It's been a very busy year for us and I see it's been almost a year since we last posted anything here on our blog. There's a lot to catch up on so let's get started. Last year, Marleywood had a pretty good start for it's inaugural year, making custom raised garden bed kits that were as small as 3' diameter hexagons to large beds that were 4' x 24'x 16". Beautiful huge, deep raised beds that provide plenty of depth for root vegetables and other deep rooted plants.
This winter has been a particularly brutal one for us up here on the mountain. So far, we have received 130 inches of snow since October 18th, 2018. Yes, that is not a typo - one hundred-thirty inches! And counting, apparently since my post from last April reminds me how much snow and ice we can still get that late in the season.
Luckily for us, we are set up in a way in which the snow doesn't hurt our productivity and we can still work in the wood shop despite the mounds of snow that accumulate outside. I love working in the shop while the snow is falling outside; it makes me feel productive. Certainly not trapped, like some may feel.
In spite of all the snow, I managed to ice skate on our pond more days this season than any previous winter. I know it's only been three winters but you have to start counting somewhere. We snowmobiled on beautiful trails that we wide and groomed, Mark learning more and more ways around on the snowmobile and probably put on over a thousand miles on his sled, whereas I drove only about 80 all season, if that. But we had a blast! Snowshoeing was another big activity this winter at Marleywood. We hiked around our property, training the doodles off leash with Marley's assistance and swapped out batteries and memory cards in our trail cameras.
Gardening is our other passion and it was that passion which lead us to building the Marleywood Cedar Garden kits. We wanted to be able to build beautiful raised garden beds but not have to deal with all the hassle of dealing with screws and nails that would show. We noticed many other kits are also made from 1" nominal cedar. Cedar is strong and durable however, soil can be very heavy and create a lot of stress on the wall of a raised bed. We use 2" nominal cedar boards which is much more durable and will not bow. None of our boards are longer than 4" so there is limited stress on the walls as well. The thicker wood is far stronger and lasts longer than the thinner 1" boards other companies use.
The photos show a client's garden who has purchased these large raised beds a few at a time over the course of many years demonstrating the pretty weathered grey the cedar eventually takes on over time.
We've been working in the wood shop, preparing for the upcoming gardening season and have plenty of our raised garden bed kits ready to ship out as soon as they are ordered. Mud season has already started - it will be a long one since there is still so much snow to melt. We are excited for the 2019 season - particularly to be able to get into our own garden and get playing in the soil.
I see Marley has been high-jacking my computer when our backs are turned. It's one of the places she must sneak off to when Mark and I are in the wood shop. We're lucky enough to be able to work from our home and hang out with our dogs. Our commute to the wood shop is simple and doesn't require leaving the comforts of our home, but it is separated from the main living area with a closed breezeway which has a only a few short steps to the floor above the garage. When we first looked at the space, I knew it would be perfect for the wood shop; although some people don't like the idea of a second story wood shop since you have to haul the wood up and down. It works for us though and you can't beat the view!
It's been snow, ice, raining for about 36 hours now. Mark had to take the chains off the truck about a week ago to service the truck and take it for its yearly inspection. We were hoping that we would be spared a mid-April storm that would do just what it has done. If you have ever, put chains on your car or truck, you know its not something you want to do more than once a year. 3 inches of fresh snow and ice in mid-April is not exactly what we wanted to see but it doesn't keep us from being able to work in the shop. Update: He put the chains and the plow back on since the snow turned out to be closer to 4 inches with and ice crust. Add that to the snow total for the season and I think we are close to 10 feet! Thank God for the thaws.
Juggling time between the necessary back office work needed to run a small business and actual time spent in the shop manufacturing cedar raised bed garden kits has been a balancing act that we are still learning to balance. We work well as a team though, so usually one of us handles more of the computer work (that would be me) dealing with the website design and management; getting taxes out and done; ordering and tracking supplies; the list goes on and on. All not very fun stuff but necessary. Mark handles other aspects like dealing with suppliers, freight companies, putting quotes together, maintaining the equipment. Workshop time is sometimes the two of taking turns in the shop, depending on what's going on at the time. One of the nice things is manufacturing the kits doesn't require two people to do - but the process obviously goes faster. For me, its the sanding that tires me out. We hand sand - twice all our boards and posts leaving a furniture quality smoothness behind reducing chances of splinters.
