Barb McGrath 0:00
Local Business is the lifeblood of a community. Think about it. If the Walmarts and superstores of the world closed their doors, communities would successfully continue. If all local businesses closed their doors walked away, communities would cease to exist. Local businesses enrich the fabric of a community. And so we’ll I’m starting this episode on a little bit of a rant. It is the truth. And today’s guest is no exception. He and his partners exist and operate their business out of a passion and commitment to their community, and to a better world. So let’s get to it. Our guest today is Eric Olson, a partner in the more mortise and tenon store, who’s going to talk about how a wood shop became an online and bricks and mortar eco friendly store. Eric, welcome. Thanks for being here.
Eric Olson 0:56
Thanks for having me. So
Barb McGrath 0:58
Tell us a little bit about mortise and tenon. And you know, when you and I had an earlier conversation, like I was familiar with the concept of mortise and tenon and the whole wood joint thing, so give us a little bit of history.
Eric Olson 1:12
Well, more doesn’t even started, when we were doing the Folk Festival, I would set up a booth and sell some of my woodworking, I would build cutting boards and charcuterie boards and iPad stands and all sorts of wood products. And so it was my wife and I, Cassie, we would be we would do all of the trade shows and art shows and things across western Canada and friends of ours, Alex and Danny would come out and hang out at the booth and they would help sell and so we started spitballing the idea that maybe we could set up a permanent storefront. And, you know, bring all of our friends that we’ve met at the trade shows and art shows across western Canada together, and we could sell all of our stuff under one roof. And so that sort of seemed like a pipe dream of an idea. And it was just spitballing one afternoon at the Folk Festival. And then next thing you know, we’re signing a lease and we’re taking about a renovation. So
Barb McGrath 2:14
And suddenly you suddenly you’re an adult, and you’re growing up and you signed leases, and you made a commitment today.
Eric Olson 2:20
Yeah, it was terrifying.
Barb McGrath 2:23
You know what, I love that honesty? Because that’s so true. Right? And especially, we’ve just gone through COVID-19 it’s absolutely terrifying. Now you guys have taken it one step further, because you’ve also got an online store that fuels a fairly significant portion of your business. So tell me about that move. Why not just the traditional bricks and mortar store serving and delivering customers here in your community?
Eric Olson 2:48
Well, we we’ve had the online store, pretty much since probably the within the first six months to a year that the brick and mortar was open, because we realized that we’re already paying for a POS system that has a built in online store. So we may as well just build it out and tracks the inventory. And it does all of that stuff for you. So we figured we we may as well. We’re already online, we may as well just make it easier and accessible. That way we can sell to you know, we had friends family who were living in Calgary and Edmonton wanted to buy stuff. So we said, yeah, we can point them to an online store. And we did it pretty poorly. For the first little while, we didn’t really push that side of the business at all, because it was a lot of work. Mm hmm. Especially with the nature of the things that we were selling at a time, which is, you know, one of a kind items, cutting boards and clothing, like apparel and stuff. All of it was one of the kind. So you need a better description for each individual item and take the photo of each individual item and remember which one was which. And it just got very complicated. So we did it fairly poorly. And the the system that we were using at the time was not not intended, I don’t think to be an online platform. They did not okay, all the time building it very well. So it was a lot. It was a lot more hassle than it was worth so
Barb McGrath 4:18
Go ahead. Nope, finish and then I’ll go.
Eric Olson 4:20
Yeah, so the transition with the with Coronavirus, we didn’t anticipate we’d be moving our online store to Shopify platform. Then that started ramping up and we finalized the decision to move to Shopify in I think January of this year. started slowly started building the building out the inventory list and the products that we wanted to move over to that and Coronavirus and the lockdown and all of that. So we moved over a lot quicker than we intended but we were able to do it successfully because we have four years experience in building Online Store
Barb McGrath 5:05
Okay, so one of the things that I’ve heard from local businesses, I suppose a few times in the past is, there’s that mentality that we’ll build it and they’ll come, right. It’s the whole field of dreams and Kevin Costner. And that’s not necessarily how reality works out. Right? To your point, it’s a ton of work, people need to know that the online store is there. Your website needs to be findable. You need good SEO, you need, you know, ad set up. And it’s tough to compete with the the big guys of the world who also sell either similar products, or sell products that consumers believe are similar. So you guys have a really unique niche, and something that that I think you’ve had a lot of success with. So talk about eco friendly, environmentally friendly. Like, why what’s driving that? I suppose both from your standpoint, and from the consumer standpoint, what do you think’s driving all of that?
