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Craft Show Season

December 10, 2015

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This is a post that I have had swirling in my head for over a year now.

We just showed at our last event of the year this past weekend, so it seems fitting that I finally share some thoughts on the importance craft shows have played in our business over the past few years. 

So, let's go back.

It was the end of the 2011 and we were in the midst of a big shift or pivot (I just puked in my mouth) in our company. We diversified our product line and expanded from our first and only design the Deckster. Our retail presence was solely in the US, nothing in our hometown.

Chrystale, in her infinite wisdom suggested that we start showing at local craft shows. I straight up hated the idea. As a human male, "attending a craft fair" would fall somewhere between helping a re-organizing the spice drawer and dusting the plants. As in "sure, I could do it but do I have to?"

I wasn't very familiar with the modern version of these events. When I was a young lad, I would save up my quarters so I could rummage in various church basements looking for c̶r̶a̶p̶ treasure. This is what I thought when someone would mention the words craft + show in my presence. 

I had no idea. Chrystale did. She absolutely had the right idea. 

I'll be very direct. I felt that these types of events were beneath us. I didn't want people judging us and our design right in front of our faces. And most importantly, I was not interested in debating the merits of our goods and their prices. 

Our first ever foray into this world was Urban Craft's Spring Show.

It blew my mind.

Gone were nanna's tea cozies and kitschy handmade greeting cards. And if they were at these events, they were the coolest fucking tea cozies or greeting cards I have ever seen.

Slowly, we found fans and customers. These shows became the biggest part of our sales and marketing efforts. Nowhere could we get this kind of high level product and market research. The attendants of these shows were modern, hip and highly sophisticated. They knew their shit. They know quality and most importantly, they were willing to pay for it. 

It turns out that these public events were a great opportunity for us to test the merits of our efforts. We had to succinctly and plainly explain ourselves. We were very new players, so we had to introduce ourselves over and over again. We connected with people and our sales increased. That first Urban Craft was a great day for us and we never looked back.

I can not point to a single initiative that has done more to grow our business.

In the last few years, we have travelled to Montréal and Toronto to participate in similar events. I've noticed a few patterns.

  1. They personified #supportlocal. It's authentic. 
  2. These events were spearheaded by mostly women.
  3. These women did more for the local economy and the startup community than any incubator or accelerator that I have ever seen.
  4. They get next to zero support from the typical institutions that are mandated to support entrepreneurship.

    This all culminated to this month where we had our highest 1 day total ever at the Idle Hands Art, Craft and Vintage Sale. Then this past Sat, Urban Craft had a record attendance for their holiday show. It was an incredible spectacle of humanity. 

    So I want to thank some people (along with their volunteers) in particular for their efforts and everything they've done for us and so many small businesses like us.

    In no particular order:

    1. Krista Leben and Robin Sidhu of Urban Craft
    2. Jenn Stone of Idle Hands
    3. Emily Arbour of Handmade Harvest

    If you look at Ottawa's social calendar, there are these types of event popping up everywhere. Heck, we even threw our hats into the ring with our first ever City Night Bazaar

    Twenty-sixteen will undoubtedly be another great year for the organizers, the vendors and the attendants.

    If you happen to see us at one of these events, don't be a stranger and come say hi.

    Where did 2014 go? No, seriously. It was January, the entire year was literally just ahead of us. With hope and promise in our hearts, we put our heads down and got to work; when we looked up next, everybody was drunk and ringing in twenty-fifteen already. We went an entire year without a single post on ye olde blog. Crap.

    So without further stalling, here's an entire year's worth of blog posts nicely congealed into a concise and densely packed spicy blogwurst sausage. All the same good blog stuff without the hassle of extra reading. 

    1. Goodbye BungalowHQ and Hello KitchenHQ

    Like so many startups, we started this endeavour out of our home, the very creative name for our headquarters came easily. We live in a bungalow. Boom BungalowHQ. 

    Kids, that's called being clever. 