It's hard to believe Mark and I started Marleywood two years ago this May. So much has happened in those two years! But how we went became wood workers was a seed that was sown closer to four years earlier that we didn't even realize had been planted at the time. We run another small business, Homegrown Harvest which at the time focused on helping people start and maintain their own vegetable gardens. This year is actually our 6th season in business as retailers of the a variety of raised garden bed kits. Since one of our goals was to help people start gardens and discovered for most people just getting started was the biggest barrier of entry to even trying. We looked for kits that were easy to put together and beautiful to look at. Locally, we installed and maintained dozens of vegetable gardens for customers in the Fairfield County, CT and lower Westchester County, NY areas over a five year period. As installers, we knew our products inside and out having worked with the kits repeatedly over the years. The cedar raised bed kits we carried were from a small mom & pop shop down in South Carolina. I accidentally discovered the kits through a discussion I was having with a friend during one of my metal sculpting classes I was taking at the time. My friend mentioned her husband had stumbled up on cedar garden kit that he was able to put together that looked beautiful in their yard in Long Island. He actually put together 2 kits rather easily she remarked one for each grand child was the idea when they put them in. She went on to say her husband wasn't a very handy fellow, so for him to put to the two kits together on his own was a testament to how nicely the kits were designed. It sounded interesting and after looking at the photos of the gardens on her phone, she gave me the company's name and we reached out to them to become a retailer dealer.
The gentleman who initially ran the company, also design the connection system. Our first season as dealers we had great interest in the cedar beds ad installed quite a number of them. The second year started off just as promising when we learned the company had been sold; but no worries, we could still have our orders filled, the product would just be coming from Virginia now.
The following year in 2016, Homegrown Harvest had started to pick up traction in the local area we had been servicing. We had an early start to the season installing bed as early as mid-March and had already ordered and installed a number of Carolina Garden beds. It was when we tried to place an order when we learned the owners had decided to retire due to health issues and had finished their wood and were closing up shop. The business was once again up for sale.
After we learned of the first sale, in a Monday morning quarterback-style, Mark and I had discussed the possibility of buying the company. Not that we even had the opportunity, but the timing wasn't right for us anyway, but we knew that we wanted and needed to have a business that was a little less seasonal and back-breaking. The seasonality of the vegetable gardening services business is at best April to October of work in the field. That's not to say there isn't any work to be done in the months between November through March but in zone 6b where we were located things started really in January with sending out the next season's contracts, ordering seeds and plant starts; but, the income generating months are primarily March-October which a heavy emphasis on mid-March to mid-June.
When we learned the business was for sale the second time, we didn't hesitate. The timing and the price was right. Mark took the lead in making all the necessary arrangements to go down to Virginia and check out the equipment, do our due diligence on the company while I took care of the gardens. We work well that way, dividing and conquering when and where we need to. Although we much more prefer to be working side by side.
Mark and I met back in 1989 or 1990. Memories are fuzzy about the exact year. I was working in promotions at 2 local radio stations, 1400AM and 96.7FM in Stamford, CT and our station was looking to hired some new sales people. I called a friend in the business and asked him if he knew of any people to send them my way. After all, any new hire who lasted 6 months, the person who recommended them go 5 comp days. There like vacation days but you don't have to take them consecutively. My friend sent Mark over and the long story short, we became good friends and worked together for about a year and half before I left the stations. Over the years, our paths crossed as our families were all friends and we all used to run into each other skiing up at Okemo in Ludlow, VT. At one point, we both had condos that faced each other and would quite often see each other walking to or from the slopes with our skis.It was seven years ago now, that our paths crossed and began to merge together. Two friends given a chance at something neither one knew could be possible. Not many people are given a second chance in life and everyday we are greatly appreciative for the opportunity we were blessed with. Mark and I always enjoyed working together back in our younger days and seven years ago, we were both a point in our respective careers that we needed a change. We started Homegrown Harvest because we wanted to help people start their own vegetable gardens and we loved working outdoors and in our own garden.
