil gelato, sample aged balsamic vinegar ‘caviar’ pearls and indulge in dark chocolate balsamic vinegar.” So the online channel was the perfect way to turn these shoppers who would otherwise just pass through and lament the thought of returning to regular oils, into a loyal customer base.
Finding the right partner
Like many new e-commerce ventures, Olive the Senses experienced a few hiccups when it started fulfilling online orders. The biggest challenge came during the December rush, when the store had to switch delivery companies and was shipping up to 200 packages a day.
“We got in touch with Canada Post, and they came and jumped through hoops for us,” Lycopolus says. “They helped us install new software and made sure everything was streamlined and ready to go.”
A high point over that stressful time, Lycopolus says, was during a rain storm when the store’s pickup driver ensured her that her packages would be covered en route from the store to his truck.
“Previous drivers that we had wouldn’t do that, so we had to make sure the boxes were entirely covered in packing tape because otherwise they would get soggy,” Lycopolus says. “They’ve been wonderful to deal with.”
What’s up next for Olive the Senses? It’s set to add a monthly subscription service to its e-commerce channel in the spring, and will continue to build its online store to serve olive oil and other delicacies to connoisseurs around the globe. It also plans to expand its online product offering by working with other culinary enthusiasts.
“Our goal is definitely to connect with more up-and-coming artisans and work with them as much as possible to give them an outlet for their wares online,” Lycopolus says. “You just can’t have everything in a bricks-and-mortar store because we don’t have that much space, so being able to share more online is exciting.”