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Are you ready to make the door swing, the phone ring and the website ping?
One of the best kept secrets in any community is its network of local businesses, businesses that rely on local customers foot traffic and phone calls or website visits. Those same businesses are supporting your kids sports teams and donating to fundraising efforts. But no more secrets from the skinned knee lessons or maybe skin knuckle lessons for today’s episode that will make you wince to the tell exposee.
These everyday people are doing extraordinary things in their business. Welcome to The Secret Life of local. I’m your host Barb McGrath, Google girl and founder of the Get Found for Local program. Today, we’re sharing the behind the scenes story of a local business who’s making sustainable wooden toys for kids. I want you to really think about some of those toys that you may have had as a kid a wooden toy in particular, they stood up to everything.
Let’s get started. Today we have Quinn from Kustom Kitties Canada, who’s going to talk to us about all sorts of fun things that are wooden, and toys, and sustainable. So with that, I’m gonna let him take over Quinn, tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.
All right, so, so as you said, my name is Quinn. I am actually a special education teacher and I’m a woodworker as well. I’m also working on a Master’s of educational psychology because I kind of hate myself and don’t want to have any spare time.
That’s, that’s where my brain actually went on. Like, oh, Quinn doesn’t sleep. Okay. Good to know.
Yeah, sleeper for the week. Absolutely. So I actually started out in woodworking making custom cat furniture, which is why it’s Kustom Kitties Canada.
Yeah. Got it. Okay. Yep.
But then, so 16 months ago, my, my son was born. And he was born super premature. And, yeah. And so making toys for him was kind of just a coping mechanism for me. It was just something I could do, right? Because when you’re when your child is in the NICU, there’s not much you can do as a parent, right? You can, you can come and you can cuddle them and you can you know, you can change diapers, but there’s not much you can do because at the end the day you gotta leave them, right.
So I started making toys for my son. Okay. And that also happened to be in the middle of the pandemic, and everybody, I started posting them on Facebook, and everyone wants that. A lot of people started saying I want one of those. I want one of those. I want one of those very, um, and so, you know, I kind of said, oh, people want the things I make for my son. Oh, okay. Yeah. So I basically pivoted my whole business during the pandemic. Wow. Yeah. Yep. The whole thing. The whole business. And I and I started making kids toys. But being a special education teacher, I always want to make sure all the toys are educational,
Safe, educational, tactile, right.
Tough. Yes. I was a little boy. I know how tough a little boys can be on boys. Yeah. Yeah. Um, so I think the first toy I ever made for my son was I think I made them a rattle. And I made them a little frog shaped rattle. And it had a couple little beads in the center. And yeah, and then people were like, hey, I want that. I want that. I want that. And then I made a toy car. And then I made a toy boat. And then I made some stacking stones. And it just, it just kept growing and growing and growing. I’m actually almost at the point where I am considering leaving education just to run this business because Oh, wow. Getting that busy.
Okay, yep. And so every piece is handmade and custom made? Or do you have any? Like, I don’t know, prefab machining that happens in the process, or is this a labor of love from first cut to last hand.
So 90% of my toys are 100% made by me in my shop from lumber. Okay. That last 10% is things where I, I couldn’t make them but they take so long that I do just by them. So things like wheels and dowels. Okay, right. So like, I can make dowels. But it’s takes so long and I wouldn’t save any money. So I just buy them. Exactly. Yeah. Um, but yeah, beyond that, like everything’s made by me. The only thing that’s ever Yeah, the only thing that’s ever purchased is things like screws, bolts, dowels. But, ya know, everything is made by me. And the vast majority of what I make is made all from hardwood instead of instead of soft wood. So like I do make a couple of things out of pine and a little bit out of hemlock. But the majority of my toys are made out of you know, cherry, beech, oak, walnuts, that sort of thing.
Yeah. Which creates a lot more interest in the piece because once that stained, you’ve got such a rich green to those hardwoods as opposed to a pine which is such a plain flat kind of grain in the wood. So it probably makes it a lot more interesting to just parent standpoint. Nevermind that it’s actually going to stand up to a kid now.
I actually don’t stay in any of my toys.
So like if it’s if it’s Walnut, it’s walnut, it is solid walnut. Um, it’s actually one of the things I don’t do is I don’t use any stains and I avoid finishes. Because the more I’ve looked into it, the more I don’t think they’re safe for kids.
Because yeah, it’s gonna go in their mouth, they’re gonna chew on it.