Eric Olson 6:01
Well, our are just two when we originally opened, we weren’t intending to be an eco friendly store. But we were very interested in because we were building furniture and we were doing the woodwork. We were very interested in reclaimed lumber. And it’s in Saskatchewan. It’s such a big thing, because there are elevators left and right, yeah, and old barns and stuff like that. So we were building a lot of stuff with reclaimed lumber. And we were also offsetting the cost of any new lumber that we were using, we were offsetting the cost of that carbon footprint, and we were offsetting by donating to the Nature Conservancy. And so that sustainability has always been kind of baked into the woodworking side, because it’s kind of part of that culture. Okay. And we noticed it was it comes down to the the customer’s always right, we just started bringing things that people were asking for. And we have fairly progressive friends and family in our support network. And so they were asking for things that couldn’t find here. And a lot of them were plugged into the zero waste lifestyle and minimalism and things like that. Okay, we started to bring that in. And then we looked around and realized there was nobody else in Regina who was doing anything in that eco friendly space. And, you know, once you realize that there is an opening in the marketplace, you move towards that. Luckily for us, it happened to be something that we agreed with as far as our personal politics and things like that. It made it fairly easy. So we moved into the eco friendly space. And the support that we’ve had for the last four years from our customers in that space is incredible, because I think there’s just an awareness of climate change and awareness of the destructive nature of the resources, industries and things like that. And especially within living and being lucky enough to live in Canada, we can see what it would look like if we maintained the planet and kept it beautiful and vibrant. And so it makes it very easy argument. And I think that a lot of people are just moving more towards that as as cultural awareness and mainstream awareness of the issues of climate change, become warming on stream.
Barb McGrath 8:20
So you said something there. And I don’t even know if you hear it, because you know your story. So well. You guys started as a small business at the arts vet festival, and then you became bricks and mortar sign that least and you know, moved into a few products and hide your wood products, then you evolve again, and again. And so as a local business, you’ve continued to evolve based on feedback from your customer. And even some of the largest businesses out there, forget to continue to evolve, they forget to listen to their customer, and make changes based on you know, what customers are telling them. And I think in a lot of cases, especially as local business owners, you know, one thing really good. And I’ll just give an example. We’re a marketing business, and we do a ton of website design. Even as a business owner, I believe that websites are going to become a commodity, because sure I can build a website, but so can you. Right, and so can the 20 year old coming to university. So websites are no longer these premium products that businesses can survive on. And that’s what I’m hearing you tell in your story is how you’ve continued to evolve, and try and stay ahead of that curve, right to serve your customers. So as you hear from your customers now from these past few months, and everything’s been curbside delivery or mail delivery, you’re hearing from your customers. What are you hearing where where do you think this is going for you is curbside going to continue to be a thing for you. Where do you think this takes us these last couple of months?
Eric Olson 10:03
Yeah, that’s, that’s an interesting one. Because our business has moved to delivery only, we’re we are starting to do a bit of curbside stuff, just because we’ve seen that. What, originally when everybody started locking down in March, it seemed like, oh, we’ll give this two weeks flatten the curtain will be loaded all their lives. And here we are in our three months later, and it’s probably not going away anytime soon. Where? Yeah, so a year out from vaccine if one is possible. So this is just how business is done now. And that’s one of the things that we’ve always been really good at is we’re able to sort of junk and move we can, we’re flexible. And we’re, we’re a quick study. So we will move into whatever space we need to, to keep the lights on. And you went, we were one of the first businesses in the city to move to close the storefront and just move to online only.
Barb McGrath 11:02
Okay, I didn’t know that.
Eric Olson 11:04
Yeah, we closed up the Sunday night before they canceled school and all of that, because we sort of saw what was, you know, the writing’s on the wall and said, Yeah, let’s just for public safety for our own personal safety, and do have the business owners myself, my wife both came from academia. So we both worked in public health. And so we knew people in the in the field who and that you could call and they would tell, you know, this is what’s really going on. And
Barb McGrath 11:33
Here’s what’s about to happen, right?