When we started Marleywood, we didn't think it as appropriate to keep the Carolina Garden name seeing how we are manufacturing the kits in Bridgewater, New Hampshire. We still deliver the same quality cedar raised bed garden kits that our predecessors manufactured. We have our standards size kits available on our website and we off the ability for custom designed kits to suit our customer's individual needs. Marleywood allows us the flexibility to manufacture garden kits 12 months out of the year and who knows we can add products that may be less seasonal than raised bed garden kits.
The phone has started to ring and people are finding us some how on the web through searches. It's nice to see some of our hard work may be paying off. SEO optimization isn't something that is second nature to most small business owners. But when you are a small start-up company, a family-run mom and pop shop like we are, it's necessary to juggle things around. We strive to make a quality product for our clients that will last. We don't intend to become a big huge company, we just want to enjoy our time in the workshop making garden bed kits so that more people can start a garden and enjoy the delicious fresh vegetable that they grow from it or delight in the beauty of whatever they have decided to grow.
Hi again! It's me Marley! I just had the best time ever riding around with Dad in the gator. It's been so long since we have been able to ride around but now that most of the cold white stuff is gone and its nice and muddy we can go and play! I love going for rides with my Dad. He needs to get out of the workshop from time to time too - it's not good for him to be in there all the time because then he can't take me on fun gator rides then.
This week he's been in the shop working on weighing things and boxing things and then weighing things again. I don't mind it actually when he does this kind of work since it's quieter than when he and Mom have the loud scary noise makers on. I don't like that, so I head over to the quiet side of the house and wait. Sometimes it feels like forever.
Mom has been working on the computer a lot fixing up the website. She says she needs to make sure its easy for people to find the gardens they want and also let them know that she and Dad can make special custom gardens if the sizes she listed on the website doesn't work for them. Mom tells me everything - she talks to me all the time, at least I think she's talking to me since there aren't any other humans in the room. She could be talking to the Doodles but I think she's talking to me because she and Dad like me best and I'm the only one they take on gator rides. So I'm special.
I can tell Mom and Dad are getting ready to be in the workshop with the noise makers soon. They had Pork Chop and his friend bring up a bunch of new wood and put into the hallway next to the shop. I love the smell of the cedar wood! The whole wood shop smells of cedar. It's usually soon after they do this they are in there for a few days working with the noise makers.
The good thing about that is Dad always takes me for a gator ride when he is done, so I can't complain.
Hi there, I’m Marley. I’m a 4-year-old dog mixed breed dog that my mom rescued from a shelter when I was only a couple of months old. Since then there has been lots of things going on in my life and for my Mom and Dad. At first, we used to work outside in the garden all the time and swim in the big swimming hole in the backyard that I like to drink from. Then life changed when some of my really old pack brothers that were always around suddenly disappeared. Mom and Dad were really sad and I did my best to make them smile again, let them pet me and even let Mom cuddle with me for a few minutes. Then we started to live in this totally different place with really cool smells all around us of other animals, but they're not like me. I’ve also seen some really interesting looking animals like these birds that walk around and sometimes fly that make some noise when Dad and I are out in the gator – he says they’d look good on the Thanksgiving table. The white stuff on the ground finally went away but then came back and is wet, so mom has been working inside. I sometime try to help her out by being close by to provide emotional support when needed and cleaning support as when needed like when food sometimes falls from where she’s sitting and if I’m in the right spot I can get it before my two little new brothers, the Doodles. I’ll tell you more about them some day. Mom said we need to communicate with our customers and provide them with interesting content besides just making them garden bed kits. She likes to write a lot - you should see the stack of papers on her desk! Sometimes, paper falls off and my sister, Artemis likes to shred them all up, but I saved this one.
The Fine art of Starting a New Business
Sales is a tough business. You can’t be thinned skinned in sales. Woodworkers have tough skin from constantly working with their hands, but I have thinner skin than most. I hate rejection. People will ignore you or reject you more times than you will actually make a sale. But where is a company without any sales?
