Main and Local: Fun Souvenirs of Canadian Cities

Entrepreneur’s corner | Sep 17, 2019

A poutine snowglobe, bagel postcard, and traffic cone salt-and-pepper shakers are a just few Main and Local products, which reflect Canada and Canadian cities with truth and humour.

“People connect to the city in different ways, we create products that enable them to take it home or give it as a gift,” explains David Prince, who co-founded Main and Local about five years ago with his friend Jonathan Goldmaker, along with Andrew Cohen who joined the enterprise shortly thereafter. Appealing to tourists, but mostly locals and expats, “we try and do cool, clever and unexpected products. Our tagline is: souvenirs that don’t sock.”

With the help of PME MTL, the idea evolved from licencing merchandise for local companies to its current focus. Today, from their Chabanel district headquarters, Main and Local’s team of eight create and sell hundreds of original products. Available on their website and in “over 500 doors” throughout Canada (including Hudson’s Bay across Canada, airports, some Indigo stores, and many small independent boutiques), the categories of Canada, Toronto, and Montreal account for about 70 percent of their collection, while Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, and Maritime-themed goods make up the rest.

The company’s name references the idea of local products on main street, and with a flow of witty and creative wares (two words: poutine candles), inspiration varies. “We could be brainstorming with the whole company, or taking a shower, driving our car and something just comes up, we text everybody: ‘What do you think?’ Sometimes people share good ideas too.”

To understand the essence of other Canadian cities, “we generally travel to those cities, do research, contact friends in those cities...”

Steps from idea to finished product

“We see what’s out there, buy a lot of samples, speak to a couple of buyers, go into stores... We always say, ‘how can we make it kind of crazy?’” Then, after the product is designed in-house “we send it generally overseas to sample it out, and usually go back and forth a few times. Then we continue with the merchandising and packaging, it gets sent to sales for pricing, and sourcing gets involved for different sourcing costs and bringing it in by boat, and then we hopefully sell a lot of them!”

Becoming export-ready

As a Montrealer, David Prince takes pride in seeing his hometown souvenirs across Canada. “It’s actually very cool when you have stores, let’s say in Vancouver, buying Montreal products. They’re like, ‘Oh, we love Montreal bagels and smoked meat.’ Seeing Montreal products in stores there, and selling very well, is very nice to see!” 

Eventually exporting the Canadian goods to expats across the US would be fantastic. But we still want to be the number one souvenir company in Canada, and we still have a way to go….

I think it’s very important to get your own backyard in order first, have all your processes in place, and be really sure about selling in the Quebec market, and only then can you approach the export market. Things will not get easier as you export, it will just be the opposite. You really have to practice within your own market and make sure that everything is optimized and efficient, and then you could move to the export market. That’s why we’re hesitant to move even outside of Canada because we could get gobbled up very quickly.

How PME MTL made the difference for Main and Local

“We actually met PME  MTL very early on, they helped us a lot with our business plan and helped us with our pivot (moving towards the different themed categories). They also gave us a lot of constructive criticism, which really helped us. We thought we had a really great idea on our hands, they actually didn’t think so in the beginning, and we took that to heart and started making changes up to the point where they said: ‘Yes, now we feel that this is a good business and we could back you guys,’ which is what happened. This past year we used a couple of their mentors, that have been incredibly helpful.”

What did it strike you the most as a contribution from the market development consultant?

PME MTL market development consultation was very helpful as well. We were offered consulting services at absolutely no charge and the advice we received was priceless. From the get go they understood instinctively where we were at in our business life cycle and challenged us with interesting, thought provoking questions that will lead us in, we believe, to a more efficient and ultimately more profitable path.

David Prince’s advice for start-up entrepreneurs

“Best advice I can give is, there’s a lot of learning to be had for sure, and it’s incredible that if you actually ask for help people are more than happy to help you - including PME MTL. At the beginning we were a little hesitant to ask for help. Once you do, it’s actually amazing what people are willing to give you. Not sure if it’s a Montreal thing but it’s pretty incredible! If somebody’s looking to build a business, it’s totally OK to ask for help and I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much people will help them.”

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Main and Local is supported by PME MTL Centre-Ouest.

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