Eric Olson 11:35
Yeah. Yeah. And, and having worked in public health, you can, you can sort of read the news stories, and you can sort of read between the lines. And so we knew that this was going to be a big issue. And so we just made the decision early that the safety of our staff and our customers is paramount. So moved, moved to the online and curbside. And now I think that we’re just going to stick with those things. Because our customers have been really receptive to it, they seem to really like it. And they also still like to call down to the store and chat about the products and asking all the questions and get the skinny on what what things are, how they work, and you know, where they’re made and what there’s where the ingredients are sourced from. And we were happy to do that. Because that’s, that’s what our customers like about us as the customer service. We know our products, we know what they’re asking, when they ask questions, we know what they’re doing, what kind of information they’re looking for. So we’re educated on it. And we just have to, we had to figure out how to make that translate to a non in person conversation. And I think we’ve done a good job of it. Our Facebook support or email support is really strong. So yeah, this is gonna be here for a while. So we’re in it for a long haul.
Barb McGrath 12:48
Exactly. And, you know, I, as you’re telling that story, I’m envisioning being at a big box store and picking up something that says it’s environmentally friendly, and asking somebody about an ingredient or the product, and you would get this complete look of Huh, they wouldn’t have a clue. Right. And, and, and that knowledge, if that’s something that you can’t, you can sell it, but you can’t sell it. Right. It’s an absolutely invaluable asset for a business.
Eric Olson 13:22
Yeah, yeah. And that’s, that’s just the thing is when we started up four years ago, and said, oh, let’s move into eco friendly products. At the time, like we didn’t have the knowledge that, obviously that we do now. But we were we are, again, coming from the world research and the world of just being curious. We’re all four of us are just very curious people. So when you when you have that you immediately someone out to question don’t have the answer to you go out and you learn everything there is to learn about it. Exactly.
Barb McGrath 13:51
You go and you find it right. I guarantee the big box person, they don’t go home at the end of the day and go, Okay, I got to figure this out. They just simply go home, and it doesn’t make them a bad person. It’s just a different way of life.
Eric Olson 14:04
Yeah, but there’s, you know, do you want to be an expert in anything? Or do you want to be a sort of a jack of all trades, and we want to do both. We want to know a lot about a lot of things. And in any space that we’re in that’s that’s the goal is to be a one stop shop to be the experts.
Barb McGrath 14:19
So Exactly, yeah. The question popped into my head, but it’s disappeared right now. So tell me about your partners. You mentioned that there’s four of you in the business. And I know from previous conversations, you and Alex are kind of managing the day to day, paint the picture for me like for friends involved in a business, sometimes you hear some pretty tough stories about how you make that work. So how are you guys making it successfully work?
Eric Olson 14:43
Well, yeah, it’s it’s myself and my wife, Cassie, and Alex and his wife, Danny and Danny and Cassie. Each full time Danny’s elementary school and Kathy teaches at the university as a sessional. And they both have full time jobs. So we operate Sort of the day to day functioning of the business. Right now, obviously with COVID there’s a lot more flexible. Yeah, jewel, things like that. So there’s a little bit it’s a little bit different. But yeah, Alex and I have been friends since we were in elementary school. And we played in bands together growing up. And we’ve, you know, been involved all sorts of different high jinks and adventures over the years. It seemed like a no brainer, or something that that him and he and Danny were very interested in was getting into business and, and trying without being self employed is kind of the dream for a lot of people. And that seemed like, it seemed like a good way to do it. Yeah, so yeah, we got together no partnership agreement, no, nothing, nothing on paper, just for friends gonna make it work. Now, what do you own same share business? And it’s, it’s worked out for us? I’m not sure. I think we’re probably an anomaly in that.
Barb McGrath 16:04
Yeah, I would have to say that you guys are maybe in the minority there. But you’ve obviously got a solid relationship. And, you know, if everybody’s contributing, and everybody’s withdrawing, then, you know, hopefully it continues that way. So um, tell me about the Tell me about the future for you guys. You’re bricks and mortar right now you’ve come to rely on your online a lot more. Have you seen your customer base expand in the last couple months? And how is it expanding? And just people Google you? And they, you know, decide to shop with you? Or? Or how is that happening?