Marleywood is a young company that just came online this past year and dealing with website issues takes away from spending time in the workshop where we would rather be. We are a small family run company, it’s just the two of us – Mark and myself. Excuse me, the 7 of us, I forgot to include the pack : Winston, Artemis, Boomer and Gunner and of course, the leader, Marley. The Marley of Marleywood. We started Marleywood as a way of giving ourselves more year-round, full-time work. Our first business, Homegrown Harvest we started up 6 years ago. Homegrown Harvest focuses on helping people grow their own food with simple solutions to gardening. We have an online presence, as well as having a local service outlet which up until this year offered installation and garden maintenance in the Fairfield County, Connecticut and lower Westchester County, NY areas. One of our most popular garden kits we sold were cedar garden kits from down south, so when the company announced they were retiring and closing up shop we decided to take up the business. We knew the product very well, having worked and installed it numerous times and we also knew people want a quality, easy to put together cedar garden kit that would last.
As a small business owner, we wear a lot of different hats. You become a jack-of-all-trades out of necessity filling the roles of CEO, bookkeeper, web designer, woodworker, receptionist, social media director, seller…Our work days start well before “regular business hours” and end well after. Weekends, weekdays are pretty much one in the same and some holidays non-existent. Doesn’t sound very appealing, so why do we do it? It’s simple. It’s because we love what we do and want to bring a quality product to customers.
Young companies are bound to have hiccups along the way – it’s the very nature of a start-up that you don’t get everything right the first time. One of the many hats we have to wear is also one of the most important ones and that is playing the role of Customer Service Representative. Ugh! This is not always an easy role, since it can sometimes be an uncomfortable one depending on the situation at hand. For instance, a shipping issue due to a miscommunication with your website and the shipper’s real-time shipping info during the time of an online sale. For the record, if you are not familiar with what a fall-back rate is, I suggest you never leave that space blank on your shipping set-up. It can be a costly mishap, in our case causing us the loss of the sale completely when we notified the customer of the actual shipping cost. – they cancelled the order. Shipping cedar wood garden kits out can leave you with individual boxes weighing anywhere between 25-60lbs, depending on the kit ordered that can add up. Just remember to take the time to re-examine where things went wrong, fix them as soon as possible and learn from the hiccups.
Shipping is something that many online businesses struggle with on a daily basis. Today’s online purchasers are accustomed to free shipping on practically everything and they want it delivered yesterday. That might work for the big box stores like Wayfair and others, but it makes things particularly challenging for the little guy who is just trying to get a foot in the door. The little guy, who handcrafts their products here in America, not made and shipped from China. Nobody gets anything for free, but we like the perception that we do. It’s hard to remember that not everyone is your customer either. There’s that rejection again – people will walk away.
The other hiccup new businesses have to get over is making an online presence for themselves. It’s not a case of “build it and they will come”, thanks to Field of Dreams many believe this will be true. It’s not. The web design sites all suggest one way to help drive traffic and build backlinks to help your site is that you need to have a blog. Thus, I have created this first blog post for our Marleywood website. Communicating with your audience – opening up a conversation with them -- is all part of sales. There’s that word again – sales. Right back where we started. As a woodworker and artist, I cringe when I hear the word sales. I hate rejection and there is a lot of rejection in sales. I rather be in the wood shop or studio.
When I first started my career after college, I worked as a sales assistant in the radio rep business. The sales staff sold air time nationally of various radio stations we represented across the county – so say Hershey had a national campaign they wanted on radio they would talk to us. From there I worked for a local radio station, initially as a sales assistant and eventually working my way up to promotions director. After working a few years on the sales side, I didn’t feel I had the right personality for sales and chose to pursue a career on the programming side. The role of promotions director is one that has to work with the two sides of the station: programming and sales. Each department thought they were more important that the other. Programming was in charge of content (the product) and sales supported the station financially of course selling that content (product) – one cannot exist without the other. This was the most important lesson I learned from my radio days. The same thing goes for running any business – big or small, local or online. Sales is a necessary evil if you are trying to make a living, so it’s better to suck it up buttercup and face the music and learn how to market yourself and your business.