Written by Sally Nelson, SuLi's Muesli
The story of SuLi’s Muesli started during a conversation between my twin sister, Susan and myself. Susan asked me to help find a volunteer position for her daughter, SuLi, that would provide skills in working with the public and help prepare her for meaningful employment.
SuLi is a specially-abled, kind-hearted, 19-year-old high school student in a special education program. As part of her education, she’s had work placements, but Susan was hoping for an opportunity that would be more exciting and rewarding for her. Ping! All of a sudden I remembered a long-standing idea to sell my homemade muesli, and knew that SuLi would be the perfect business partner. The idea quickly took off!
Before long we were testing and adjusting recipes for muesli bars with lots of support from our extended family. We eventually stumbled upon the South Osborne Farmers’ Market, and found that their ethos closely aligned with what we were trying to do – use local ingredients; be environmentally conscious; community focused; and open to all. We quickly applied and were accepted as a bi-weekly vendor, but didn’t know what to expect.
Time was short, so we kicked into high gear. When deciding on a name, it occurred to Susan that “SuLi” actually rhymes with “muesli” -- that was easy! Now we needed to source ingredients. We wanted everything to be healthy, tasty and as locally-sourced as possible. After digging around, we discovered Adiago Acres. We decided that it would be a great opportunity for SuLi to understand where some of our products come from, so we arranged to visit the farm. One late spring day, we drove out and one of the owners, Amy, gave us a tour. While we were there she generously presented us with a bag of their healthy and delicious oats to get us started. What a fantastic experience!
When we initially started, SuLi was not all that excited. Like any teenager, she was caught up in her own world. But with help from her teachers and enthusiasm from her peers, she began to take more interest. At first, we weren’t sure which role would be the best fit for her, but wanted to work with her interests and natural gifting. We soon realized that instead of working in the kitchen, we could involve her with things that she already had experience in and liked to do, which also helped her gain more confidence. This included helping with packaging, setting up at the market, and working with customers.
At the same time, we set some personal growth goals for her within our business model. These included giving correct change to customers and learning the value of money, as well as working with a great attitude and interacting well with customers. Our business approach has been intentional from the start – we want to help SuLi grow in these skills, to reap the rewards of earning money, and to take pride in her accomplishments. Often Susan and I find ourselves discussing a business decision in terms of these goals for SuLi, not just the most direct path financially. For example, we set our prices specifically so that she could easily learn to give change to customers. All bars and muesli are either $5 or $10, so counting is straightforward. This model has worked remarkably well both for the goals we set for SuLi and as a business model.
Another priority has been establishing a legitimate business that will stand on its own with repeat customers who really value our products. We wanted the business to thrive beyond just the support of family and friends eager to support SuLi's market initiative. In other words, we wanted her, and us, to take real pride in the products and brand. This is why we worked hard on creating good quality food at reasonable prices and chose a strong logo and slogan. It has been particularly rewarding seeing repeat customers who take our business seriously and truly enjoy our products.
SuLi’s Muesli has been operating now for almost two months. What started out as a rather rushed start-up summer business to help SuLi gain better employment skills has opened up into something we are considering continuing throughout the year. With SuLi increasingly involved on market days, it’s become a three-way partnership between the three of us, and we are all growing in our business and customer service skills together.
To learn more about SuLi’s Muesli, find them on Facebook or read their feature in CBC.