We spoke with Mary Benedicto, founder and director of operations at Soko Distribution. Soko is a national distributor that is committed to design, the environment, and healthy living. We found out the three products every mom needs to know about, why smaller can be better, and how she’s putting her baby to work.
Was it your childhood dream to work in distribution?
No, my first childhood dream was to be a crossing guard. As I got older it went from being a designer, to a lawyer, to a world traveler. Lucky for me, being a distributor is like merging all of these childhood aspirations into one.
What does SOKO mean?
Soko is Swahili for market.
What did you do before this?
I was a Program Manager in the software development world. During this time, my sister-in-law showed me a pouch-style baby sling. I liked the idea of babywearing, but I wasn’t a fan of what was available. I worked with my sister-in-law to develop a line, Z’fina, and began selling it nationally, building great relationships with retailers. Z’fina quickly became a success. I found enjoyment taking software development methodologies and best practices and using them towards creating a company outside the IT industry.
As Z’fina grew I decided to leave the software development world. Z’fina was moving along nicely, I noticed however that the trend towards babywearing was moving away from pouch-style slings. I wanted to utilize our newly acquired network of retailers to start something new.
At our first tradeshow with Z’fina we made a great connection with Lifefactory (then Wee Go) and Wishbone Design. Because of our strong relationships with Canadian retailers, knowledge of the market, and overall commitment, they asked me to be their national distributor. At this time, getting into distribution was planned later on down the road, but I was honoured and thrilled to have these two great companies want to work with me. I jumped at the opportunity and within a month created Soko Distribution. I’m happy to say that we still work with both Lifefactory and Wishbone Design.
How do you decide if a brand is awesome enough to work with?
We look for 4 criteria:
1. Functionality – the product needs to serve a bona fide purpose, just because you can build something doesn’t mean you should (Agreed!)
2. Promotes living a healthy lifestyle
3. Focus on design – we love products that look great
4. The brand/company is awe-inspiring, like-minded, mindful and great to work with
Why should a brand choose to work with Soko over a large distributor?
Not only is our distribution channel and supply chain management a major part of our success, but our customer service is exceptional. We also seek products that are synergetic and complementary to one another. We like to think of ourselves as more than a distributor as we develop partnerships with our brands. We carefully seek out products that Canadians are looking for, and work closely with our partners to ensure their success on every front – sales, marketing, and supply chain management.
Your business is focused on great kids’ stuff. Did your work inspire you to have kids, or did having children inspire your business?
Work actually inspired me to have kids! As I started working in the baby industry, finding awesome products and working with great people, adding a little product tester to the mix made a lot of sense.
How do you manage running a company with a toddler at home?
Having a supportive spouse has been the key to making it all work. He has made it possible for me to work late nights, travel (extensively at times), as well as be a sounding board for many company decisions.
What are three underrated products that we should all know about?
1. Balance/Running bikes. They are very popular in Europe and have started becoming more widely used in North America. This style of bike teaches a child the fundamentals of bike riding – balancing, steering, without the added complexity of pedaling. Once a child has mastered a balance bike, he/she can generally start riding a standard push bike without training wheels. I’ve seen it first hand with my niece who began riding a bike when she turned 4, and now my son who is not yet 4 is well on his way to mastering his Wishbone Bike.
2. Glass straws. Many people are unaware of how many single-use plastic straws end up in the landfill, or the toxins that flow through a plastic straw into their mouths. Glass straws are reusable, toxin-free, and fun to use. I wish more people would use them. We’re happy to have started working with Strawesome glass straws.
3. A good yoga mat. Something well padded with a good grip makes a big difference when practicing yoga.
What are 3 things that drive you crazy?
1. Single-use plastic items. Plastic can be used for so many great things, like an artificial heart, but it’s a limited resource. It makes me crazy when I see this resource used once and thrown in the garbage.
2. Inefficiencies. It’s a running joke in the office that I need things completed with minimal keystrokes and everyone needs to use double monitors.
3. Selfish people. I have a hard time understanding people who don’t realize things they do have causal effects.
What’s in your purse?
My wallet, cell phone, pen, and a Strawesome glass straw.