By Srianthi Perera, Contributor
Chandler resident Raina Dodge began honing her entrepreneurial skills when she ran a lemonade stand at age 5.
Now, as the owner of The Collective Market, a shop curated with local, artisanal, and handmade products at Chandler Fashion Center, Dodge helps 46 small businesses as well as her own get much needed exposure.
The Collective Market sells crochet and macrame with a modern twist; woodwork creations such as flags and backyard games like cornhole and yard Yahtzee; seasonal decorative goods, soaps, candles, silk plants, blankets, heavy metals with a female flair fashioned into signs, keychains and bookends, and children’s items.
Dodge also sells her own products – quality baby blankets and lovies at an affordable price, also hair bows and headbands.
The inventory rotates every few weeks.
“The driving factor behind The Collective Market was the desire of my heart to help other small businesses (like mine) to amplify their small business presence (and sales) by offering them a venue to display and sell their goods,” said Dodge, a mother of three who graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business.
A year ago, when she looked for a space to establish her store, the first place she looked to, and selected, was the Chandler Fashion Center.
She created the concept, drew up a business plan, executed contracts and opened the doors as a pop-up market in November.
“We received such a tremendous positive response through the holidays that we decided to remain open,” she said. “We recently doubled our space providing more opportunities for vendors.
At first, The Collective occupied 1,700-square-feet of retail floor space. Now, after renovations, it spreads across nearly 4,000-square-feet.
The generous space has allowed the business to add do-it-yourself workshops and a roster of classes as well.
Dodge is buoyed by the progress of the last year.
“Everyone’s definition of success is different,” she said. “Some people say just opening a business is successful. I am so excited about how far we have come in a short amount of time.”
Dodge felt she had more to do to raise brand awareness.
“As soon as I walked into our space, I knew it could be better. After the renovation, my vision is now a reality. I’m working hard to make it an amazing space for both our customers and the small businesses community,” she said.
Amy Weber of San Tan Valley is one of the small businesses that displays and sells work at The Collective. Weber creates jewelry, one-of-a kind pieces with a definite flair, and has named her small business Salt & Sass.
“My business came about when I was going through my mother’s jewelry, after she passed, looking for something that I could make into an everyday piece for myself. Something I could look at, and just feel her in that moment,” Weber said.
The idea caught on and soon she was selling to her friends and at farmer’s markets.
Weber likes selling at The Collective.
“It’s a fun and upbeat atmosphere, and it’s new every time I’m there,” she said. “The vendors are constantly bringing in new and special items. Interacting with the customers is a lot of fun.”
Dodge said that she has two main aims with the store.
The first is to create an environment for small businesses to connect with the local Chandler community by providing a space for them to sell their goods.
The second is to enable small businesses to connect to each other.
“Sometimes, as a small business, you feel like you are off on an island. I wanted to bring people together so they could bounce ideas off each other, help each other out, genuinely create friendships that will last,” she said.
“Women seem to band together when they come together and work towards a common goal. There is strength in numbers. Yes, we do have that at The Collective.”
Asked if she felt the competition from the various art markets in the East Valley, Dodge replied in the negative.
“My goal has always been to support local artisans. We provide a fun and creative environment where our partnering businesses can connect with our customers,” she said.
She is planning special events – an Oktoberfest and a Winter Wonderland – to give additional small businesses that are currently not vendors in the store an opportunity to connect with the community.
Dodge employs a couple of part-timers, but her main staff is the small business owners. All 46 – two men and 44 women – work a shift.
“I think it is important to work the store, not just sell there. I believe it helps keep them connect to the customers and our community. They can see why a customer is purchasing something, what is their motivation and their desire,” she said.
What are the challenges in operating this store?
“I am never really “off”! People are my number one priority. I always make myself available for the small businesses in my store. Since we are at the mall, we are open seven days a week. If anyone gets sick, I absolutely must cover – regardless of what my plans are,” she said.
Also, it’s tricky to balance the store with her family. She has an understanding husband, Jason, and three young children, and everyone’s needs must be met.
Weber said she is happy with her involvement in the store. “The shop is super busy,” she said.
Customers are the best marketing tool.
“They tell their friends, or share on social media about the amazing artists we have in the shop, causing more wonderful people to visit us in the mall,” she said.
The best things about being a part of the group? “I love the connection to my fellow small business owners, and the feeling of community that the shop brings,” Weber said.
The Collective Market is at 3111 W. Chandler Blvd., at the Chandler Fashion Center, across from Pottery Barn.
An Octoberfest, with 50 local small businesses participating, takes place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. October 28 and 29 at Chandler Fashion Center in the covered area.