And their reason do is that actually globally in terms of pollution, the paint stain industry is just horrendous. Yeah, they’re, they’re actually the number one polluter in the world is the paint stain industry.
Get out. I had no idea. Okay, so this is the sustainability part of your business. So talk to me a little bit about this. Because I as a consumer, I had no idea.
Okay, so one of the big things I do is I used to use some exotic lumber and some of my toys, but I don’t do that anymore. One of the big reasons for that is actually the most sustainable lumber you can get is the lumber that comes from closest to you. Hey, that makes some sense. Yep. Yeah. So like, if you ever look on there, and you’ll find toys that are made, let’s say out of bamboo, or rubber, wood, and stuff like that, and they’re advertised is very sustainable. But that toy that wood was still shipped from overseas in a cargo ship belching fumes. Whereas, you know, in some cases, like when I make like little wooden beads, like I’ll make them from branches I find on walks, they’re ultimately sustainable. No tree was cut down, it’s just dead ball.
And in terms of sustainability of, let’s say, like finishes, the only finish I use is I use beeswax and mineral oil. So the mineral oils is a petroleum byproduct. But it’s completely kid safe. You know, we give it to adults to to make them poop. And then beeswax is absolutely sustainable because I actually have a friend of mine who literally lives 10 kilometers down the road, and he tells me his beeswax and so all my finishes are very, very localized.
Exactly. So does that then seal the wood as well so that if by chance, you know, the kid takes it into the bathtub, it’s still gonna survive.
It will as long as it’s dried afterwards. Okay. So like, like if let’s say I made like a toy boat, and I see a little that beeswax mineral oil. If you take it out of the bathtub and just like leave it aside to dry. Yeah, it’ll be fine. If you leave it in the bathtub overnight. It will seep in eventually.
Yep. Yeah, exactly. So let’s just go back to the beginning for a second. You started off making for your son, how is your son today?
He’s doing very well. He’s actually just starting to walk. Oh, very exciting. He’s getting to that point where he kind of does the the Jack Sparrow walk right where he’s gotten off to the side and totally unbalanced, but it’s adorable.
Exactly. Okay, awesome. So we just had to make sure.
So he’s fine. He’s, he’s been great. Okay, yeah.
And so are you still making toys for him? And what are you making for him now?
I actually just finished up sanding literally about 10 minutes before we started. Just finish sanding up a Pickler Triangle for him.
Oh, sorry, a Pickler Triangle?
It’s a bigger triangle. So what it is, is it’s like a folding climbing apparatus that forms a triangle, obviously. And then the whole thing folds folds flat for storage. But basically what it is, is it’s kind of like an intro to climbing for kids who are just starting to learn those gross motor skills. And it’s so instead of using like kitchen chairs and whatnot, which you know, are old and wobbly, and that that you have this very sturdy hardwood triangle. That is very, very sturdy, and the kid can use it for anything they want to they can climb on it, they can make a fort out of it, tit comes with a slide.
Wow. How big is it?
That’s about 36 inches high. So about three feet, okay. Yep. Yeah, they’re, they’re not huge, but they’re very much for like two to five year olds.
Yep, that makes sense. I remember when our son started climbing, not so much walking. He was climbing well, before he was walking like, well before, and he’d get himself up on the kitchen table. No problem. Like, if you so much as blanked or answered the phone, it was like serious, buddy. Like, how did you do that? But the speed and the skill was just instant.
Yeah, and I was the same way to I was a climber. I broke my leg when I was two years old, apparently, even then I was still getting on top of the fridge and all that. Hooking the cast on like the fridge and flipping up. Because kids just want to climb. It’s that it’s that gross core motor strength that they just want to use so badly.
Yep. Let’s be honest, everything else in the world is above them. They just want to get up there to see like, Hey, what’s going on up here?
Absolutely. Yeah, like my son right now is like I want to be held and you can kind of tell it’s not I want to be held. It’s kind of I want to see the world how you see it.
Exactly. Yeah, that’s exactly it.
Okay, so everything is getting shorter rides.
So like, how do you plan this stuff out? Do you have to go find like a blueprint? Like, how does this stuff all come together in your mind?
Well, usually, there’s about 37 tracks in my mind, all of which are running at the same time. But so it kind of depends on what it is. So things so like, I actually have quite an extensive library at this point. But things like toy cars are I just make them Okay, I just I grabbed some pieces of wood and I say, I’m gonna make myself a truck today. And I make a truck. Yeah, um, in terms of like pickler triangles.what I actually did was I got a set of plans off the internet. I made kind of a prototype one went, Wow, that sucks. I’m going to change this.
