LIVE EDGED WOODCRAFT: www.liveedgedwoodcraft.ca Bill Major started his company, Live Edged Woodcraft, just after he retired in 2011. He had worked all his adult life as a United Church of Canada minister in several parts of Canada and retired with his wife, Doris, to their lake home, on the south shore of Lake Simcoe, in Central Ontario, Canada. All his life he had worked with people. Now, he wanted to try something different. He always liked working with wood but had little experience in this field. He began to explore woodturning, looking at courses, equipment, and facilities needed, but he decided not to pursue this option.
In 2011, Doris and Bill purchased a Mennonite-built harvest table for their kitchen, which they had just had renovated. One day, Doris told Bill of a wooden placemat she had seen in a magazine, which was a cross-cut of a live edge log, that showed all of the rings of the tree. She asked Bill if he could make anything like this. He began to contact local sawmills and one sawyer invited him to visit his mill to purchase some live edge cherry oval end cuts, one half an inch thick, which could be made into placemats.
Bill accepted his invitation, purchased 12 pieces of half-inch woodcuts, and took them home to begin air-drying them. A few cracked or warped in the drying process, but some survived. The only work area Bill had was a small basement workshop and a table outside in good weather. Bill started to sand the surviving oval cherry pieces to 220 grit. Then he had to figure out how to finish them in a way that would be food safe.
Bill began extensive internet research and phoned some live edge furniture companies. He tried a number of finishes but found very few products that he could use which were definitely food safe. A company in British Columbia, Canada, recommended a hard wax, eco-friendly, oil from Germany called Osmo. Bill purchased a small can of Osmo from a supplier in Ontario, as very few stores sold Osmo in Canada at the time. He experimented with applying Osmo, taught himself some effective methods, and the first six cherry placemats were finished.
They looked great on the new harvest table. Soon guests at their home asked if they could buy some of these placemats; Bill bought more wood and made placemats for friends and family. Small local craft shows invited Bill and Doris to exhibit at their one-day events and more orders came in. Some people ordered sets of six and one woman ordered eight. A hobby had started to become a business. Bill registered his business with the Canadian Federal government as a sole owner proprietorship. Bill and Doris, at this point, had no plan or idea where their new business might lead them in their lives.
They began to be accepted at larger craft shows and sales increased. They had a 12 ft. x 24 ft. year-round fully insulted workshop built. Soon Doris suggested that they should start producing and marketing cheese boards cut on an oval, with small, medium, and large sizes. Again, they carefully researched food-grade treatments and decided to use several coats of cold pressed natural hemp seed oil from a local hemp seed oil farm. To make their boards water-resistant they added two coats of a paste they made by heating natural beeswax from local apiaries and mixing hemp seed oil with it after the beeswax liquefied. Live Edged Woodcraft includes a two-ounce tin of their hemp seed oil/beeswax paste in every purchase price.
These products became instant good sellers; again, they kept going to larger shows and were accepted in the One of a Kind Artisanal Craft Show in Toronto, which is made up of 800 vendors, attracting over 200,000 visitors. They exhibited there for four years, often grossing over $5,000.00 per day. Three years ago, Bill and Doris launched a new product called grazing boards, which are a flat cut of hardwood, ranging from one foot to seven feet long. Again, this decision followed what the live edge wood market was seeking to purchase.
In the spring of 2020, COVID-19 hit Canada, canceling all craft shows immediately. Private industry and various levels of government in Canada developed a consultation resource for small businesses called Digital Mainstreet. Its consultants helped Live Edged Woodcraft turn its business into an eCommerce store on a Shopify website. They had to learn overnight the meaning of the great COVID word - “pivot”.
Live Edged Woodcraft faces many business challenges. Shipping its products is very costly and challenging because of their size and weight. One of their greatest marketing challenges is simulating an in-person artisanal experience for potential customers in an eCommerce context. Their wood products are really meant to be seen, touched, and held for customers to begin to appreciate their artistry and functional value for their homes. This is not possible over the internet.
Again, Live Edged Woodcraft is currently making use of additional free government resources offered to small businesses in Ontario, Canada, in a program called “Business Bounce Back”. Their consultants are helping Live Edged Woodcraft shift its complete website to a more developed Shopify 2.0 program to simulate more of an in-person shopping experience through an eCommerce platform.
