Here on the Meet the Maker series we hope to introduce you to the local artists and creators of the York Region. For episode 14, I want to invite you to meet Leigh from Rustic Hustle ! Leigh and Kyryl are the talent behind this rustic decor shop that will bring the special touch to your space.
Tell me about yourselves plus one interesting fact.
Kyryl and I met only last January. Two months into dating we started talking about starting a rustic sign business due to the fact that we have two skill sets that work together well. I think quite a few people thought we were crazy to do that and felt that it was a lot of pressure to put on a new relationship but from the outset we’ve had an inherent mutual trust in each other and we’re both very driven to succeed, not just on our own, but together. I don’t think anyone has ever walked into my life and changed it so much in such a short period of time. Doing this alone, we both agree, would be so much more difficult. We need each other to make this business work and we both stay focused and strive for progress because the other one is working. Plus it’s hard to kick back and relax when you hear the drone of a rotating saw blade.
How did Rustic Hustle begin and where did the name come from?
It seems really difficult these days to be able to achieve the things our parents did at our age. Wages seem to be going down and the price of things seems to be going up. The economic climate combined with soaring housing prices in Ontario is a grim reality for us. As soon as we knew we shared a similar dream for the future, we realised that in order for us to achieve our goals together without falling into crushing debt, we’d need to work harder and create a second revenue stream. Giving up wasn’t really an option so as they say, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’
Kyryl had built some furniture and installed flooring prior to meeting me so he had a bunch of experience working with wood and finishes. I went to York and Sheridan for 4 years to study graphic design, and up until starting this business, was mainly stuck working in the 2D realm of print and web design. I’d done quite a bit of package design as an in-house graphic designer and I’m one of those people who actually enjoys putting IKEA furniture together, so I have an aptitude for creating real things. Unfortunately I just had zero tools and know how to actually build my creations out of anything other than paper and pixels.
One spring afternoon we discussed the potential of working together given our goals and skill set. We knew we could create a brand that people could get excited about because I’d branded successful businesses in the past and Kyryl had worked on some gorgeous carpentry projects. Like most Etsy sellers, I was our target market so I was really excited about creating home goods I would want to buy for my space. There’s a lot of people who do what you do when you sell online and signs are one of the most over-saturated products on Etsy. It’s important to figure out the difference between you and the hundreds, if not thousands, of other people who do what you do. For us, it was the quality of materials and design, combined with the good vibe feeling we could create for our customers. We saw what seemed to be missing in the market: real quality wooden signage, coated for exterior use with unique witticisms in well designed typography. In addition, we decided to offered them as fully customizable with a realistic mock ups.
Given that we’d have to make all of these signs by hand and we already had full time jobs, we knew it was going to be a huge undertaking and we’d have to work really hard or “hustle” for our customers. Hence our name… Rustic Hustle. Rustic Hustle has become the phrase of our business. The “rustic” represents the simplicity and charm typical of our farmhouse decor. The “hustle” represents the hard work we put into every sign and the durability of our product due to the fact our signs hang outside in rain or shine.
Everything we make we make with love; united together for the purpose of bringing cosiness to your home. We’d like to think that shines through every piece we make.
What would you say has been your biggest learning curve since beginning?
When we started we definitely thought all of the aspects of our business would be simpler than they actually are. The amount of time spent researching and developing a new product is always longer and more complicated than you think it’s going to be but we really enjoy the process. We’re so in love with the freedom of creativity and the feedback has been so overwhelming that our business has grown so fast in such a short time. We’ve learned a lot about wholesale pricing, sourcing reasonably priced supplies in large quantities and what that all means for and optimizing the potential of the business. We’ve had our fair share of failures but maintaining a positive outlook is important. Failure is just succeeding to find a way not to do something and that learning is essential for your ultimate growth.
