When I was twelve and my brothers were six and six months (or “zero” as I like to call it), my parents held a garage sale. To prepare for the big event, old, broken down Big Wheels, cassette tapes and rotary-dial phones were pulled up from the basement, dusted off and proudly displayed on folding tables along our driveway.
I was in charge of the Tim Bits and coffee station. It was an awesome responsibility combining two of my favourite things: donuts and money. I was drunk with power. This was my first foray into the world of small business but what followed was a series of failed endeavours including a lemonade stand that I shut down upon refusing to invest the profits back into the business.
Not surprisingly, no business venture of mine ever came close to being as cool and successful as nine-year old Owen’s. Owen makes handmade, one-of-a-kind step stools for children using sustainable-source wood and non-toxic milk paint. His business is called The Nice Bench Co and it rocks.
My desire for profit was driven by a need for bus fare and hairspray, but Owen has more philanthropic aims: he’s donating a portion of the proceeds to families affected by childhood cancer, a cause that became personally meaningful after his brother Caden was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago.
“My family and brother saw a lot of other kids that needed help,” says Owen, explaining his decision to raise money for families like his.
But Caden doesn’t get all the credit for the inspiration behind Owen’s enterprise. Some of it goes to their little sister, Annika. When she needed a step-stool, Owen built her one. When Owen decided building benches was more fun than playing with toys and eating turkey, he spent Christmas Day making 12 of them.
Four months later, The Nice Bench Co. was launched on Facebook. Since then, Owen’s had to restock his wood supply twice, a sure sign that business is booming.
“People love that I am donating to childhood cancer causes,” Owen says by way of explanation.
The family’s choice of wood and paint suppliers was inspired in part by Caden’s diagnosis, says mom Kristin.
“Caden’s diagnosis made us evaluate and examine and re-examine everything. Along with switching to organic and grass-fed meats and using non-toxic household cleaners, plastic-free etc., we naturally wanted to make sure that Owen’s benches were aligned with these protocols.”
Wood used in The Nice Bench Co’s creations is harvested from a private sustainable forest in Novar, Ontario, just north of Owen’s Huntsville home. The milk paint comes to Owen via Canadian manufacturer Homestead House Paint Co. who donate a portion of it. Milk paint is biodegradable and boasts zero VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which is important to Owen because some VOCs are suspected carcinogens. Owen’s benches are also sealed with a food-safe, chemical-free, biodegradable, zero VOC Canadian beeswax and Carnuba wax blend.
“These benches will be living in nurseries and children’s play rooms so we wanted to make sure they weren’t harmful in any way,” says Kristin.
Considering that Owen has turned his parents’ back deck, living and dining rooms into workshops, it’s no surprise The Nice Bench Co. has become something of a family business. And it seems Owen learned early on the importance of surrounding himself with trustworthy employees and advisors. While Annika provided the inspiration and Dad the tools and instruction, Caden oversees quality control in terms of the finished product. Kristin, too, has been known to provide input on colours and viscosity, as well as coaching Owen on how to interact with customers and retailers.
“Owen is a force to be reckoned with,” she says. “He beats to his own drum and takes very little direction.” Now let’s pause to get an “amen!” from the moms of similarly spirited kids, mine included.
As for the future, Owen is learning that with success comes pressure. Give the people what they want and they’ll never leave you alone!
“I don’t know,” Owen said when asked what’s next for The Nice Bench Co. “Maybe shelves, big benches and round tables. I made two big benches that we are delivering today to Camp Quality, a camp for kids with cancer in Northern Ontario.”
But when it comes to promotion and giving back, there’s no “maybe” about it. Owen has his sights set on an Ellen Degeneres Show appearance, and he wants to start a charity for kids with cancer. You know, small stuff.
But the best news of all is the fact that Caden has been in remission since July 2014 and will complete his 42-month treatment this September. He plays striker on a rep-level soccer team and recently came in 5th in the regional finals for the 100m sprint.
“We cant wait to see how much faster he is when he is off his daily chemo,” said his mom.
Want to buy a bench and support Owen’s business? Owen and his family are kindly offering up a 15% discount on any order you place. Use code SAVVY at thenicebenchco.com.