When do you know your hobby might hold the key to becoming your full-time job?
For Ryan Popoff, owner of Popov Leather, it happened in March 2013.
“I had graduated from art school at the University of Victoria and found myself getting obsessed with my next hobby—leather-work,” says Ryan. “I wanted to create a wallet that was minimalistic and see if I could sell it. My lightbulb moment was getting money for something I had made–it was the biggest pat on the back, the biggest validation that my hobby could turn into something more.”
That first sale on the e-commerce website Etsy was the kickoff to a lot more.
What started six years ago as a basement hobby for Ryan and his wife Jill has grown to a 1,400-square-foot workshop on Ymir Road just outside of Nelson. Born and raised in Castlegar and Nelson respectively, Ryan and Jill saw the business as an opportunity to move back to the Kootenays, do their work and start a family.
Popov Leather produces hand-cut and -sewn wallets, belts, notebook covers and made-to-order leather goods. Since hiring its first employee in 2016, the business has rapidly expanded. It now has 12 employees and the average day sees 50 to 60 orders shipped across Canada and the US—double at Christmastime.
But when trying to fill an ever-growing order list, other aspects of the business may not get the time or attention they need.
Enter Basin RevUp.
The Trust introduced the Basin RevUp business growth accelerator program in 2018. It helps non-technology-based businesses that are poised for growth to address their individual challenges so they can grow, thrive and obtain future success.
Developed by Accelerate Okanagan, the program connects these businesses with experienced mentors, called executives-in-residence, and provides customized growth plans, mentorship and coaching, tailored training opportunities and peer-to-peer engagement.
For Ryan and Popov Leather, the program was a game-changer.
“I feel like a completely different person,” says Ryan. “I have a new level of knowledge and confidence to run and grow my business. Having that level of experience and engagement around my business and being able to ask the questions I needed to ask—even being aware of the questions I should be asking as a business owner and was not asking—has had an amazing impact. Working with my executive-in-residence, meeting with them every week, has kept me on task and accountable and helped clear hurdles that were holding us back.”
With year-over-year growth, one hurdle for the business has been understanding and managing productivity and efficiency. As an outcome of Popov Leather’s participation in Basin RevUp, Ryan has hired a production manager to help him and the team meet the demand their product has inspired.
“I would consider my time in Basin RevUp as a turning point for Popov Leather,” says Ryan. “I feel I will look back in 10 years and see this time as pivotal.”