When you run a side business, finding fast and easy work-arounds is absolutely essential. We are huge proponents of work smarter not harder. The internet is an amazing resource of apps and tools to help you save money, streamline your process and save time which only helps you run a successful business and in turn offer more variety in product and better customer service to your shoppers. We’ve found apps to help edit our listings in bulk, populate our etsy shop to Facebook and more. When your business partner is also your significant other, the importance of personal/non-work time together is all too real. The health of your relationship is really important to you personally but also to your business. We’ve recently instituted an app that allows us to share a list of organized tasks which is live updated as we both edit it. This allows us to work efficiently and communicate about business throughout the day non-verbally and live. I definitely recommend that to any shop team.
Describe your work-space and your top tools are.
Design software is my most essential tool. We create high quality mock ups for our customers which are only possible due to image editing software. A lot of the tools we use have been built by Kyryl. He built a light table early on so that I could weed vinyl faster and we’ve added a homemade spray booth recently to keep up with our painted mason jar bathroom set orders. This was so important to our business as we had to move our entire shop into a basement from a garage and the outdoors. We have a CNC machine that does a lot of our engraving and I make jokes about how jealous I am of the attention it gets. Boys and their toys. Eventually we may need a larger space as we’re very cramped in but our tiny little shop but for now it’s working.
I’m a huge fan of your signs! Where do you come up with your slogans and phrases?
Our phrases and quotes come from so many different sources. Sometimes it’s our customers who request something. Other times we see something we like but the majority of the time we try to keep it original. We’re both very into pop culture, history, movies and 90’s hip hop and those all contain some pretty great phrases that resonate with people in general. The key is finding words that rhyme and give the quote a whole new meaning. For example, the movie Bad Boys has that famous quote, “we ride together. we die together.” We changed “die” to ‘chai.” They sound similar but it very obviously creates a joke that people who are serious about chai tea understand and our signs vary in content so we appeal to a wider variety of interests. Since we started, friends and family members have began tagging us in and telling us about quotes the saw on a sign or found someplace else that would be a great sign. People got into our business in a way we didn’t anticipate and we’re very thankful for all the suggestions. My mother routinely says “I saw a sign…” and I’m quick to interrupt her with “did it open up your eyes? Wait… You saw a sign” and break into the song “I Saw The Sign” by Ace of Base
What are your goals for 2017?
I’m always surprised at how this business seems to guide itself. We definitely plan things but opportunities have landed in our lap that have influenced our direction thanks in part to our Etsy York Region Team and their tireless efforts to promote us and the other shops on the team. We’re extremely grateful to be a member of this outstanding group of makers. We’re currently building our client base and looking into sending e-blasts in the future. We definitely want to add more product to the shop to boost our relevancy in search and some of these products will be more customizable from our Etsy store. We currently offer custom through an online form on our website but we know that people like to automatic buy items rather than make inquiries and we’d like to be able to offer more to our customers in 2017.
This October, for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we launched an engraved Mandala product. 30% of the profit from our pink ones will go to support breast cancer initiatives in Ontario for young women. 1 in 9 Canadian women are affected by breast cancer in their lifetime. For young women the psychological distress and isolation can be overwhelming. Confusion and fear can get in the way of thinking clearly and becoming proactive so these programs are really important. We talked about making this business into something more than just a second revenue stream for us and we were both in agreement that we’d like to make a difference for others while we make a difference for ourselves so I think in 2017 you’ll see more campaigns and partnerships with charities. We’re focusing on local causes as that makes sense for our business. Kyryl wants to help people and I’d like to help dogs because I am a crazy dog lady. We’ve been talking about creating some dog bowl holders and other pet accessories for the home and I think that would be a great opportunity to donate to local shelters.
James Bond or Austin Powers?
Definitely James Bond. He may have a more muted sense of humour but he gets the job done and I feel like he’d definitely buy a quality cedar sign that said “Shaken. Not Stirred” for the bar in his bachelor pad.
You can find Rustic Hustle at the Etsy York Region Country Christmas event November 26th at Elgin West Community Centre. Click here for more details.
Follow Kyryl and Leigh below for the latest and greatest:@rustichustleshop