We chat with Victoria Le, owner of And & Ampersand, to learn more about her entrepreneurial journey, challenges, rewards and her advice for others.
How long has And & Ampersand been in business for?
December of 2016.
What's the most rewarding part of operating a small, local business?
Creating something myself and then seeing it bring somebody else joy. Seeing my hard work pay off when someone chooses my creation and when they tell me how much they loved my creation.
What are some of the challenges you've faced?
Between getting back to Ontario after a four month road trip, trying to get back on my feet and settling into a part-time job, starting a small business has definitely been challenging. Firstly, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing – I knew that I loved to create things and I figured that if I could turn a hobby into a business that all of the stars would line up. It was a lot more work to get started than I thought. There were so many little factors that go into creating and maintaining a business that I was clueless about but have learned quite a bit over recent months.
How have you overcome them?
It’s a work in progress as there will never be enough time; you need to make the commitment and do it. The City of Mississauga and the Mississauga Business Enterprise Centre has many resources available to anyone who is interested in starting a small business or expanding their existing business.
Why did you pick Mississauga to set up shop?
I think Mississauga chose me, to be honest. Aside from this great city being a bustling hub filled with such strong and diverse communities, the first time that I attempted to fly fish was on the Credit River in Mississauga, which I now affectionately consider to be my home river. My fiancé grew up fishing with his father in Mississauga and he later took up fly fishing and it was this passion for fly fishing and steelhead that he ended up sharing with me early on in our relationship. Without that fly fishing connection we never would have ventured out West to fly fish our way through Northern Ontario, Montana, Calgary and British Columbia and I never would have thought to start my business.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
To simply get started - do at least one thing a day that takes them one tiny step closer to their goal. Look into what their city or community can offer them in terms of business mentoring, grants and information seminars and as someone once reminded me, that every successful business and entrepreneur had to start somewhere.
In a crowded marketplace, how do you set yourself apart?
The quality of my products. There’s a gap in high quality, stylish yet functional fly fishing accessories such as rod socks. My greeting cards were created when I had a difficult time finding decent fly fishing themed cards to give to the angler in my life so I decided to make my own. My unique designs and the quality of my handcrafted products are what set me apart from the other similar accessories in my industry.
What inspired you to start this business?
I’ve always been a very creative person, I have a passion for art (particularly painting) and crafting so it seemed natural for me to want to start a business where I could share my creations with the world. Even though it can get stressful, And & Ampersand is my stress relief – I know it sounds contradictory but I’m truly happiest when I’m working on new designs, creating new cards, hand sewing my rod socks, or writing a personal thank you to each customer that places an order with me. Like every small business owner, I have big dreams for the future of my tiny business and I can only hope that I will still have the same sense of fulfillment, potential and excitement then that I do now.