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Hustle & Go

November 05, 2012

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.

Fifty Six Seconds of Fame

November 01, 2012

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 ;)
 

New All The Things. Sort of.

October 04, 2012

A few things happened.

New web store. New designs. New(ish) brand.

It was always part of the master plan, we would always roll back under the N-Product roof once after we launched Deckster. We took a risk when we first launched by putting the Deckster name out in front of our company name. We needed something catchy and sticky and it stuck. We received great exposure and press and deckster.ca was getting good traffic from day 1.

The Deckster Timepiece was a huge endeavour for us, we designed, manufactured and marketed a product in a very new segment. In an attempt to be sticky, we lead with the product name. And that name stuck, we received great press for our design, but we knew that the day where Deckster will have to take a step back.

While we were aware of the challenge before us and we had a plan, it wasn't an exact science. We used N-Product for a small "corp" site, Facebook and Twitter.

But in the last 8 months, we have been busy little beavers. We brainstormed, designed, prototyped tons of products. 99% of them were scrapped. Check out what we had baking in the oven. The dream of 'products without limitations' is slowly taking shape. The baby is walking now. 

N-Product Hearts MEC

October 01, 2012

When we mapped out our course for the company and our designs, we had a very clear perspective on the colours and materials we wanted to use. We were methodical in this process, because in the world of physical product manufacturing, one has very little control. So, we focus on what a small company like us can control. We can only stay resilient to our values. 

We have ideas, good ideas—but, can those same ideas come to fruition under our main goal of producing them in North America? We had a little checklist in our heads. Each idea, no matter how big or small needed to be vetted via that list.

Case in point, we always wanted to offer non-leather, vegan options for our fans and customers. But it quickly became obvious that sourcing rubber or plastic in North America wasn't feasible for a small company that wanted to make small production runs. We have witnessed a strong community of makers who have help add upcycling to the everyday vernacular. So naturally, we went down that route.

We hunted. We gathered. We found a partner.

Mountain Equipment Co-op is a Canadian institution. They're in the business of making people active and happy, which you can witness when you see the faces of their customer shopping in their aisles. When we approached them about our idea, they were more than receptive. 

It has been a slow process (6+ months in the making) but today we launched our Re:Class line for Deckster. We have taken their unwanted backpacks, inner tubes and tires and made high-end timepiece band options. 3 in total, two of which are 100% vegan. We collected the materials and our great manufacturing partner in Montréal takes them, cleans them, cuts them and then handcrafts each band with artistry and care. The results have achieved our goal of being both top-shelf in aesthetics and more sustainable in its genesis.

So instead of wasting away in landfills, those same items will now grace fair wrists near and far. Pretty cool, no?

This has been an especially proud and rewarding product release. We never thought that our path would be a straight vector from A to B and clearly it hasn't been. If zig-zags are the only way we can stay true to ourselves, we wouldn't want it any other way. 

 

As designers, you're always inspired by everything you see, read, smell, taste and feel. From the beginning, our design inspiration for the Deckster's aluminum jacket and the leather bands comes from one single source. Steve McQueen, and his performance as American, Michael Delaney in the 1970 film Le Mans. Michael Delaney goes against the grain and the odds as he and his Porsche 917K competes in the gruelling 24 hr endurance race, set in Le Mans, France. McQueen, looking like badass personified for the entire film, all the while sporting the Tag Heuer Monaco 1133 (B model Calibre 12). An icon wearing a soon to be icon, a match made in sexy heaven.

While we're not certain, but we think this is the first time in pre-Wikipedia history that the saying, "Men want to be him, and women want to be with him" was uttered.

Very. Very. Cool.

 

2012 saw a huge increase to our marketing budget, but going up from zero wasn't too much of a challenge. While we have never spent a dime on advertising or pr, we knew that we needed to set up shop at these events to maximize our outreach to international retailers and distributors.

Our online customers have been mainly been outside of Canada, and building that presence abroad was always part of the game plan.


The New York International Gift Fair would be our first foray into the trade show world. It is one of the biggest, with an expected traffic of over 200,000 people coming from all over the globe. It was also our most expensive activity to date next to our tooling and North American manufacturing set-up costs. Suffice to say, that we were a bit nervous when we considered the 'investment vs return' equation.

