In Focus: Ivan Rippy of Smart Shopper is owning and building his destiny

Growing up in Buffalo in a family of eight children—three girls and five boys—Ivan Rippy knew that the last thing he wanted to be when he grew up was a business owner. His stepfather and mother owned a business and, according to Rippy, “they worked me so hard, I didn’t want to own my own store.”

It wasn’t that he was afraid of hard work. He wasn’t. It was just that owning your own business made the days long and the nights short. As he continued to mature into a young man, Rippy could see how successful his parents were. He began to appreciate their sacrifice and hard work on behalf of the family.

Between earning an associate’s degree from Bard College and later taking online classes through the Nyack School of Business, Rippy worked two jobs—one in a factory and one as a barber—jobs that he said became stepping stones to what has now become his true calling.

Fast forward to 1540 Broadway in Buffalo. It’s a nearly 3,000-square-foot building, the site of a former 7-Eleven chain store. Rippy leased the building and began renovating it last August to transform it into Smart Shopper, a convenience store that sells typical quick mart items such as milk, bread, candy, chips, beverages, and cigarettes, as well as a small stock of automotive items. Rippy says he is waiting to receive his license to sell beer. He opened on Dec. 22, 2017. He has one full-time employee.

When asked how business has been so far, Rippy said it has gotten off to a slow start.

“I attribute this to my opening my store at the worst time of the year,” he quipped, “the weather hasn’t been great, and people are still paying off Christmas debt.” He believes things will turn around soon.

To ensure that his business grows, however, Rippy has plans in place and ways to bring more services to his customers. Because, for him, being an entrepreneur isn’t all about making money; it’s about making an impact where you are.

Rippy is planning on opening a fresh deli at his Smart Shopper location, allowing him to offer his customers fresh meats, cheeses, and sandwiches. Also, he is planning to install a complete kitchen, which will allow him to make and serve pizza and wings, and thereby hire more employees eventually.

Besides these food items, Rippy hopes to offer his customers the opportunity to pay their utility and phone bills at his store; pick up and mail packages; and purchase lottery tickets.

While he waits to hear from New York state on the status of his application to sell lottery tickets and beer, Rippy is not idle, nor does he sleep much. His days are reminiscent of the days when his folks worked him hard, but now he is his own boss. He is grateful, now, for how his parents pushed him and modeled what it meant to own your own business and your own destiny.

He knows he hasn’t arrived at his destination—he will always be working hard and looking ahead—just like many of his siblings, some of whom are also entrepreneurs, but he is happy to share what he has learned along the way and thank those who have helped him.

“You should do your research first,” Rippy said, “before you launch a business.” He said it helps to know what you’re getting into and to know why you want to do what you want to do. “I had originally wanted to open a dollar store,” he said. “But the property I wanted was unavailable, and there was too much red tape.”

Rippy had to change course, start a little smaller than a dollar store. He still had his license, permits, and corporation papers. And he had saved money. However, when he got into 1540 Broadway, he didn’t know he would have to dip into so much of his savings to renovate it.

When hurdles come, he noted, it’s important to “know yourself” and be honest. “You may have the desire to start a business,” Rippy noted, “but will you have the passion to keep it going after you’re into it?”

He says a key ingredient to being successful in starting your own company is being self-motivated. “There will be people or circumstances around you that will discourage you,” he said. “You have to find the motivation within to keep going.”

Where does Rippy find his motivation? Of course, he learned early in life the rewards of working hard, even though at first he didn’t appreciate its lessons. He is grateful to parents and siblings who have modeled an exceptional work ethic and who have supported him and nurtured in him a desire to make the world a better place, not only through business, but through service to each other, whether through church or community service.

He is also thankful to Westminster Economic Development Initiative, which granted him a $20,000 microloan to be used for inventory and licensing. “Ivan Rippy has been a pleasure to work with,” said Caitlin Cosentino, Rippy’s economic development specialist at WEDI. “(He is) constantly demonstrating professionalism, dedication, and enthusiasm. I've seen impressive growth in Ivan’s business acumen in a short time. I'm excited to watch and help out as Smart Shopper continues to grow.”

And finally, Rippy is extremely grateful to the African American community. “They have reached out in so many ways,” he said. “From day one I have felt their support of my owning a business; thank you to them and everyone.”

Read more articles by Cynthia Machamer.

Cynthia Machamer earned a B.A. in writing from Houghton College and has more than 15 years of experience writing in the nonprofit sector. She moved to Buffalo in 2005, and her happiest moments are spent with her two grown children and her niece.
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