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July 22, 2010

Five Questions with Shophaven

The latest installment of Five Questions features ShopHaven, an Ottawa gift basket business that's branched out to include a blog with reviews of local products and businesses. Owners Nelly Leonidis and Natasha Lee research, write and maintain the blog -- while Natasha runs the gift basket side of the business.
1. Where did the idea come from?
We have been creating gift baskets for 4 years now, and mostly conducted our business by word-of-mouth recommendations. This year, we decided to move our business online and include some of our research and ideas through the blog.

We saw an opportunity in providing more personalised gift packages, while at the same time focusing on products that people can purchase locally and that’s when ShopHaven came together.

2. Tell me more about the blog and what gets posted there.
As we created gift baskets and provided shopping recommendations, we noticed that our friends were coming to us for ideas on what to buy and why. When we took our business online, a blog seemed like a natural element to include; it’s a place where we can talk about these products to a wider audience instead of one-on-one chats. But it also allows us to have a personal voice and communicate how we feel and what we are doing through the posts. It breaks the old model of having a one-way impersonal product review site.

The blog also gives us the opportunity to share our findings on local business and products made in the area, as well as profile interesting individuals we meet. We refer to this as our “Support Local” initiative, and are looking to focus more on this area in the upcoming weeks.

3. How can local businesses get in touch with you to be reviewed/featured?
Any business interested in getting their product reviewed on ShopHaven can email us at info@shophaven.ca, and we’ll discuss the opportunity with them.

4. Do you have any personal favourite products/services that you've featured?
Natasha: I love the posts we did on our day trip to Cornwall, the “Support People” debut of Angela Auclair, and the review on A Gym Tale. I like visiting and shopping in small business because they feel warmer and more intimate. That’s why we want to focus more on local business and start featuring them in more posts.

Nelly: I'm somewhat of a geek, so my favourite product so far has been the PowerStick. It's designed and made by a local Ottawa company, and has been a regular item in my bag for the past year. The product won a few awards and I'm very proud that it’s our own homegrown success story.

And like Natasha, I also enjoy visiting “mom and pop” shops in Ottawa and the surrounding area. The impact of supporting local businesses is visible as soon as you leave the big stores and head towards smaller more personal shopping communities. I think we can all do our bit to make sure Ottawa maintains some of its entrepreneurial character and unique offerings.

5. What kind of feedback have you received by readers?
We have received a lot of positive feedback, whether in person or through comments on our site and other networks. We’re very happy with how popular our “Support Local” initiative has been, and keep getting e-mails and messages about new places to visit and products to review from supportive customers. It makes us feel closer to our community, and we really enjoy meeting all the different people through our ShopHaven work.

If you have a suggestion for an Ottawa website or business for Five Questions, please send me an email.

Related: Ottawa Shopping Guide

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