Was it worth it? For us, it was a resounding 'YES!'. Yes, it was expensive. Yes, we had no idea what we were doing. Yes, it was stressful and a lot of hard work. But it was indeed worthwhile. The most valuable part of the experience was the education we received from our fellow exhibitors and the experience. It gave us a glimpse into the market, how the big and small players acted. It also gave us the confidence and the resolve to continue on this long and winding journey.
What was supposed to be a quick synopsis of our experience turned out to be quite a long post, so we decided to divide them up and posted them in parts over the next week or so.

We broke it down to 3 main sections:
  1. Pre-show
  2. At-show
  3. Post-show
We’ll also have some Tips at the end of each article that we think may help ease your process a bit. Just like these below.

Tip: Remember, just like your daily business activity, all decisions are influenced by time or money. Sometimes, the cheapest option will require more of your time and your time is valuable. Don't always go for the cheap.

Tip: Every industry has a calendar of events, a bit of research will help you find the right event that makes sense for you, your product and your potential audience. You can cut your costs by planning ahead and registering early.

Our one year anniversary came and went, and in keeping with the current pattern we were too busy to really notice. September 12 the day was, if anyone is keeping score. There may have been a quick note on Facebook or Twitter and a quick high-five, before we buried our heads back into the grind. We celebrated by assembling and packaging Decksters and writing mailing labels!

It’s been a roller coaster of a year—check that— it’s been an out-of-control speeding bus driven by Sandra Bullock filled with craziness, fun and not-so-much fun. Juggling full time jobs, a new business, a young family, home maintenance, friends, family and everything else has been a challenge. We’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices to make it all work, but we still feel blessed to be able to build something that we are passionate about. We’re still trying to find the right groove, supporting each other whether we succeed or fail. This takes place every day.
 
We hope to build a business that we are proud of; something that represents who we are and what we believe in. 
  
Sure, the ball(s) drops sometimes, we just pick them back up and try again. We made one agreement before we dove head first into N-Product, we don’t let the ball drop when it came to our son. Amidst the chaos, we have managed to keep family first, dedicating time everyday to us as a family.
 
This marathon just started, we have a lot of hustling to do. We hope that once we have gained some momentum, there will be more time for friends and other adventures.  
We thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts for being unbelievably supportive and so understanding when we sometimes (most times) bail on plans at the last minute. 
We will make it up to you all. Promise. 
Merci merci merci.  Bisous xo
Chrys & Dom


We're into movies, it's a fact. Cinema, film, celluloid, talkies, flicks, silver screen, motion pictures; however you like to classify it, we love it. The only thing better than watching a good flick is watching about 10 of them over the course of a few days surrounded by the talented people that make movie magic. And all this flurry of activity to raise awareness for some great causes. Pretty cool..haha, get it? Park City...skiing...snow? Never mind.

When an opportunity of a lifetime came knocking. We kicked the door open. 

The "Eco Hideaway" Music Saves Lives Lounge at Sundance this year brought together musicians and (up and coming and veteran) entertainers to the Stein Erikson Lodge in Park City, Utah. Together, everyone was there to support Music Saves Lives, a great organization that unites music and entertainers in an effort to bring attention to great initiatives such as blood donation drives and organ and marrow registration.

Here are some of the stars who attended the event rockin' their Decksters. See the entire album on our FB page.

We were more than happy to be associated with such a worthy cause. It looked like everyone had a great time. 

Unfortunately, we couldn't attend the festival ourselves. They say timing is everthing. Although, we both have dreamt of going to Sundance, we had no plans of going this year. Our involvement with Sundance came out of the blue about a month before the event. We were contacted via Twitter by Gotham Chandna of Cloud21 PR, he was a fan of the Deckster and asked us to participate. Being total fan-nerds of Sundance, it was (sort of an) easy choice. How this came into being is a testament of how business is done these days. 

First contact via Twitter, brief meeting via Skype, 90% subsequent communication via DMs and email. A first for us for sure, we still prefer sealing deals in person with a solid look in the eyes and a firm handshake. Gotham was a pleasure to work with. He made the process smooth and worry free, a consummate professional. We would readily work with him and his team again.