    Operations started out in an extra bedroom in our basement. Within weeks, we slowly took over the entire basement then extended it to the rest of the house. It quickly outgrew our home, but we couldn't find anything affordable until a tiny miracle fell into our laps. We moved into a defunct industrial kitchen. Boom, KitchenHQ was born. There's that cleverness again.

    The name is a little misleading because the kitchen extended into a 20,000 sq. ft. empty warehouse. The extra room allowed us to have multiple projects running simultaneously, along with games of catch and soccer. 

    This year, we'll be moving again as KitchenHQ and the rest of the building has been sold and we need to load up the wagon and find a new HQ.

    2. Year of Collaboration (Again)

    Since the beginning, we've always had the good fortune to work on special projects with like-minded individuals near and far, last year was no exception. Together with our buddy and talented architect, Michael Simon, we took on a project we have never done before. We designed and constructed a custom exhibit and viewing magnifiers for the Museum of History. 

     

    This year, we'll have 2 major collaborations that have been brewing for over 2 years. We can not wait to finally unveil them.

    3. Focus & Discipline

    Last year, we reviewed our product line from the beginning and we took out a big red marker. The column of products or ideas that we killed was extensive. Lots of design casualties. We decided that we needed to hunker down and focus on the products that were worth pursuing.

     

    This was done for 2 reasons, our Urbanwood maps continued to grow in popularity and we knew that we had to expand the line at a much quicker pace. We had a few other lines that did well and we needed to throw a lot more of a marketing effort towards those designs to see if they would also experience the same growth as the Urbanwood. We'll be putting forth the most effort towards Urbanwood, but we'll be also making small batches of new designs to simultaneously reuse offcuts from larger projects and quench our creative spirit.

    4. Road Show

    Following suit to a trimming of our product line, we did the same with shows and events. We were much more selective by using 1 single question: Will it be worth being away from our sons? If we thought the answer was yes? Then we'd do it. We've done a lot of shows between Ottawa, Montréal and Toronto.

    Last year was also the first year we returned to the big leagues. In 2010, our first show ever was the New York International Gift Fair in NYC (now NYNOW), 4 years later we showed both the Spring and the Christmas One of a Kind Show in Toronto. The days were long and the crowds were huge.

    For 2015, we'll be making a return to the local shows that embraced us as well a couple of new events outside the city. Check out our Roadshow Calendar to catch us in person, we'll be adding to it throughout the year. We're also excited to announce that we'll be organizing an event later this year as well, more on that in another post.

     

    A few emails, text messages and pics are starting to come our way since the 25TH. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It's such an honour for us to be a part of your Christmas/Holiday celebrations. People happily picking our goods for their loved one and their loved ones loving their gifts. The same holds true throughout the year, whether it's for a special occasion like a birthday or wedding; or just for no special reason at all. We really love hearing from you.

    Here's an example of one of those messages from a customer that gave her father an Urbanwood of his birthplace (across many oceans and many continents):

    "Dude he LOVED IT. He was silent when he saw it, he was holding back tears..."

    THIS MAKES OUR HEARTS EXPLODE WITH JOY. Thank you for reminding us why we're doing this. 

    Two thousand and thirteen is starting to approach its final hours for those of us on this side of this wacky ball of gas and mud. We're no different from anyone else, we start to reflect on the year that has whipped past. It was a great year for us with lots of ups and a few downs. The next year will bring some big changes for us, of which we will certainly share with you.

    Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who have supported us for the past couple of years. We're not talking about just purchases, every little gesture is greatly appreciated. 

    Lots of love,

    Chrys & Dom

    This past Friday, The Holiday Assembly happened. It was an inaugural night market slash party at the Museum of Nature, as part of the Museum's monthly event Nature Nocturne

    There are two very big reasons why we were keen to join in.

    One. The Holiday Assembly is the brainchild of Melanie Yugo and Jason Pelletier (as seen below) of Spins and Needles.

    For a few years now, they have been a real force of creativity in this fair city of ours. They have thrown countless events & workshops that help the creativity of others to take flight. They're one of the best things humans that has happened to Ottawa. 