And that sometimes if it’s something new that I’ve never done before, I’ll go out and I’ll get a set of plans go, Hmm, that’s terrible, and then improve it and improve it and improve it. So usually by the second or third iteration, it’s a very, very, very, very finished and thought out. And I know what I’m doing exactly.
Sometimes what I also find, too, is, is that a lot of times, especially daycares, they’ll have a really old piece of a really old piece of climbing equipment. And they’ll say we have no idea where it was bought from. It is older than the building. Can you make us another one? Because this one’s in trouble. And I usually go I snap a couple pictures. And then I say, Well, this is this isn’t very strong anymore. I’m going to improve it. I’m going to make it stronger. So like right now, I actually just finished a big massive clamor for the Early Learning Center, and Regina. And that was basically the same thing. They said, Hey, we want another one of these. And I looked at the design and when I will make this stronger, because this scares me.
Yeah, exactly. And now that you’re a parent, you have a completely different frame of reference than you know, three years ago, you’d be like, Okay, this will be fine. But then you put real life kid on top of it. You’re like, what that back?
Yeah. And that’s, and that’s one of the reasons why I use almost exclusively hardwoods is because so I don’t know if I don’t know if in your research for this. You found out but actually offer a lifetime warranty on all my toys. If it ever breaks, I will fix that. It’s it’s it’s not only me standing behind it, but it’s also the sustainability thing. I want none of my toys ever ending up in the landfill while I’m alive. So the lifetime is actually like my lifetime. your lifetime. Yeah, not the lifetime of the toy. My lifetime. Good for you. But But that’s one of the reasons why I use all hardwoods. I, you know, I don’t use anything that could potentially be toxic to kids or anything like that. Because at the end of the day, right, like, I want this to be a sustainable, safe. And above all else, I want it to be a business that provides a really good service at a at a reasonable cost. Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at furniture for schools, but
Oh, furniture for schools, yes, through the roof, because of course, you know, it’s got to stand up to so much. But wood furniture, wood toys are not an inexpensive endeavor. And I remember back when my kids were, you know, doing the toddling around. My dad made them a rocking chair and a rocking horse. And the joke in the family was like a tornado could come through, and the house could be flattened. But those two little rockers would still just be going without a scratch on them. By the time both of my kids were done with them. We passed it on then to the next cousin, who same thing. She had twins. They did their thing. She passed them on again. And they still look brand new. Brand new, right?
We have a rocking horse actually, that my wife’s grandfather, a great grandfather made and yeah, my my in laws just put a coat of paint on it when my son was born. And it looks and works great.
Exactly. Yep. Yeah, that’s, that’s what people I think they forget now in days, no, okay, granted, if I’m buying a toy for my kid, it doesn’t necessarily need to last for seven generations. But that one toy, a, you’re gonna pass it down. Be from a sustainability standpoint, it’s a heck of a lot better than the plastic and all the chemicals and the coatings, everything else that’s in there. Because when you start dissecting, you know, some of what we give to our kids and what ends up in their mouth at that age and stuff. It’s like, oh, wait, hold on. Right. Yeah, it can be pretty atrocious.
Well, that’s actually one of the reasons why. So there are some finishes that some people consider safe for kids. Okay, but kids to everything. Yes, absolutely. And there’s a difference between contact safe and ingestion safe. Right? So like, beeswax and mineral oil. I like I’ll take a spoonful that finished right now and eat it right. It’s these terrible but it will not harming right. Whereas if, let’s say I put a big thick coat of varnish on, and some trout is chewing on it. They’re ingesting it right there. It’s not just a case of oh, they’re scratching it up. It’s being ingested.
Yeah, yeah, I agree. So let’s just go back to when you were actually making cat furniture. What, what started that? Because Have you always been working with wood? Or where did that interest come from?
I’m one of those people who always I’ve always liked building things. Always. Right. I was a Lego kid. I was given me wood and the hammer nails and I’ll build a fork kid. Yeah. And I think I just kind of realized when I hit about 2526 that I just I wanted to build things maybe not as a career, but I wanted to build things just to keep my hands busy. Yeah. And the cat furniture I you know, I don’t even remember what my love my mind process was on that I think I was just like, oh, build care furniture and everyone will buy it and I’ll be hugely wealthy. I think it’s also because we have two cats. And I think my wife was like, you should make them a cat tree guy that you should. Yeah, that just kind of spiraled.