Unfortunately, we had already planned to be in NYC the following week, we were in full prep mode for our first industry trade show, the New York International Gift Fair—we'll be adding a blog post on that later. As a small up and coming company, we only had the budget for 1 major event this year. So this is still the closest to Sundance we have ever been. By proxy is better than by nothing right?

Sundance and the "Eco Hideaway" represents so many things we feel passionate about, a film festival that showcases indie films and talent, and a fun event that is intrinsically linked with music and charity. That's a win all around in our books.

Previous post: NYIGF SHOW & TELL: INTRO


Registration 

In typical fashion, we first learned about the NYIGF in November (2011) and the winter edition was happening in 2 months. Bad news, application deadlines had long passed. Good news, we never let that stop us. So we picked up the phone and called, fortunately we're weren't the only one late to the show (bad pun). In the world of commerce, money talks. Big time. We paid all our fees up front and lo and behold, we got a spot. 

For 5 days, we were booth #30004, in the New York's Newest section at Pier 92. This was a satellite site away from the main zoo that is the Javits Center

Pretty risky move when our company has never showed before, we had no booth designs and we had no inventory. We decided that the "pay now, worry later" was our only strategy. Do yourself a favour and search for a calendar of events for shows and their location. Pick the one that makes the more sense for your budget and audience, most of the big ones are in the US and they happen year round. The more research you do up front, the better the results will be for you and your company. 

Tip: Most shows have early bird specials that can cut costs down for you. Money that can be better spent elsewhere like paying bills or a gel in-soles for the long days of standing in your booth.

Space Rental 

Most shows have different space options, we took the smallest space available 8 x 10'. Our little home away from home would cost us roughly $3500 USD for a small patch of concrete, a couple of chairs and a trash bin. Lights and electricity were extras and would be pre-installed by their team of carpenters and electricians. Everything would be extra, you'll learn this quickly.

Tip: Using masking tape, measure out the actual space on the floor of your home or office. No use spending on extra space that you won't need. Big isn't always better, especially if the space will look empty.

Booth Display 

Trade show booth design is an art, a science, a bit of voodoo and lots of wishful thinking. Designing a 3D space in 2D without ever seeing the installation site can be a challenge. With the right budget, a booth can look like intergalactic space vessel or a Swedish lodge—the possibilities are endless. We tend to lean towards a more minimalist aesthetic in general, we took inspiration from a museum or gallery, so everything will be white throughout, allowing the visitors to focus on our designs. White is also an easier colour to match.

The NYIGF provides you with the following amenities with your space rental: used industrial carpet, a waste bin and 2 plastic chairs and a frame of poles. All the exhibitors would be separated by some flimsy sheer curtains. If we didn’t bother “dressing” up our space, the term “ghetto” would be an understatement. 

There are a lot of “pop-up” booth display systems out there, but we didn’t want to commit to a hardware and design until we experience a show first. It’s always a good idea to move to your new house, live in it a for bit before you decide on colours for the walls.

We ordered a 6 x 12’ wall to be constructed for us. A bit costly, but it saved us a lot of hassles. It removed for us to think up or order a costly display that we might tire of. 

For our booth display and setup, we had the following items: 

  • 2 1950’s shell chairs (borrowed) 
  • 1 step ladder (borrowed) 
  • 1 trolley (borrowed) 
  • 1 Ikea PS cabinet (ours) 
  • 12 Ikea Lack shelves (rented) 
  • 1 custom made cardboard giant Deckster replica 
  • 1 cardboard safari moose (ours) 
  • 1 Ikea Dave laptop table (bought) 
  • 1 Sony digital frame 
  • 1 Benq lcd projector 
  • 1 car vacuum 
  • 3 screwdrivers 
  • 1 hammer 
  • 2 drill kits 
  • 1 hot glue gun 
  • 2 packs of glue inserts metal wiring extra cardboard panels 
  • 4 lcd light dics Multi screw/nail kit Laser level 
  • 1 big ghetto blaster 
  • 1 small cassette player 
Since we had our car, we took a few "we might need them" items. Did we use everything? No. Did we have to run to the hardware store for anything? Also no.