    Two. As a family, we love the Museum of Nature, we're card carrying members. Having attended Museum Night (where 50 museums are open after hours) in Amsterdam before, I love that this Ottawa institution was trying to disrupt the norm a wee bit. Unfortunately, we have yet to attend until now. Congratulations to everyone involved, it was a great night.

    Moments before the doors open, I grabbed my buddy Stoyan, my iPhone and a pushcart and we caught some of the final prep as hordes of Ottawans make their way to the event.

    Please Note: 

    • The track is 'Odessa' by Caribou
    • Video may induce nausea due to lack of planning and spontaneity 
    • No one was (seriously) hurt in the making of this video

    A couple of months ago, the ladies behind Victoire approached us with a simple question.

    "Would we be into designing a window display for the shop on Wellington?"

    Katie and Regine have created something really special in Ottawa, they have a keen eye for design and fashion and they are very active in supporting our community. Even though our schedule was (is) over-extended, It was an easy decision.

    After a couple of brief chats over a "concept", they gave one final direction.

    "We trust you, do what you do."

    Those words are at once wonderful and daunting and they can lead to an absolute glory or a fantastic disaster.

    So armed with the trust of two creative people that we respected and our usual lack of time, we forged ahead.

     

    Enter 'Feathers of Confederation', it was an inkling of an idea we had a while back. Its genesis was very typical of our process. It went pretty much like this:

    Dom (flipping through William Notman's 'Portrait of a Period'): You know what, these dudes look like well-heeled birds.

    Chrys: Birds?

    Dom: Yeah, check out Sir John A. Macdonald.

    Chrys: Yeah kinda...

    Dom: He's more like a Feather of Confederation..hehe..ha... 

    Chrys: Good one.

    Dom: We should do a series. Replace their craniums with a beak and bird noggin...their provincial bird heads! Genius.

    Chrys: Ya we should.

    Dom: Is it a stupid idea?

    Chrys: No.

    Dom: Is it is weird?

    Chrys: Definitely.

    After a couple of completed portraits, other things pushed this little weird project to the upper-upper deck along their other weird idea cousins waiting to be baked completely in the production oven.

    Instantly, we thought this window display would be a great excuse to blow some dust off this concept. The window was to be dressed for November, as part 'Support Local' month. The concept came from a quick observation, but it was also a fun absurdist's take on the men who amalgamated this land of ours. When you think of Victoire, you think of a slew of strong women, so the contrast of all boys club seemed like a perfect juxtaposition. 

    So there you have it, we had a rationale—now, do we have the time to pull it off? Having no time to think about failure is sometimes even better that having ample time to plan and think accordingly. 

    Plan A

    1. Make four or five oversized frames from metal shelves that we harvested from the defunct Zellers before their Targetifcation.
    2. Complete four or five portraits and print them on canvas.
    3. Week before install, panic openly. Work on everything else not related to window display.
    4. Scrap initial plan of multiple frames and a handful of portraits, replace with Plan B.

    Plan B

    1. Make a single giant metal frame from previously mention Zellers shoe racks.
    2. Complete all 36 portraits and display all of them in a digital frame.
    3. Panic openly and get it done.
    4. Borrow sweet restored vintage chair from White Monkey.
    5. November 1st, Feathers of Confederation was installed.

    Here's ho we didi it. Look at said Father, find their aviary doppelgänger, punnify name of genetically modify said father. 

    Special thanks to our homies Neil who helped out with a bunch of portraits, and Yan who helped fabricate the steel frame; we wouldn't have hit the deadline without them. Oh yeah, hire them for all your design/dev needs.

    Rinse and repeat 35 times.

    Oh yeah—at the last minute—we decide to take a couple of those portraits and make some velveteen throw pillows.

    This post has been long overdue. Last November, we were crazy lucky to be a part of something pretty special. We were approached by a friend and the founder of Fancy Boys, Martin Gomez. Gomez and I (Dom) first had met in design school more than a decade ago. He wanted to throw an event. So, we wanted to bring some things that we loved—good things—together and see what would happen. It became a beautiful creative collaboration that culminated into a great finale.

