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Local business drives passion of Cochrane entrepreneur

If there's anyone that loves promoting local businesses, it's Quirk Social owner Kailey Mitchell.

Kailey Mitchell loves local.

As the owner of Quirk Social — the brainchild behind the Social Spot Marketplace, which offers local vendors of all varieties a space to promote and sell their products — Mitchell has made it part of her mission to elevate other businesses as part of her own.

“I grew up here, so I’ve seen businesses come and go,” she said. “We’ve had lots of small businesses that just don’t last unfortunately — rent is really high. It’s always been important to me to support local and to put that emphasis on other small business.”

Mitchell started Quirk Social, a social media and events management company, as a side gig while working in the corporate world. She decided to take the leap at the end of January 2020 to run her business full-time, leaving her office job behind.

In the beginning, her focus was on working with organizations like the Cochrane and Area Events Society (CAES) and Cochrane Tourism to plan and promote community-driven events. By fall of that year, Quirk Social also began hosting its own events at the Social Spot, a retail space Mitchell rented out and branded in a building at the end of 1 Street West.

“We started the vendor Christmas market that year and that was because of COVID,” she said. “A lot of the markets had been cancelled and we had the right space for it.

“That really blew up a whole other side of things for me and then we decided to stay there last year. I started taking on more clients and got busy, so I had to hire somebody else part-time at that point.”

Mitchell and her team set dates for more markets to continue attracting vendors and customers. Some were aimed at seasonal events like spring and Valentine’s Day, others drew in shoppers in search of used clothing.

“For me, the event stuff has always been my passion,” said Mitchell. “Bringing people together has always been really important to me.

“With the markets I realized we were still doing that and bringing people together through COVID has been huge. We found ways to adapt instead of just letting things fall to the wayside to wait it out.”

About 90 to 95 per cent of customers who come to visit any of the markets, buy something, she said.

“Those people are coming to support these local businesses, which supports our community and our neighbours.”

The Pop-Up Holiday Market at the end of 2021 was the final event Quirk Social ran out of the 1 Street West building before Mitchell and her team moved out in search of another space.

“I was trying to find somewhere else we could host events, we had to be out of there by Dec. 31,” she said. “But I couldn’t find anything.”

On Dec. 22, after having lunch downtown, she noticed a spot above MacKay’s Ice Cream for rent, and by Feb. 2, Quirk Social was celebrating the grand opening of its new Social Spot Marketplace location.

“We had to paint, get stuff set up, get our vendors in here,” said Mitchell. “But we had such a good response from our vendors because the way that we’re doing it differently than other places — they pay a monthly rent for their spot and then anything we sell, goes in their pocket.”

The Social Spot does not take any commissions from its current list of 15 vendors. Right now, their clients rent payments cover only the cost of the company’s operations.

Mitchell said there’s potential that model could change, but to her, the goal isn’t profit.

“To me, those businesses now are making that money and they’re helping bring people in. If I know my costs are covered and it’s supporting local businesses — that’s what I’m all about anyway.”

Growing the company over the past two years has allowed Mitchell to create positions for four other staff members. She was in the process of hiring for two of them — a social media assistant and an operations manager — at the time of publication.

“It’s something our team is really proud of; to have made it through and to have continually grown through the pandemic,” she said.

Mitchell said they’re always looking for new vendors. Each new client signs off on a three-month contract with the Social Spot Marketplace and can choose to apply for more time in the space.

“We want there to be fresh stuff in here, too,” she said. “It’s not always going to be the same people in here and that gives us an opportunity to promote and elevate all sorts of different businesses in town.”

Mitchell’s goal is to eventually find another space that is better catered to events but looks forward to seeing how the marketplace performs throughout the summer, given its prime location downtown above MacKay’s — arguably one of Cochrane’s largest tourist draws.

In addition, to hosting markets, other events and providing local vendors a place to sell, Quirk Social also hosts monthly Wine, Women and Wellbeing workshops.

The goal of the events is to connect local women of all walks of life, not just business owners, allowing them the opportunity to network and listen to different guest speakers.

They are hosting the next workshop on Tuesday, March 8, at Half Hitch Brewery, which also happens to be on International Women’s Day.

Mitchell said that as a female entrepreneur who has found success, she is always trying to inspire others to pursue their dreams.

“I’m always trying to encourage people to follow their passion because you only live once, so why hate what you’re doing,” she said.

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