As President and Chief Bargain Officer of the Bargains Group, Jody Steinhauer has mobilized her award winning discount wholesale and promotional products company to revolutionize the business landscape.
Pioneering her belief of “giving back makes good business sense”, Jody is also a tireless not-for-profit advocate, and the founder of the national charity Engage and Change, which aims to inspire people and businesses to engage in a hands-on experience with a tangible outcome that will change the daily lives of people in our communities.
We interviewed Jody and spoke about throwing out the idea of ‘balancing’ work and home life.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
My journey as an entrepreneur really started because an opportunity presented itself and I decided to jump on it. It was 1988 and I was a recently graduate from the Academy of Fashion and Design; my love for shopping and bargain-hunting landed me a job managing the wholesale division of a Toronto company. I’ve always been an overachiever and work-a-holic, so I was running the division like it was my own business when the owner was forced to close his doors because of other unsuccessful ventures.
As I was wondering what my next step would be, a friend of mine pointed out that I was making the company all the money anyway, why did I need him?! The next Monday the Bargains Group was born out of my two-bedroom apartment and we’ve been growing ever since!
What’s the best part about owning your own business?
I have an entrepreneurial mind… I’m constantly coming up with new ideas and looking for new opportunities. I’m sure it drives my team crazy, but I can’t turn it off. Owning my own business means that I can spit out these ideas day-after-day, and I know there are people around me who can make them a reality. I’m also a huge believer in mentoring, and by challenging my team with endless ideas, I’m helping them to find their passions and pursue new challenges in their careers.
I also love the flexibility in my schedule. I don’t ever have a day when my schedule isn’t jam packed with meetings and events, but owning my own business means that when my kids have an hockey game or parent-teacher interview, I know my team so can step-up and keep things running smoothly without me.
Describe a typical day:
Well what is typical, really? My schedule is constantly shifting and changing that I rarely do the same thing two days in a row.
I always make sure that I have time each week for any kid’s important events, but will always find time for networking and educational events, weekly Bargains Group team meetings, and I love to sit down with anyone who I can make happy by saving them tons of money! I’ll also block time each day to speak with someone I’ve met to help their business, or figure out how we can help each other.
Who do you count on for help? Do you have a network of family that answer the call?
I’ll be the first to admit I can’t do it all, and I rely on several people to help keep my life in order. I have a great nanny who I can count on when I just can’t be there to take the kids to school, and fantastic friends, fellow parents, and family who have been there to answer the call when I’ve needed them.
I also have a great network of people to help me in my business life. I have a personal assistant who makes sure my schedule is manageable, and my Bargains Group family is incredible at running the business when my head is elsewhere. I’m also a member of various groups like Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO), Verity, and Mastermind. I’ve always believed that your network is your net-worth, and I’ve built up a database of thousands of people who I can turn to when I need help.
I’m also a huge believer in mentors—not just for business, but my personal life too. There are a number of people I look to for advice and direction when things start to go sideways.
Have you ever had to sacrifice something at work to make the family work?
My Bargains Group team will tell you I’ve had to reschedule more than a couple of meetings when a hockey game pops up or parent-teacher interview is booked. I try to respect everyone’s time because I know how busy my team gets; but sometimes a Mom’s responsibilities take precedent. I always volunteer for school trips, and will join as many parent councils that I can.
At the same time, my kids know it works both ways; if there’s a fire to be put out at work they understand that I have to be there. After all, my son wants the company to be around for when he’s old enough to take it over! I also made sure my office is no more than 10 minutes away from my home, so I can be at either place as quickly as possible. Some of the long-standing members of my Bargains Group team even remember my 3 day-old daughter sleeping soundly in my office as I got back to work after giving birth. There’s been more than a few years where my office had a play-pen in it, but that’s part of being an entrepreneur.
What do you do on a day off? Do you even know what a day off is?
Day off… What’s that! Seriously though, I’m someone who understands that it’s impossible to find that “perfect” balance in life, so I do what I can to make time for my family. As an entrepreneur, I’m a work-aholic, but I make sure to book time to take a special separate vacation with my son, one with my daughter, and several as a family. Day-to-day, I make sure that I’m available for any of their events, and when I’m at work they know they can call Mommy’s cellphone to reach me if they need to.
I also make sure to book time for myself. To keep my company profitable, I need to be running like a well-oiled car! I have a morning each week that I commit to working out, and will duck out of the office early on occasion to get any necessary health treatments to help keep me running!
What does the future look like?
I’m always looking to grow the Bargains Group brand and reach even more people who I can make happy and save tons of money. We are in the process of re-inventing our online experience, and recently opened a retail Outlet store where you can get fantastic bargains on some of the items we sell wholesale.
However, my focus now is also on my newly founded national charity, Engage and Change. Founded in 2013, Engage and Change runs two annual initiatives, Project Water and Project Winter Survival. At each event, over one hundred volunteers and corporate sponsored teams gather together to pack Survival Kits, and distribute these essential items to local Not-For-Profit organizations. These organizations have the expertise and experience to distribute these necessities to those less fortunate in our communities. Our goal is that these events will take place in every major city across Canada where they are needed.
I’m also helping to develop 3rd party events where groups both large and small can experience the same incredible level of engagement found at an Engage and Change event, but tailored to unique causes that people are passionate about.
Are you active in your local MOMpreneur community?
Absolutely! I love to mentor any aspiring MOMpreneurs and have spoken at several Mom-focused events. There are also a number of MOMpreneurs that I admire and respect, and I love to reach out and find new, inventive ways we can help each other.
Name another MOMpreneur who inspires you:
I’ve always admired two friends and fellow MOMpreneuers, Julie Cole of Mabel’s Labels; and Victoria Sopik of Kid’s & Co. They’ve each built incredible businesses… and they each have way more kids than I have! I often look to them for advice or inspiration, because they achieved so much in business while still keeping a healthy relationship with their kids! I figure, if they can do it, what’s my excuse!?
Any tips for mom’s thinking of starting a business?
Find you passions and purpose in life, and the money will follow! If you’re truly passionate about your business it won’t feel like you’re going to work; you’ll have the desire to keep looking for bigger and better. It’s also important to surround yourself with people who are just as passionate as you. I know I can count on my Bargains Group family because they have a passion for what they do, and they’re always ready and willing to meet the next challenge.
Also, forget the idea of “balance” because you’ll go nuts trying to find it. If you’re passionate about your business there’s going to be long nights and early mornings and even the occasional missed hockey game. You can’t do it all and be everywhere at once; it’s just not going to happen. Do as best you can to prioritize and understand when you’re needed at home and when you’re needed at work. I also like to keep a “Gratitude Journal” and I take 5 minutes in the morning and 5 at night to write down what I’m most thankful for that day. It helps me to appreciate what I have in life.
Finally, network and find mentors! Surround yourself with people you respect and admire and learn from them. The Bargains Group isn’t a huge company, but we’re able to do big things because I’ve built a massive network of people who are way smarter than me, and I’ve maintained that network so I can ask for advice or a favour when someone in my business needs help. No one can do it all, so make sure you’re always willing to help others out. Mentorship is a two way street, and it’s important to always be sharing experiences with others.
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