COVID has also greatly reduced its market. For two years, many Canadian families stopped entertaining friends and family and having larger gatherings in their homes, resulting in less demand for their products. Only as the COVID pandemic has begun to weaken have most people felt comfortable entertaining even their immediate family members. An important part of their business in recent years has been selling larger grazing boards to restaurants and catering companies. These businesses also have less need for boards for bigger events because people simply have not been gathering in large enough numbers to need their services.
Perhaps, the greatest business and marketing challenge of Live Edged Woodcraft has been attracting people to their eCommerce website. They have tried Facebook and Google ads with limited success. They have not had a large budget for advertising. Social media consultants tell them that they have to continue their ad programs to convert more hits on their website into sales. They know their e-commerce website is their only real marketing source, but still are uncertain what type of internet advertising will give them their best conversion results.
When they first started their business over ten years ago, very few people were making live-edged products such as placemats, charcuterie boards, grazing boards, or even live edge tables. Each year since they began several small businesses in their area has started producing live edge wood products. Now, even big lumber and home improvement chain stores are selling live edge hardwood. This has increased the competition but has also brought an increase in market demand.
Live Edged Woodcraft has continued to define its uniqueness in making products that are artisanal, handmade, and different from its competitors’ products. Many of their customers tell them that each of their pieces is a work of art, while many of their competitors are just making “boards”. Bill and Doris often say they work out of love for their wood, their products, and their customers, taking great pains to provide the best quality they can in each piece of work. Nothing is mass-produced.
One of their main products is “customer service”. They replace any of their products that crack or warp under normal use by customers, at no charge. They fill eCommerce orders and prepare for shipping the next day after receiving an order. They communicate often with their customers if they have any issues with customers’ orders. Customer service is one of their highest values. Customers often tell them how much they appreciate the care and concern shown for them.
Over the last ten years, Live Edged Woodcraft has learned a great deal about starting and developing a small family business. They have been fortunate to anticipate trends by listening carefully to the needs and concerns expressed by their customers. This has meant that they could modify their product lines and develop new approaches as customers began to ask for new types of live edge wood products. They have either kept ahead of the market curve or have moved quickly enough when they could sense their market was changing.
Live Edged Woodcraft has found that starting a new business and growing with it takes a lot of work. They have made extensive use of internet research and consultations with others in their field as they are largely self-taught. They have grown in business skills as their business has grown. Bill and Doris have not been afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. They have not been afraid to take risks as well as recognize and admit their limitations. They have made, for example, many small coffee tables, benches, shelves, and hall tables, but have referred requests for larger dining tables to other providers with more equipment and expertise in making larger units than their shop can handle. They have intentionally stayed small and artisanal and have resisted requests to become a much larger company.
They have resisted invitations to fulfill large orders. For example, they have been asked to produce 500 or more boards for corporate gifts and have also been approached to become the sole producer for large companies. It’s important for them to re-affirm often who they are and who they are not as a company. They know that it can be seductive and affirming to take on a huge order that can totally take over the business and turn them into mass producers.
Doris has helped Bill a great deal in saying no to large requests that come their way. She is tough, determined, focused, and has a good sense of our potential and our limitations as a small company. This is vitally important for a small business. Live Edged Woodcraft has learned that the most important challenge of a small business is to sort out who you are, what you want to do and why, and what place your business will have in your life. No one else can declare your boundaries and how you want to develop your business. Self-employed people can work all the time and their work can gradually become their whole life. Live Edged Woodcraft often re-evaluates its priorities and holds firmly onto what they agree fits them as a small business at any particular time. This helps them say No and Yes to requests for orders and still get along well as people married to each other.
Bill and Doris have really enjoyed their ten years of developing their small business. They are very clear about their particular roles. Doris does administration, helps with shipping, and assists at some craft shows. Bill sources material for products, produce finished products, and does most of the marketing and customer service work. These roles that they have developed over the years work well.
Although it is hard to imagine their life without their business, their business does not take up their whole life. It has been an amazing journey for them as a couple, with little business or wood-making background, to develop Live Edged Woodcraft as a small local business responding to changing market opportunities. While it has been a lot of work, they know that they have enjoyed being able to grow and change with their company. Bill and Doris wish any who is developing a small business or is thinking of starting one all the best in their business journey. They encourage others to use all the help they can find from others, to be humble, get to know themselves, and enjoy the ride as much as they have!