The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree
Jake Arsenault always knew he wanted to start his own business. The Nova Scotia native and Bachelor of Commerce in marketing graduate (from St. Francis Xavier University) had an initial, but short-lived, idea. “I had a lot of restaurant experience and that was my initial thought,” he says. “But that was such a risky endeavour with high start up costs, it didn’t really seem it would be in the cards.”
Expressing his displeasure for “working for the man,” Arsenault decided that doing his own thing should incorporate what he had learned from his dad (who had learned from his dad) puttering around the old shed. And so in his last year of university he entered and won, several business competitions with his woodworking and cutting board business idea. He managed to raise $27,000, which allowed him to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams.
After his graduation in 2018, he went straight into business with the competition money, and started Creative Urban Timber by sharing his father’s workshop, which was a tiny 10×20 space. But his winnings allowed him to build a bigger space (24×24) on his dad’s property that they would share. His father does some custom kitchen framing and used part of the building while Arsenault continued his woodworking business. That building has now been converted into a kiln.
Arsenault worked out of that shop for about four years but eventually bought his own property about an hour away in Enfield, N.S. to have a much bigger workshop (now 40×25), which includes a second story. This shop came into operation in July of 2022.
The plan, he notes, is that he wanted to have a sustainable spin on the woodworking business. He began collecting excess firewood logs that were too big for conventional machine cutting. Their usual fate is just to rot away in the lumberyards. “I started contacting these guys and said ‘if there are any logs you can’t work with I’ll buy them from you,’ and they would sell them to me at a good price.”
He brought that home and dried them in his kiln giving him nice live-edge slabs to build cutting boards, live-edge tables, and cribbage boards. “The cribbage boards were my bread and butter for a while,” he explains. “They are a nice high-end product with inlaid walnut, and hand-cut drawers for storage. Whatever would come to me I would say ‘yes’ to the project.” About 80 percent of his products are made out of maple, but sometimes he also works with red oak or birch.
While Arsenault basically works on his own he has been able to earn about $85,000 per year for 2021 and 2022 individually. Most of those sales are local to the Halifax Regional Municipality although he has a few sales outside of the area, and one in the U.S. “I try to keep it pretty local. Shipping costs are so high it would be a waste of time to beat prices [in other areas].”
In terms of expansion, Arsenault says the new larger shop has taken care of that. At this point, he is looking to improve the functionality of the workshop. Eventually, he wants to add his own kiln more locally (as opposed to the one on his father’s property), along with investing in his own sawmill rather than sourcing it to someone else. For now, Arsenault is happy with the pace of his progress and, despite the university degree, has found his entrepreneurial spirit in a craft that he learned in his own backyard.
Joel Kranc is an experienced and award-winning editor, writer and communications professional. With more than 26 years of experience, Joel has covered a variety of topics in the finance and B2B space. He owns and operates his own content company – Kranc Communications.