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When she started Mother’s Choice Products 25 years ago, nurse Sandra Hass was looking for a new way to help support her busy husband and three young children while at the same time, giving herself the time to actually take care of them. She certainly never expected to become one of the province’s top CEOs. But that is exactly what happened.
Recently Business in Vancouver (BIV) released their annual list of Biggest B.C. Businesses Owned by Women and once again Sandra Hass of Mothers Choice Products is on it. Sandra is modest and often attributes her success to the talents of others but once you begin to hear her story you learn that Sandra is a resilient and resourceful businessperson who knows the value of relationships.
From the first day when Sandra picked up the phone at her kitchen table through economic crashes, market changes and COVID-19, Sandra has focused on quality and integrity, growing her home-based business to a large office and warehouse facility and a major supplier to both independent retailers and major chains including Walmart, Toys R Us, Save On Foods, Buy Buy Baby, and London Drugs.
Sandra started out as a nurse, specializing in maternal and child health. One day, just after the birth of her third child, she realized returning to twelve-hour nursing shifts with young children and a husband busy building his career wasn’t a viable option. Sitting at her kitchen table she thought about her training in maternal health and the lack of availability of some needed quality products like Ameda breast pumps. She decided to pick up the phone and call Ameda right then, asking to be able to sell their product in her area. They agreed and sent her $617.02 of products and six weeks to sell them.
She had them all sold in two.
Her original goal was to be able to take care of the kids and make enough money to contribute by paying the Hydro bill. But her father, a retired entrepreneur, saw what she was doing and decided to help. Offering to fly to Toronto to talk to Ameda’s head office, (if Sandra covered the flight); he was able to secure Mothers Choice Products the rights to the province of BC. Her Dad was her mentor, teaching her about sales and business and coming over to help fill orders out of the upstairs room of her house. Sadly, Sandra’s father passed away after her first year in business, leaving her to figure out the rest without him.
Without her dad, Sandra relied on networking, relationships she built and nurtured, and her gut instinct. From hiring to products, she has let her intuition guide her and though it doesn’t always work out, she has always learned from the experiences. As her children grew older Sandra had the opportunity to expand her business and has fond memories of the excitement and downright craziness that came with it.
Sandra taught herself how to import, how to create UPCs, and much more through picking up the phone and calling people she knew might have the answers. She joined the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, where she gained confidence and bounced ideas off members. There was the mouse infested first warehouse, then the one with the hidden grow-op (which was also a porn studio), and a moment of serendipity where a product producer made a choice that ended up saving her business amidst the 2008 financial crash.
But there was also the sexism. Though Sandra’s husband was never part of the business, he was often requested to be present. From pitching companies to dealing with banks and financial transactions, it was expected and sometimes, (even more maddeningly), required, for her husband to be involved. Even as recently as 2007 to open a bank account and get a loan, her husband’s signature was needed. So Sandra is acutely aware of some of the barriers that still exist for women in business and says “it’s wonderful helping other women.”
As she looks back on her almost 25 years in business Sandra isn’t sure she could do what she did in today’s environment. Sandra says “I did it out of necessity and I enjoyed every minute of it!”, but she doesn’t think she’d have the same opportunities now. Where she once could just pick up the phone and reach the people she needed to talk to, now you have to make appointments to talk to people, everything is more organized, and there’s a lot more competition. She was able to do what she did because she took the initiative to reach out and create opportunities and because she took the time to develop those relationships. Relationships, initiative and intuition built her business and will keep it in the Biggest B.C. Businesses Owned by Women List for a long time to come.