Sunday, April 29, 2012

Product Videos

My husband insists that people today expect to get answers to all of their questions instantly online.  My blog needs to have regular meaningful entries, my Twitter account needs to be kept up, my Facebook account needs regular fresh content, my web site needs to provide as much information as possible, and now he has me making product videos.

Words cannot describe how far out of my comfort zone I get when making product videos.  I am proud of my work but Vince of Sham-Wow fame I am not (not that I have a problem with Vince - wish I had his chutzpah when making videos) .  At the end of the day I can understand how far people like to go with research when making a big purchase, I do too.  If somebody is buying a $400+ outdoor chair, or a $2000+ patio set they should be able to see who is making it, what they are making it with, when and where they make it, and how they make it.  For this reason I have started my video series.

Unlike Vince I use a very humble Canon HD camcorder, inexpensive wireless audio, a cheap tri-pod, and for lighting I simply move everything out to my flatbed trailer and use sunlight.  The first few videos will be about how I make my bowed-arm Morris Chair - I am actually positing "The Making of the Bowed Arm" video as I type this blog - check out my Ottawa Cedar Furniture Youtube site.  The goal of the video series is very simple, a person buying the chair can see how it is made and make an informed decision about their purchase.

In addition to the Morris chair series, I will be making one about my English garden furniture, my patio set, and my Adirondack Chair.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Big Backyard and Cottage Show - Was it worth it?

Just finished exhibiting at the show. It was my first real show of its kind where I featured my own furniture. I spoke to hundreds of people, literally, and if I ever had any doubts about my own work I guess I can feel at ease now. I would like to thank the many people who stopped to tell me that had visited my web site and loved my furniture.

My 90" dining table seemed to be the biggest hit. The Morris furniture was definitely a close second. The English garden furniture did yield the largest number of leads and commitments to purchase but did not have near the "wow factor".

In my business it is very hard to evaluate the outcome of a marketing event until months after. I am still getting orders from the Ottawa Farmers Market and I have not displayed there since October. That said I gave away more business cards at this one event than I did for the entire Ottawa Farmers Market (where I had a display for most of the summer and fall last year). Time will tell.

The people at Caneast Shows do not fool around! They take great care of the exhibitors and spend a fortune promoting the event. They did have to compete with great weather, the Woman's Show downtown, The Upper-Gatineau Outdoors Show, and the Outdoorsman Show in Carp. Other vendors told me that attendance was literally a fraction of what it was in the past but I have nothing to compare it to. I must say that the CE Center, although a beautiful facility, needs to do something about the parking problem. I had 20 free ticket and could not give away half of them because people were angry about the parking at the CE Center. They hate the system for paying for tickets which involves waiting in line to pay for parking inside the building, and then having to wait in line to have the paid parking token processed on the way out. But worse again, the $7 fee to park is particularly annoying. The feeling is that having the venue in a non-central area like the airport, should mean free parking. Personally I never pretend to understand other people's business models - I am sure that the nice people at the CE Center have phenomenal overhead and need to recover some profit in any way that they can... I often have people challenge me on my prices saying that there is only X dollars of wood in that piece of furniture so why the price? They don't understand that I pay rent, maintain tens of thousands of dollars of tools, and pay a lot for insurance, marketing, and other things besides the wood (not to mention my time). I can only imagine that the CE Center has multiple orders of magnitude more expenses than I do. That said the parking policy is starting to annoy a large enough percentage of the population that they may want to investigate recovering costs some other way.

All in all it was rather pleasant. Not sure if I will do it again next year. We'll see how much business it yields.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ottawa Big Backyard and Garden Show

This is my single biggest marketing investment ever! I moved into my 30-foot booth this evening and will go in tomorrow to finish the set up. They expect 12,000 visitors over the course of the show and it is massive!

If you are ever considering taking part in a trade show at the CE Center in Ottawa all I can say at this point in time is move-in is a breeze. I have taken part in trade shows during my time in a different industry, and the friends helping me set up were from the high-tech sector - they have world-class trade shows in that industry. Everybody agreed that the CE Center was by far the easiest venue that they have ever moved into. The building was designed from the ground up to be the absolute most efficient trade show facility ever! I will blog about the show throughout my time in it but I have to say that we are off to a great start!

Kudos for Caneast Shows and the CECenter for a well-organized efficient move-in!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Staining Eastern White Cedar

Eastern white cedar is not compatible with just any stain. Many times friends have asked that I help them source wood for backyard projects. I always oblige and most of the time I even transport it for them if the timing is right. I always suggest that they use Sikkens Cetol 1 stain. The first thing they usually do is look into the price and then they buy something else. Of course the next year when I visit them the stain has usually come off their creation and they complain about the wood. The same is true of glue - eastern white cedar is not compatible with most wood glues. I use 100% polyurethane and have never had few problems.