    This is what went down.

    We approached Beau's All Natural Brewing Company located nearby in Vankleek Hill. We asked if we could make a special batch of brew to coincide with our event. We pitched an idea making a Tacolot-inspired brew...and we bring the Antique Skate Crew up for visit...and can we do this in the next couple of months? 

    Steve, TIna and Jordan from Beau's said, "Yes, yes and yes."

    The name 'Road Rash' came within a 5-minute chat with Jordan (Beau's amazing Creative Director) that same day. Beers, tacos and skateboards.

    It was perfect.

    This is the video our buddy, Guillaume Lebel shot when we transformed the Beau's brewery into a skatepark for a day.

    This is the photo shoot by Andrew Szeto.

     

    Fuck e-vites. We designed and made beautifully-etched personal invitations. 

    This is the party invite. 

    Fuck email. Gomez and I picked a diverse group of people (some friends, some strangers, all talented hard-working people) that we admired and inspired us by doing great things in Ottawa. One afternoon, we picked a route from East to West then we showed up at their door and invited them. 

    We just gave them a time and a place, no more info than that. Our guess was that if we picked the right people, that would be all they needed to be curious enough to show up.

    This is how we invited people.

    This is the setup.

    This is 150+ people having some fun.

    Good Things was ambitious and we far surpassed our goals. But we wouldn't have achieved anything without the following people.

    Jon Reilly-Roe (Tacolot)

    Aaron Cayer & Team (Antique Skate)

    Steve Beauchesne, Jordan Bamforth, Christina Stuewe, Matthew O'Hara & the entire team (Beau's All-Natural Brewery Company)

    Guillaume Lebel 

    Andrew Szeto

    DJ Calcutta

    Briana Kim (Café My House)

    Michael Farber (Farbs Kitchen)

    Adrian Salamunovic & Nazim Ahmed (CanvasPop

    Martin Gomez, Neil Madagzia, Darcy Aubin, Robyn Bascombe (Fancy Boys)

    Chrystale Ladouceur (N-Product)

    And finally, thank you to everyone who came out that night. Thank you for the constant support and inspiration.

    Months before we flipped the launch switch for our little company, we sat across our dining room table and made some big decisions. Way before sketching logos, picking Pantone swatches or the perfect Twitter handles, we did something that made our life infinitely tougher in some ways but ultimately better for the long run.

    We defined our values. Values that we can believe in; values we were willing to fight for and most importantly, values that we wouldn't abandon upon the first sign of struggle. We drew a portrait of the personality we wanted to see and show to the world. The outcome was greatly influenced by how we tried to act as regular people, with the added wrinkle of trying to make a profit at the end of the day. We agreed to the following:

    Whimsy. Craftsmanship. Imagination. Authenticity. Canadian. 

    They made sense to us. These 5 themes would be woven into everything we do, and in turn they would help make all our future tough decisions easier to make. Trust us, they have been tested. Having them public made us accountable and responsible. But, there was a fifth Beatle or fourth Fugee if you will. And that sixth one was:

    Charity. 

    In our personal lives, we have always made it a family priority to donate our time and or money to initiatives near and far, so it would be a natural fit for our business. But, we left it off for a couple of reasons, we were about to embark on the long and expensive road of producing, manufacturing and marketing the Deckster, our first product. We crunched numbers and we weren't sure how to work it into our model. We spoke back and forth about whether it should be "baked" into our process to ensure that it would further help shape the way we do things. We sought advice from peers and other companies that made it work for them. In the end, we decided to leave it off the table, but left it in the kitchen. During our first 2 years as a company, we made small contributions to social campaigns we believed in, here, here and here. We tried our best to include the sixth value.

    Through our involvement with various charities, non-profits and even the Canadian Internaional Development Agency, what we took away is that contributions big or small are exponentially more potent when efforts are focused. So, we are very excited to share that today we're launching a product that has "charity" baked right into it. 

