Larch Wood: Exporting boards beyond borders
Monday, March 2, 2020
Almost 20 years ago, a small group of carpenters and woodworkers in Margaree started a flooring company. Today, that company— Larch Wood— sells wooden end-grain cutting boards around the world, counting Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table as clients.
So how does one find and win high-end global clients from Cape Breton?
Well, for starters, you leave.
Don Beamish, Larch Wood General Manager, explains. “You have to travel a lot. You have to market outside of your province. For us, it was always trade shows. People come looking for products for their stores, and you have your whole line of products on display, and that's by far the best way to begin. Today, we are more focused on online. But you need to brand yourself initially; you have to get out there. People have to see it. They have to know the brand.”
You also have to be willing to change direction until you have a product that people truly want. Larch Wood initially manufactured and sold flooring, but soon realized the flooring market was too competitive and flooded with low-quality products. That’s when the craftspeople of Larch Wood looked inward – specifically at the beauty of end grain.
“We saw how beautiful the end grain was, and knowing an end-grain cutting board is far superior to an edge-grain cutting board or a face-grain cutting board, we made a few samples and gave them to local chefs to try,” says Beamish. “From there we started producing a cutting board line — probably five different sizes— and I took them to market. First to Nova Scotia, then Montréal and Toronto, and into Philadelphia and New York. Everywhere we went there was a great reception for them.”
The reception was so great in fact, that Larch Wood caught the eye of cookware giant Williams-Sonoma. Ten years into the relationship, Beamish credits the globally recognized connection to getting them into China.
“It's a great feather in your cap that you're selling to Williams-Sonoma. You can always name drop them at trade shows and with all kinds of different people, and they're quite impressed. And it is how we got a distributor in China. He saw our boards in Williams Sonoma.”
Although they’ve had great success in networking, Larch Wood is focusing more and more on online marketing, allowing them to scale and target more markets, including Europe. “We have such a niche product. We do have people on the ground in Europe, but we’re growing our presence on the Internet. We redid our website and translated it into German and French. To enter a market like Europe, your website has to be slick. We now have an online catalogue that we can send to people. That was step number one to get into Europe.”
Beamish also credits government support organizations; organizations like Nova Scotia Business Inc. and Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. “Nova Scotia Business Inc. did research for us on markets. People have contacted me in Europe since then. A young fellow saw our cutting boards online, and he's representing us in Finland and Sweden. We had a family business that owns knife stores in Switzerland contact us, and they've turned out to be good. And since then, I made a contact with someone in the Netherlands— probably two years ago — and they have an online business, and they want to represent us in the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Belgium.”
Despite all the new market opportunities, Beamish reaffirms Larch Wood as a limited production company. “If someone wants a containerload of cutting boards, it's not what we do. We don't want to deplete the resources. We use 300 cords of wood a year to employ 20 people. And yes, we will grow our production, but only in a slow manner. We're looking for the more niche companies that aren't selling large amounts. You have to spread yourself around the world as much as possible and find that high-end market in each place. And the high-end market is not volume, but it's quality.”
And what final words does Beamish have for companies getting ready to start exporting?
“Have some patience. Don't overspend. Have a really good marketable product. Look to the government for help. Study the markets. And again, be patient. That's the way we built Larch Wood, one step at a time.”
Are you looking to grow your business beyond Nova Scotia? Reach out to a Regional Business Development Advisor in your area.