MU Extension, 4-H experience contribute to owner's success at Mississippi Marketplace

In her 20s, Linda Studer had a dream of opening a business in historic Hannibal.

Then, as they say, life got in the way. She was busy helping others fulfill their dreams at a nonprofit employment group in northeastern Missouri. Her office was around the corner from the University of Missouri Extension Center in Monroe County. She and MU Extension business development specialist Charles Holland worked together on community projects to help others find “new beginnings.”

That is when she decided that her own dream had been on the shelf long enough. “It was time to make that jump,” she said.

Holland helped her put the dream on paper.

“His advice and expertise was really valuable to me,” Studer said.

Holland said Studer’s understanding of the need for a business plan and her patience helped him guide her through the process of researching and establishing a new business.

For the next nine months, she visited shops in tourist areas in the tri-state area. She researched vendors and looked for an 1800s-era building within the four-block historic district of Hannibal.

In April 2013, she opened Mississippi Marketplace. The business offers food and candy products, unique cooking and decorating items, and personalized gift baskets. The store is open year-round, seven days a week.

Despite all her preparation, Studer said she felt overwhelmed at first. But Holland and business owners in the Hannibal Main Street Merchants Association offered support and advice. In 2015, the Hannibal Chamber of Commerce selected Mississippi Marketplace as the New Business of the Year.

Studer found herself relying on skills she learned as a 4-H club leader. She and her late husband served as project leaders of the Prairie 4-H Club in Shelby County and FFA. Daughters Lindsay and Lauren are graduates of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. They and her son, Michael, are involved in agriculture.

She drew upon presentation skills learned with her children in cake decorating and florals.

“Creativity and presentation skills, whether at the county or state fair or here at Mississippi Marketplace, help create an appealing product,” she said.

Much of her success comes from letting shoppers sample products. On “Sample Saturday,” she lays out a spread of the state’s best offerings and seasonal foods. Five employees boost sales with cooking demonstrations of simple, tasty foods with eye appeal. They offer free recipe cards using products sold in the store.

“People want to take beautiful things to dinners, but they don’t have a lot of time to prepare,” she said.

Mississippi Marketplace also offers Saturday fun food and decorating events for children and their parents during the holidays. Studer and her employees cross-promote other Hannibal businesses and participate in numerous promotions and festivals throughout the year.

Studer also found success in promoting something else she was familiar with: Missouri agriculture. She and her late husband had a row crop and cattle operation that she continues to manage. She devotes a large portion of her store to promoting Missouri products, including her own labeled Mississippi Marketplace jellies, jams, pickled eggs and vegetables, as well as local favorites such as peach cobbler in a jar.

Tourists fill the shop in spring, summer and fall. Locals crowd the store in search of Missouri-made foods, holiday gift baskets, cooking items and hundreds of specialty candies and snacks. Sweet and hot pepper relish, cinnamon graham pretzels and chocolate-covered coffee beans are the top sellers.

The abundance of choices just feet away from the Mississippi River would have given Mark Twain himself something to write about.