    Meet Inner City Birds, a fun take on the average bird house. These are eye-catching conversation pieces for the neighbourhood animal kingdom, but they also help some people too. We are donating 15% of all sales to the Youth Services Bureau in our hometown. The YSB provides a lot of support to our community, we will be focusing our efforts on housing and shelter that they provide for distressed youths aged 12 - 20 . It's something we feel strongly about and we hope it'll be a big success. Take a peek and maybe pick up a couple of houses for your favourite tree dweller (Read: birds!).

    We have been using Shopify as our e-comm platform since day 1. At the end of last year, we were lucky enough to be selected as their spokespeople in a promo video for their big website relaunch. Pretty huge for little guys like us. 

     
    We're pretty stoked how it turned out. The CGI work on our faces is impressive ;)
     

     

    We're based in Ottawa, Canada. We never shy away from the fact. We never down play it.  We grew up here. We left here. We came back here. We met here. We decided to stay here.

    'Pride' would be an understatement, when we decided to set some roots in this town, we went in hard. All. The. Way.

    There's lots to love about this little city. Its proximity to Québec, it's surrounded by water and woods and it has a huge chip on its shoulder. All of which, WE LOVE. So we thought it made perfect sense to create the (very limited edition) Capital City Capsule, a trio that is basically a love letter to this town. 

    The Lamp


    The desk lamp was made for us by our good friends over at Na Coille Studio. It was made from a hunk of reclaimed elm that was previously serving as a support beam for a barn. We then took the topographic map of the surrounding Ottawa region and created an artwork of multiple layers overlapping each other. That graphic was then laser-etched on the front facade of the Elm beam. All other sides were left clean, except for the longitude and latitude laser-etched on either sides of the map. Simple, clean and ready for any room in your home or office.

    The Sweater


    We, then lasercut, etched and sewed the same topographic design onto reclaimed genuine leather elbow patches onto our premium sweatshirts in dark charcoal. Super comfy and super warm for those cold winter days. The japanese loom cotton blend is perfect as a layer base for the frigid February mornings or a light jacket for those crisp summer nights.

    The Tuque


    Please note the spelling. This is the correct spelling of this variant of head gear around these parts. As the final "topper" (see what we did there), we added a 100% wool knit beanie with a nice wood detail. Warm and fashionable, done up Canadian style.

    The Capsule


    Put it all together and what do we get? A very limited (Only 3 available) kit that has enough warmth and comfort to ease you through the rest of the harsh winter. All include hand work detail. All made with love. All made in Canada. 

    Photography by Steven Phaneuf

    Hustle & Go

    October 23, 2012

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    It's been almost a year since I left my full-time job to dive head first into this little entreprise of ours. In my past life, meetings were an essential way of doing business. Meetings to pitch clients. Meetings to receive our design briefs. Meetings to brief the team. Meetings to check and measure the projects status. Then of course, all the other little meetings sandwiched in between. You get the drift.

    Now meetings are still an important part of doing business—emails, phone calls and carrier pigeons just don't cut it sometimes—they're just not a daily occurence and they're certainly not scheduled back to back to back to back. 

    Then Thursday, October 11 happened. I usually try to use 1 or 2 days a week to have meetings, and with that there's usually only 2 max. I find that they really cut into the day and I lose momentum to my design and or production process. 

    This day can either be viewed as a master stroke or the dumbest thing a small business owner can try to pull off. I had 6 meetings at 6 different locations with 8 different people plus a surprise canine appearance.

    Here we go...

    8 am (Global N-Product HQ): Rise and shine.

    9:00 am (Nepean): Dropped our son at his grandparents/caregivers. Had breakfast with jr. He had oatmeal, I had toast.

    10:00 am (Chinatown): Met up with Matt, a photographer, a videographer and general getting-shit-doner for a local creative agency. Matt has been an early supporter of ours. I was delivering some goods that Matt had recently bought. We try to personally deliver to all local customers as a part of our White Tuxedo Local Delivery Service™. We're a small local company that wouldn't be around without the support of our local community. It was also a good opportunity to hang out with him and enjoy some tasty tea.