And so you’re not doing that at all anymore. If somebody knocks on your door and said, Hey, we saw this great cat thing. You know, would you build it for us? You’re like, No, I’m all toys now.
Yeah, I’ve pretty much fully pivoted to toys with the exception of I do some work for Excalibur Cat Cafe in Regina every so often. And also build stuff for them just because we have a really long standing really awesome relationship. Yeah, but But ya know, I’ve pivoted to entirely toys and educational, okay. And it’s also just, like right now, like, I’m booking for Christmas already.
That’s what I was just gonna say. So how far in advance? Are you booking? So Christmas? We know that. So we need folks thinking about their Christmas order and their stocking stuffer and the toys for Christmas? And what is the like the most fun toy the coolest toy that you’re making right now? What’s your favorite thing to make?
I saw I just finished that epic climber for the ELC. Yep. And then it makes my internal climber so happy. I look at it. And I see my son playing with it. And I’m just like, Oh, I wish I had one of these as good. I wish I had one now that could hold up to 300 pounds, you know, 30 year old man.
How big was it?
It’s about four qfeet square and about four and a half feet high. Okay, so that’s not huge, but it’s quite large in terms of a climber.
Yep. And so when did you have to put it together on site?
No, actually, I built the whole thing to fold so I can. So I actually fold slabs that folds down to about five inches. Okay. And then I’m actually I’m dropping it off, actually this afternoon right after our interview.
Oh, very cool. Okay. K that’s a big one. What about some of the stuff that you will be making for Christmas? What’s going to be popular this Christmas?
Picklers are huge. Um, I’m already taking orders. I was actually taking orders for big Christmas picklers back in July. Oh, yeah, it’s unfortunately they take a little bit of time. So I usually tell people give me some notice, especially around Christmas because I get so busy. Yep. What else is I just released some toy boats. Those are seem to be quite popular. Stacking stones and magnetic stacking stones are always popular. I always run over them every year.
Sorry, what are those? I don’t know what those are.
Stacking stones are basically they’re like building blocks. The only difference is that they’re they’re shaped to look like rocks. Okay. So the idea the idea is basically they’re very naturalistic open ended play. Right. So they can Yeah, they can be bricks for building or they can be boulders, or they can be asteroids coming to destroy the dinosaurs. Got it? Yeah. Are there a cliff, you know, for your army man or whatever. Right there. They’re just very open ended. Exactly. Yeah, yeah. And then the magnetic ones that are the exact same except they’re magnetic.
Oh, cool. So they stick to a fridge?
Ah, yeah, they should. Okay.
Yeah, I’m just trying to think how heavy they are. Because you know, anything that’s rock. Like if they tried to make it magnetic, it would never stick to my fridge. It would be falling off all the time.
But yeah, they got a pretty good man doesn’t tell them. The only the only issue is going back to that safety piece. They have to be magnetic enough that they’re fun to play with, but not so magnetic that they could potentially be dangerous.
Yes, exactly. And then they have to be big enough so that they don’t end up in somebody’s mouth, don’t they? Exactly. Yeah. Would they be like, I don’t know three by three by five.
Oh, no, they’re like two inches by three inches. Oh, okay. Yeah, like, like I could maybe swallow one if I tried really hard. No way.
It sounds like it’s a grape kind of thing.
No. Much much bigger.
This is one of those times where you need like the podcast to be visual so you can do show and tell Right?
Exactly. Yeah. Um, but ya know, those are really popular and I also do toy robots. Those have been quite popular the last couple of years.
Oh, they totally would be Yep.
Oh, absolutely. And I don’t know it’s always a little bit it’s always a little different. Last year, last year, this time of year I had blended family cars and those sold super well.
What did you say – blended family cars.
Yeah. So you know you know in like the game of life. You have your little yellow car with a little thing slots in it. A friend of mine is Jamaican and his his wife was indigenous. And they could never find toys that showed a blended family or a multiracial family or a multicultural family. And that really annoyed me. So we started making these multicultural blended family cars that are kind of loosely based on the life cars. Okay. And those old super well, last year, like I couldn’t keep them in stock, and I was trying so hard.
Oh, wow. And you know, I like I never would have thought of that. But now that you explain it, I can totally understand why they would be popular. That makes perfect sense to me.
Right? Yeah, blended. blended family toys don’t really seem to exist.
