Halifax, Nova Scotia is an international port city with a historical flair for multi-cultural experiences. Halifax is a regional city of nearly half a million population dating back to the first sailing ships.
It is in this geographical context of global trade links and founding cultures that we find The Italian Market restaurant with a unique foodservice business footprint.
"We are the only true Italian product market east of Montreal. We get orders for our Italian products from all over the Atlantic region from new customers that hear of us from our customer base. Some customers find us on the Internet too as we have put a lot of effort into our website," says Ron Marks.
Ron and his wife Julie Marks are 24/7 drivers of their business growth in food service operations. They are running a demanding business while parenting their three young children, ages 7, 10, and 13.
The Marks as a team have been growing their foodservice business for the past seven years at a brisk pace. Even talking to either of them is a brisk, business-like experience. When asked how the Italian Market is doing as a business, Ron points to a 65% growth in volume over their seven year ownership period.
A year ago in December 2014, the Marks opened a second location in the Barrington Place pedway. Their new location is sited along a strategic elevated walkway connector among Halifax's downtown offices. Their kiosk was an instant hit with customers and is now a source of brand awareness presence for new potential customers.
Both locations showcase for their extensive product line up of baked from-scratch-recipes.
"Every morning fresh baked breakfast products go out the bakery side of the business. We deliver to major institutions around Halifax including; Dalhousie U, Second Cup locations, and the Nova Scotia Community College. We currently ship 8,000 pieces a week from our bakery operation, says Ron.
Part of what makes The Italian Market unique as a food business is their integration of customer sales channels. Each sales channel is anchored around carefully researched Italian product features.
"We have a 45 seat restaurant that opens at 8 am for breakfast through to closing at 7 PM. We have an extensive Deli counter that attracts quick service customers as well as our unique grocery product sales. The grocery product side causes many distant customers to order from us by phone or online, and then they come into visit our restaurant when they visit Halifax".
"Our city-wide catering business is becoming a huge business growth area for us recently. We also have a successful wholesale product sales operation and a bakery service with its separate commercial customer base.
"It is a lot of work to keep up with these essentially five related businesses while employing 35 full-time staff. We love what we do. Loving what you do makes it fun".
"Each of our food product channels serves a different customer interest. All our products are anchored in authentic Italian culture sourced directly from Italy. Authentic Italian food products are the key ingredient to our sales success", says Ron.
"Sourcing and maintaining authentic Italian food products is fundamental to our strategy. We have researched and travelled to Italy. We learned that almost every small village in northern or southern Italy had their unique recipes, and we pay attention to these small details". Customers familiar with Italy mention our attention to cultural detail in our product choice, preparation, and menu".
"Everything we make or sell is authentic Italian product as is everything we make from our batch recipes. This approach results in a higher labor cost, but the result is that customers love our products, and keep coming back. They tell their friends, and our volume growth speaks for itself."
Julie and Ron Marks
The Marks work as a team. Ron spent a long career in the foodservice industry with large corporate agendas and timelines. He wanted to do things differently. So Ron convinced Julie that The Italian Market, which has been existence for 20 years, was the right place for them.
"Julie's efforts with the website, and being responsive on social media has paid off. Julie answers every comment made on social media, and her effort there has made a huge difference in brand promotion".
"For us, we work our business day by day and pay attention to what customers are saying they want. You have to keep your finger on the pulse of your business. It takes a lot of time. We work it every day because it is a passion with us".
Ron says he appreciates the face to face small business experience of being a UNIPCO member.
" I believe in UNIPCO as a concept. I am not a believer in big companies can do more or better than a company the size of UNIPCO. I am a face to face guy. The savings are good, and I appreciate the work they do on monitoring product pricing".
"Companies change product prices without notice, and I don't want to spend my time staying on top of pricing changes. I have a lot of demands on my time to run my business".
"UNIPCO does a fine job of product price monitoring. I like being a partner with UNIPCO. They ( UNIPCO staff) fit my old school style of doing business with people that build a relationship".
"In my own business I get requests from potential customers that are unusual, maybe not even something we carry at the moment. My style is to say let me work on that and get back to you, and I do. This is a hard business to be successful in, but I have a passion for it", says Ron.
"Over on the other side of the house, Julie answers every customer email, and she responds to every comment, good or bad. We are fortunate that customer comments are mostly all good, and that makes our efforts every day worthwhile".
"We have a passion for the food business."