Maker's Musings: Love what you do and do it together
So, you want to be an entrepreneur.
Maybe your current job just isn’t cutting it. You’re filled with an incomparable dread every Sunday as you contemplate another week. Maybe you’ve always harbored an entrepreneurial spirit, constantly dreaming of the big idea that will launch your independence. Or maybe you’re a hobbyist, whose hobby is looking more and more like a full-time gig. Whatever path you’re on, our talented veteran makers at Flagstaff Crafted have walked it. It was our pleasure to interview a few of those makers and get an idea of their biggest learning experiences, lessons, and advice for new entrepreneurs.
Dennis and Karen Wolbeck, Willow Hill Designs
Dennis and Karen have been married for 12 years and began their business making signs and custom wood designs in 2010. Dennis is a journeyman carpenter and Karen has a marketing diploma and is a full-time mom! While Dennis was working at the Paintearth Coal Mine, Karen wanted a creative project to fill her time. She started making small signs with vinyl and, when he saw her using his skill saw for the first time, Dennis decided to get involved. From there, things took off! “Teaming up was the best decision we made!” Karen says. “We knew we had something successful when we couldn't keep up!” As the business grew, the couple began to invest in new equipment. From their first CNC machine to a laser cutter/engraver.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Willow Hill designs — from a house fire that gutted their home, to dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on their sales, some of their biggest challenges have been standing out from the competition, staying current and adapting to new technologies and trends. In order to differentiate themselves from other businesses, Willow Hill now specializes in unfinished wood kits and wholesale designs that allow the customer to put their own creative stamp on the finished product.
Karen’s top advice is to “ignore what others are doing and focus on what makes our business successful... On social media it's important to share snippets of your home life. Sharing from a personal standpoint allows your customers to see you as a person and not just a business. It's easy to overshare as well! Finding that balance is a tricky thing!”
Karen is also a big proponent of helping other businesses: "If they ask for it, don't be afraid to offer advice to others that are just starting out. We are always willing to offer a helping hand if we can! It’s okay to keep some things close to your heart but share things that took you a long time to learn. We tried 18 different kinds of glue before we found the one that we like best. Little things like that! (PS. It's Weldbond… best glue for signs ever).” Thanks for the tip Karen!
Ernie and Denise Gamroth, Battle River Alpacas
Ernie and Denise sell wonderful Alpaca wool socks, insoles, mitts, and more! Ernie is a mechanic who formerly worked in motor, agriculture, and environmental services and Denise is a trained psychiatric nurse! Their business started as a way to diversify and utilize their acreage. After conducting careful research on the care, housing, and fencing required for alpacas, they purchased their first animals in 1994. Over the years, the Gamroth’s promoted the alpacas at local shows, promoted products made from their fibre, developed a successful shearing business (shearing over 10,000 alpacas!) and traveled from BC to Saskatchewan shearing and teaching both shearing and husbandry! Although they’ve since sold their alpacas to allow for more travel in their retirement, they still care for friends' alpacas in the summer.
When asked about the challenges they faced when they started Denise remembers, “everyone said what are those animals? Or are you crazy? We learned and then took it upon ourselves to educate the public on these beautiful animals.” Despite the public reaction, Denise also remembers how rewarding it felt to work with the gentle creatures, find support among other breeders, and share his knowledge. The most rewarding part of all? “There were many rewards, but the first great experience was birthing a new life.”
Denise’s top piece of advice? “Pick something you love to do and work with. You’ll be working with it lots so make sure you love it! Yes, it should be profitable, but regardless, you must love it!”
Thank you, makers!
Flagstaff Crafted is filled with uniquely talented makers. Stay tuned for more insights from our community in