Eric Olson 16:39
Yeah, there’s a few different things happening. We’ve had a lot of public support. And right when the the mall bit, the concept of small businesses needing support, because of the covid 19 became an immediate thing. Our customers have always been very generous with sharing our posts. And, you know, word of mouth has been great for us. We have a lot of very passionate customers, and especially with the eco friendly stuff, it’s, it’s easy, it’s easy to preach about, right? It’s an easy thing, especially like zero waste and sustainable living, those sort of lifestyle changes are, we do make it easy to make those changes. And a lot of people are it’s like vegan isms. You’ve got a few outspoken people who really are passionate about it. They go out there and they sing the praises. And we’ve been lucky that our customers have done that. So word of mouth has been big. And then also there’s been being the only eco friendly store in town, we get a lot of news coverage, we get in on CTV a lot, and CBC Radio and things like that. So we get it, we get a lot of attention that way, and especially with the lockdown. That was a lot of people who’ve done stories on us before reached out knowing that we’re an independent business. Yeah. And that we were down and that we closed very early on. Yeah. So we got we got a lot of coverage about that. So no one so it’s a lot of new customers.
Barb McGrath 18:09
Exactly. Okay, no, that works out really good for you guys. Um, so tell me about your top five? What are the top five products that customers either come to you for or are looking for? What if we knew every single person who is watching or listening the episode today? What would you want them to know that you sell and should come to you for?
Eric Olson 18:33
Our biggest one I would say is the bulk refills that’s been our most popular lately. We do we normally when we’re open, we have a bring your own container program where you can play in any manner and you can fill it up with we’ve got a collection of soaps and shampoos, conditioners, lotions, deodorants, all sorts of things. And we do a bulk refill, and you just pay for what you take. And that’s been probably the most popular thing that we’ve had, we had to figure out how to do that with not being allowed to have customers bring their own containers and Mm hmm. Every instead of coming into the store. So the way that we do it is you you order online, and we bring you a mason jar filled with 250 mils, 500 mils, or a liter of whichever product you’re after. And then we’re asking our customers to bring the mason jars back when we’re reopen. Mm hmm. And so far, we didn’t know how that was going to go. And so far, it’s been the runaway hit. Because everybody really needs so everyone needs shampoo, you need all those things, and it’s nice to just have them delivered right now. So the bulk refill re has been a runaway success of this year. We’ve had it we’ve been doing it for three and a half, three years, I’d say. And it’s really taken off in the last two, three months. So okay.
And then go ahead.
Barb McGrath 19:51
Well, I should say so that makes perfect sense to me because I know a lot of folks already use let’s just say hands, so bear to use a mason jar with a screw off. Lin, you know, that goes door to door. So anything like that makes perfect sense to me. It’s funny that you bring that one up, because this is my pet peeve when you buy a product that doesn’t have that, like downspout filter, so you can’t get all your product out. Right? So you see cosmetic bottles here, if I can see, you get cosmetic bottles that have this square bottom, it’s like, that’s completely useless to me. And I actually spent the money to buy one of those little spatulas where you can clean out the inside of your products, because women’s cosmetic products are terrible for it. And I kid you not wait took Okay, this is my so booked here for a minute. I took all of these cosmetic products that I had, and I started cleaning out the insides. I’m not kidding you. I ended up with six new products. And I was like, Wow, that was 30% of what I started with. And I ended up with six new ones. I’m like, that’s huge from a cost perspective. Right And so yeah, okay, I’m a little bit of a penny pincher. But my point is because there’s some stuff you can’t rebuttal it was all that lipstick stuff that comes in then to and you can’t you can’t refill that apparently you can you just need a little tiny spatula. Okay, so I can get you up. So that was number one was like the soaps and shampoos and stuff. What would be the other kind of most common products for you guys?
Eric Olson 21:30
Yeah, although all of the mason jar accessories to go along with that we’ve got foaming hand pumps, we’ve got regular soap pumps, we’ve got horrible lids, drinking lids, lids for Swiss straw, we’ve got all of that. So the mason jars stuff goes hand in hand with the refill program. And then I would say just all the single use replacement we call them. So it’s anything that gets rid of like Ziploc bags, we sell a lot of the stasher and resist bags, which are just reusable, you know, throw them in the dishwasher, things like that. A lot of we have the small cafe in the store that’s obviously not open right now. But normally, we would have the cafe open and so we do a lot of water bottles and you know coffee tumblers travel mugs that sort of stuff. So that’s those are probably our big hits. We do cast iron pans as well is one of them. One of the things with sustainable living is, you know, the buy it for life products, the stuff, buy at one time, take care of it, and it’ll last forever. And we so large cast iron and that stuff is amazing.
