Tamworth, Ontario-based Jesse Stinson, his father Don and brother Spike are partners in Stinson Studios, which designs and makes high-end artfully crafted salad bowls, burls and other fine wood products.
Is there a specific story from Stinson Studios’ history that you would consider a critical moment for your export journey?
I was at a trade show in New York City in 2009 or 2010. I was speaking to a wood-turner from Germany. He complimented our work, and quietly pointed out that the finished price of our most expensive wooden serving bowl was comparable to his raw material costs in Germany. That opened our eyes to the need for us to understand more about the economic environment of where our pieces were going, as opposed to focussing only on our own quiet rural Canadian environment.
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada versus another country? How did you adapt?
Canadians are for the most part very practical in their purchasing. They like to have an idea of what they will do with their piece, and where it will go. I am no longer shocked when a fellow-Canadian shopping for one of our pieces pulls out a measuring tape to make sure the piece will fit the exact spot they have in mind. Canadians by and large ease into the decision slowly, but when they are treated well and are happy with their piece, they are loyal customers for life. Americans on the other hand, are more overtly enthusiastic and impulse-driven in their purchases. They fall in love with a piece at a glance and look forward to the process of finding a place in their home or life for it. We strive to make items that both draw people in, and provide a warm timelessness to defy trends.
EDC resources to help you export
How has exporting changed the way you market your products in Canada?
We try and make nice things that people appreciate and will endure longer than any of us. We only leave our rural location a handful of times a year, and strongly believe that our choice of limiting outside influences on our work drives our creative process. My son is the sixth generation of Stinsons to grow up outside our little town. Our family makes objects of function and art from local Canadian materials that travel around the world because they have some element of appeal that transcend both cultural and socio-economic strata. I’ve sold a 24″ square wooden serving bowl to a Canadian oil field worker. He bought it as a gift for a friend from India who serves large family gatherings, and had coveted a piece in the oil field worker’s home. On another day, that same bowl could be bound for Carmel-by-the-Sea, Beverly Hills, or Madison Avenue as a piece of modern functional art.
What have you learned from exporting that has benefitted your business in Canada?
By attending international trade shows and exporting, we have had the privilege to make contact with a lot of people who are much more experienced, worldly, skilled and most likely intelligent than we are! Learning from others has made us better at what we do. This applies to little things like ordering processes, display and inventory management, to gaining a broader understanding of the value of our work. You can learn a lot to take home when you take the leap to be a small fish in a big pond.
How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
The U.S.-Canada border is significantly tighter. That’s something you have to take into account. Transportation takes almost 50 per cent more time than it did in the past, and any time that there are increased threat levels in the U.S., we have to take that into account in our shipping and distribution. My father is fond of saying “there’s no such thing as free trade with the U.S. for a small business.” It’s difficult to go to the U.S. for the first time. Regulations in terms of crossing the border are very opaque.