I am not promoting Sikkens Cetol 1 over any other stain, that is not the point of this blog. What I am suggesting however is that people should do their homework when buying stain for any project that is made out of eastern white cedar. If I were ever to stray from Sikkens for another type of stain, I would want to actually speak to somebody who has used it on eastern white cedar and find out first-hand how it has faired over the years. If I could see it that would be even better.

Sikkens Cetol 1 is available in many colours. I personally only offer it in Dark Oak and Natural colours. The Dark Oak stain comes out looking a teakish colour when applied to eastern white cedar and the Natual comes out as a light honey / golden colour. With this wood you need to visit your local Sikkens dealer with a few scraps and see the colours for yourself - you cannot trust the colours on the web site.

Eastern white cedar is tremendously beautiful, especially in select grade. If you ever use it for a project just make sure to do your homework with respect to the products you use with it.

Monday, April 9, 2012

New Beginning for My Blog

I used to maintain this blog site to encourage women to get into trades. Five years ago when I started woodworking this may have been necessary. These days when I take refresher courses at Algonquin College here in Ottawa there are no lack of women. Given this, I will now use my blog to discuss (and promote) my business.

In 1996 when I met my husband, I had completed a biochemistry degree at the University of Ottawa, and was halfway through the respiratory therapy program at Algonquin College. He worked in the information technology industry but had deep roots in farming. Within 18-months of meeting we were married, owned the farm he grew up on, and I was pregnant. In fact our child was due on the last day of my 12-month internship at a local hospital. Luckily she wasn't eager to be born so I had a chance to finish, but only by a few days.

Spending time a lot of time on the farm with my in-laws was different for me. My parents were diplomats and my upbringing could not have been more different. My in-laws were very nice people but it was not a world that I was from and it took some getting used to. What was very nice however was the fact that their world stopped when my daughter showed up - other than breast feeding I had a lot of free time when we were there because aunts, uncles, in-laws - everybody wanted time with the baby. Within 4 years we had three more babies...

My father-in-law and I developed a very close relationship over the years. He was a lover of the outdoors and especially loved working in our woodlots. Every year he would cut a few tractor trailer loads of logs. He would do this using an ornery 2,000+ lb Belgian draft horse named Jim - he would skid the logs out of the bush one by one. Jim was not a pleasant creature to men (other than my father-in-law) but was very nice to women and children. My father-in-law thought that he might have been abused by a previous owner, a man, and therefore developed an incredibly unpleasant disposition. In any event my husband was not big on bush work at the best of times, and Jim's presence made him even less interested. I started going out with my father-in-law on the odd occasion when he needed help skidding. Eventually he started using me for bigger and bigger jobs until I ended up learning almost everything about logging. He taught he about chainsaws - sharpening them and choosing which one to use for what job. I learned how to fell a tree, in fact I could put one down almost anywhere I wanted (within the confines of the laws of physics). He also taught me to harvest with causing as little damage to other trees as possible. One year we kept a bunch a logs to build a new post and beam machinery shed. We brought in a portable sawmill and created massive 20 foot long square beams. Later that year we actually built the building and it was during that process that my attraction to woodworking started.

We spent a lot of time going back and forth between the farm and our home in Kanata. I didn't immediately have time to take classes because the children were still young and my husband worked incredibly long hours. My husband eventually found an online woodworking learning site called "The Woodwhisperer" for me, and that was a life-changing moment. The site was hosted on Youtube and had dozens of learning videos about virtually every aspect of woodworking. The host, Marc Spagnuolo, seemed to be teaching to people with my knowledge level so it was absolutely perfect. I started buying tools on Kijiji and soon I had a fully equipped shop and was capable of just about any project - or at the very least confident enough to try any project. I admit that there were a few less than successful pieces in the early days but since my father-in-law heated with wood they mysteriously disappeared... I have upgraded most of my stationary tools at least twice now with the guidance of a friend who is in the business. I now have all the big tools like a Delta Unisaw, a 20" 3 HP Planer, an 8" by 6' 3HP Jointer, a 17" Drill press, a 3 HP Delta shaper, and the list continues... I used to work in my garage in Kanata but the local by-law officers found a rarely-enforced weird law forcing people in our sub-division to always maintain 2.6 by 5.7 meters of available floor space in their garage. They decided to enforce it with extreme prejudice on me and put me out of business for a while. In fairness I was starting to outgrow my garage and the time had come to get my own commercial space. I now have a woodworking shop less than 1KM from my home so everything worked out in the end!

I focus only on outdoor furniture as seen on my web site This allows me to take advantage of the many contacts that my husband and I made thanks to the 4 decades that my father-in-law spent in the logging industry. We know many small cedar mill owner operators and these people save their best wood for us. We have access to clear eastern white cedar that looks spectacular. I now only work with this type of wood. It takes stain well and its weather-resistant properties make it the perfect choice for the Ottawa area climate.

Please check back in on my blog on a regular basis. I promise to have lots of pictures of new projects!