No, they totally don’t. And in total aside, but our daughter is adopted from Ethiopia. Do you know how hard it is in Western Canada? Or little old Regina to find a doll that is representative of a black child? Or was 15 years ago?
And not only representative But respectfully representative? Yeah, no, absolutely. I 100%. Understand. I make a lot of toys for families with children on the autism spectrum. And they say the same thing. It’s so hard to find, you know, good quality planning toys that are at a reasonable price. You can order them online. Yeah. What it’ll be eight, nine $1,000. Exactly. Shipping.
Yes. And what parent you know, is in a position to spend that when I think back to a couple of the dolls that we would have bought when she was little toys r us. We could usually find something, but not necessarily you know what she wanted? What was popular? It was like, if they carry 25 different dolls, then two of them would have one that was representative. And it was like, well, that’s not the one she wants. Like that’s the high school one. And
yeah, she’s three. She doesn’t want the high school one she wants.
She wants the one she can do the hair and Yes, exactly, exactly. So here’s a question. And I don’t know if you always know the recipient of the toy. But mainly boys, mainly girls, pretty 50/50 split.
Pretty 5050. The climbing toys are almost always 50/50. The stacking stones are 50/50. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people will buy the cars for boys, which doesn’t make any sense to me, because there are cars that they’re not gendered. But no, what did you feel pretty 50/50? Yeah. Yeah, no, know I, I’d say it’s pretty tough to get to be. But that will be really interesting data to have.
It would be because I think even if you had some sort of records of it, it will continue to change over time. So if you go to when my kids were little 15 years ago, there was a ton of times where we were really trying to very purposefully stay gender neutral. But no matter what we did that influences our round them weren’t they were not gender neutral. Now fast forward. You look at how much awareness has changed, and acceptance has changed. Now I don’t think we would get anywhere near the pushback. But that’s just my guess. I mean, I don’t you have the son and you will find out.
You know, what’s funny is our one of our son’s favorite things to do is to help clean Oh, and you know, he loves using the broom loves using the vacuum anything like that? Yeah, no, it’s kids just like toys. They don’t they don’t care if it’s for boys or for girls. They just like toys.
Exactly. Yes. Just like they they just want to be with you. They don’t care what they’re doing. It doesn’t have to be big and fancy and expensive and a family outing and just want to be with you and do stuff.
Absolutely. They just want to spend time with the people who love them.
Yeah, exactly. And, and we as adults tend to be the ones that make that complicated for them.
we tend to put our own anxieties on kids.
Oh, don’t we though. Isn’t that the truth? Yeah,
that’s a whole different podcast.
Exactly. That’s our next episode. Exactly. We’re almost at a time here today, Quinn. So before we do wrap up, tell us how do people find Kustom Kitties Canada.
Okay, well, if you’re in Regina watching news, you can. You can find any of my products at Groovy Mama or Inspiring Young Minds to Learn. I also have products at the Faint Pparasol in Lumsden, Toad Hall toys In Winnipeg. Join Marketplace in Saskatoon. You can also find me online on Facebook at facebook.com/Kustom Kitties Canada with two Ks one C not KKK. They’re different. We don’t we don’t hang out with them.
Yeah, exactly, totally different page.
Totally different page. Totally different values. Yeah. Um, or on Instagram at Kustom Kitties Canada and I do have a website coming up soon is just as we discussed at the beginning I am doing everything under the sun and the website is taking its time.
Exactly. And based on what you told me about your Instagram page, your Instagram page pretty much acts as a website for you. You’ve got your stuff on there, you can contact us there. So if Instagrams working don’t don’t fix something that’s not broken, right?
Oh yeah, Facebook and Instagram 90% of my sales.
Exactly. That is awesome. And I will just put a plug in there that it is Kustom Kitties Canada do not lose, lose that we’re in Canada when you’re looking to find Quinn.
Kustom Kitties Canada
Exactly. All right. That is it for our time today. So thank you very much Quinn.
It was a pleasure to hear about some of these things. And I’m actually going to keep you online for just a minute after we’re done to talk about a couple of these things because we may have some ideas.
If you would like to sell your story then you need to tell your story and there is no better place to start than the Secret Life Show. If you’d like to be a guest email me at Barb@abovethefold.live or reach out on our Facebook and Instagram pages at Abovethefold.ca.
I’m your host Barb McGrath, Google girl and local business cheerleader. Remember, you worked hard for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.