Barb McGrath 22:38
Oh, it absolutely last forever. Yeah, I have some from my great aunt. And I didn’t even need to buy it in my lifetime. The challenges I find with kids today, they love the Teflon because nothing sticks. So you really have to help them understand how you treat this stuff. So that stuff doesn’t stick to it all the time. It’s funny that mason jars stuff. So I everybody has heard you know, the the joke, you know, women can never have too many shoes. So I’m a huge believer that you can never have too many mason jars, you can put everything in a mason jar. And because you can buy so many different lids for them. Now, it can be your protein shake to go it can be all these different things. And you probably know what waterkeeper is, I tell you the story when we talked before. So we make waterkeeper at home and I went and bought a mason jar that was probably must have been a liter and a half or a leader and a quarter and went and picked them up at the at Value Village. So I got curious as I was using them because they were the originals, right? There’s three different mouth sizes. There’s the regular and the wide now, but there was an original size in there too. So it was an original mason jar. So I started researching based on the label and the numbers on the bottom and finally figured out that this mason jar came from like the 1800s. Like this thing has seen so many kitchen shelves over the years. And unfortunately, that also meant that the glass was very brittle at this point. So I had bought two and I only have one left. But my point is like think about how many generations that has spanned instead of something plastic that I don’t think anything I have that’s plastic is going to go to my kids. I don’t have that vision for the future. Right. So yeah, I mean, I I 100% get where your passion comes from. And I agree with you. Things like mason jars you like you can keep everything in them instead of the plastic. So I think that’s, that’s awesome that you guys are doing that. Now, I think based on the pictures that they’ve seen. Oh, okay, I’m gonna ask you one quick question and then we’re out of time. See, I’m terrible with my timer. I think you guys also have some clothes and stuff like that too, don’t you?
Eric Olson 24:55
We do. Yeah, we sell a bunch of Canadian brands. We Our friends Salgado out of Edmonton just recently closed their storefront. But they were they were sort of one of the inspirations behind our store because they had a little screen printing shop and they put a little, you know, little retail storefront and they would travel around in the summer in their milk truck. And they would go and do all of the farmers markets and the folk festivals and stuff like that. So they’re one of the inspirations behind our business. So we did we sell so yeah, we sell. So I got to find a way we sell. We sold piece collective we try to carry smaller brands. We do have Tomei, which is a sustainable there. It’s all made from the Cambodian company and it’s a women run organization and it’s all industrial garment scrap is what all of their stuff is made from. So it’s, it’s another one of those down the line sort of recycling recyclable brands, that’s that’s focusing on diverting things from the landfill. So all of all, almost all of the clothing companies that we carry are have that eco friendly side to them or sustainable type side of it. So cool. We’re gonna move more into we’ve got you know, 10 tree and things like that, but we’d like we’d like to expand our lines a little bit more. It’s just right now, that doesn’t seem like a very good idea.
Barb McGrath 26:23
You know, it doesn’t seem to be the time for it, does it? I agree. Change rooms, all of that. So, yeah, exactly. Okay, Eric, as we wrap up, give everyone your contact details so they can find you and buy with you.
Eric Olson 26:40
You’re welcome to visit our online store is your eco friendly store.com we are on Instagram, Facebook, Molson cannon shot. If you Google us and you’re in Regina, you should, you should right at the top of the search results. And you can give us a call or phone numbers 326-522-0667 and someone will return your message as soon as you remember to check your messages at the store.
Barb McGrath 27:09
Okay, that sounds good. That’s honesty, as long as we remember to check, you know, I’m terrible with voicemail too. All right, we are at a time and I’d like to thank everyone for joining us today on The Secret Life of entrepreneurs. Thank you so much, Eric, for coming and talking to us about mortise and tenon shop telling us about the products that you have and just sharing with us. What has happened with your business now in the last few months. So my my appreciation to you. If you’d like to be a guest, please email me at Barb at Google girl.ca or reach out on Facebook and Instagram at Above the Fold. ca. Just a reminder, you can even submit questions in advance of our live show on our Facebook page. I’m your host, Barb McGrath, local business owner and Google girl. Remember, you worked hard for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.
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Eco Friendly. Environmentally Friendly. Natural Products. Zero Waste. Minimalism.
These are just a few of the words used to describe today’s guests’ business. Mortise & Tenon Store, started like many but continues to evolve based on customer feedback, like too few businesses.
Expect to hear & see fantastic things from this business in the future.
Connect with Eric and the Team @ Mortise & Tenon
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