Tip: Follow the 'Bridesmaids Dress Rule', don't overspend on anything you're only going to use once. Keep all your receipts and return everything you can. 

Tip: The NYIGF have online video tutorials and webinars that touch on a myriad of subject matter from logistics to marketing. They are greatly useful for noobies and veterans alike.

Travel 

We decided to pack our wagon with all the gear and make it a road trip. It saved us flight plus the freight of the goods. A decision that added a lot of road time but lighten the strain on our budget by more than 50%. Even with our Ikea “rentals” that were flat-packed, we needed more room in our car. Instead, of renting a van, we borrowed a car roof storage box. That, along with a couple of tries at strategic car loading worked perfectly. 

Tip: Car roof storage boxes can be rented or borrowed instead of buying it brand new, you just need cross bars installed on your car. The add tons of temporary storage space. 

Tip: Make sure you fill out all the required paperwork for any merchandise you plan to bring over the border. Failure to do so may result in a hefty fee or a denial of entry. 

Hotel 

We are heavy users of hotwire.com, it helped us save about $1000 over the span of the week at a 3-star downtown hotel within walking distance to the show for a rate of $80 per night. Parking was extra at $45 a day, which was a deal considering the lots scattered around. We were there for business, and our working days would long, so cool boutique hotels were not an option. Plus we were in NYC, so we didn’t plan on spending much time in our rooms. 

There are similar services, and we have never been disappointed in finding a good room and a great rate. Overall, the decision to drive forced us to coordinate with our car a lot more, but it was really convenient to have a car available for any last minute errands.

Tip: Using a web service (like Priceline.com or AirBnB.com etc) to book a room can save you up to 75% of the regular rate.

As two new entrepreneurs, we get unsolicited advice, opinions, insights, and warnings around each and every corner. While they may or may not add any real weight to our decision-making process, but they still affect us. The only two groups that I can think of that get a heavier dose of advice slash criticism are mimes and new parents.   

Today, we wanted to shine a light on a couple of companies who unknowingly convinced us to pursue our dreams. By their sheer example, they help push us over that all-important threshold that transforms an inkling of an idea into a slew of constant of activity that eventually becomes a company. 

This admiration goes beyond their product; it extends towards their business values and their obvious desire to do things with their values heavily baked in. Both of these companies create products that complement Apple offerings, the iPad and the iPhone 4, respectively. They both showed that a small company can compete and win fans by focusing their attention on creating a fine product and manufacturing it using on-shore methods. They provided a framework that proved successful in the competitive and ever changing Apple accessory ecosysytem. It's the old school-yard argument for start-ups. If they can do it, we can too!

Being headquartered in Ottawa, Canada, we were introduced to Dodocase through Shopify.com (our e-commerce engine). They were winners of Shopify’s Build a Business Competition. They entered an already highly cramp iPad case market and have since carved a nice slice out of the market share. We are owners of a Dodocase, and as an accessory it has achieved its main goal. We gain more enjoyment out of our iPad by using their product, I can think of no greater compliment. 

Dodocase

Studio Neat is the maker of the Glif, an iPhone 4 stand and tripod mount. We found out about them through Kickstarter.com, where their project was successfully funded. The company is composed of two creative people who have no product or manufacturing experience. Seeing them enter the iPhone accessory market helped us be confident in our desire to enter the iPod nano accessory making business. Again, they design and manufacture the Glif in North America. We are not owners of the Glif only for the simple reason that both of us rock a 3G and 3GS, and the Glif only fits with the iPhone 4. But, rest assured that we will be customers as soon as one of us upgrades. 

Dan Provost (1/2 of Studio Neat) has an excellent post on his blog about their experience. It's a great read for dreamers who want to be doers.

 

Both these companies operate in a space that heavily depends on the form factor as decided by Apple. The window of opportunity is quite smal, with a change interval of 1 or 2 years depending on device. And the space is more saturated than a Big One Burger. They have shown that a small company can compete with major manufacturers. If you create from a place of sincerity and thoughtfulness, with hard work success is attainable.