    11:00 am (Westboro): Met with Mike and (another) Matt to talk about a possible future collaboration. Mike had discovered Matt and his na Coille Studio via a web search that resulted in some sexy cutting boards that Matt makes and that I had a very small hand in. Matt and I are friends, former colleagues at a design agency in Ottawa and collaborators on a bunch of past and upcoming projects.

    Mike designs and produces really high-end custom furniture that has a altruistic angle. It was a first time meeting between the 3 of us. It was great to meet someone else in town that is making physical products with a global client base. Mike thinks big. No doubt, his name will start popping up more in Ottawa and the world in general.

    12:00 pm: Thought about grabbing a sandwich to eat on the way to the next one. Didn't.

    12:15 pm (Westboro): Dropped into Viens avec moi to chat with Chris and got a surprise greeting at the door by his dog, Nathaniel (Nate) James. A photogenic set for sure. We were to chat about throwing some of our product onto their walls and shelves. The founders of VAM, Sophie and Renee, have carved out a really unique fashion destination in Ottawa. They have a great visual aesthetic for their boutique, they also have just been featured in Herd Magazine's inaugural issue. 

    VAM will be the first spot in Ottawa that will have our goods. We're in shops in Toronto, Vancouver, NYC, London and Seattle, but it's always good to get some local love.

    Side note: The ladies of VAM are also the brains and muscles behind one of Ottawa's hottest modeling agencies, MIM.

    1:00 pm (Downtown): Headed deep into the heart of darkness, downtown Ottawa during lunch time. I had inertia on my side. I had a chat scheduled with Sharif and Alex. I had met Sharif via Creative Mornings Ottawa, of which he is a co-organizer. We spoke about custom art pieces based on our Urbanwood line. This project will involve protected bird species and a recognized region as a pilot project in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, all cumulating to a potential gala of some sort. I am really excited about this project, I've got a bit-of-a-thing for birds.

    2:30 pm (The Glebe): Almost the home stretch, I made my way towards Slaysh, a cool boutique that for 5 years, has been huge supporter of the local arts & music scene. I was meeting with Sarah to talk about a possible collaboration of some sort. What started out as us possibly stocking their shelves in some way turned into an amazing offer from Sarah to have a little pop-up install in their space PLUS taking a window display for a three week run. We jumped at this opportunity, now we have to put our heads together to come up with a unique display that stays true to our brand while meshing well with their interior. This is a first for us, but we're really keen to do this in our home town. We'll just add to the litany of firsts that we have done in the past 2 years. We think we can think of something pretty special for Slaysh.

    Slaysh was also featured in issue #1 of Herd Mag. The folks at Herd have an eye for talented, hard working people.

    3:10 pm (Bank Street): Crash back into my car. Took a breather. This could have been what marathoners call "the wall". Made a mental note to stretch and stock those gross power gel thingies if there's a next time.

    3:30 pm (Westboro—Again): After the great meeting with Sarah, I headed back towards Westboro to do another delivery. Ariane bought a tee during our first appearance at Urban Craft. She was helping with the David's Tea stand. She had run up to us when the event ended and bought the tee as a gift for her dad. Nothing like making a sale while you're packing up. We got an email from her later that weekend, asking if we she get another tee. Her boyfriend had claimed ownership of the previous tee. We were more than happy to help her out. I am huge tea drinker, but up to that point, I have not tried anything at David's Tea. Ariane was nice to enough to buy me a tea. I had the 'Oh Canada' flavour, a lively tea with a maple syrup kick. Nice!


    4:00 pm (Nepean): Picked up Jr and headed home.

    Days like these are pretty rare. Sure I missed lunch, but what I gained from meeting and interacting with customers and collaborators all day gave me some added energy and motivation. A lot of what we do harkens back to the past and the way things were done. Obviously, we get a lot done with technology and the web, but there's something magical when a smile, a solid handshake and a straight look in the eyes are your business tools for the day.
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