We had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Jonathan Readman, the owner of Reel Wood Designs recently, catch the live here if you missed it.
Who are Reel Wood Designs?
Reel Wood Designs are a company based locally in the North East, specifically in Consett, making handmade wooden educational toys and home decor items.
Reel Wood was born from darkness and heartbreak. In 2018 Jonathan and the family sadly lost their 3 month old son to SIDs. As a way to cope Jonathan began using his time to create toys for his daughter, Evie. Developing his skills over time he became extremely proficient and started to make gifts for family and friends. Fast forward several months of planning, researching, and minimal sleep, Reel Wood was born.
Reel Wood's name is a culmination of the children's initials Evie Rae, Ethan Lewis, and Eli Robert ensuring that they will always remain the catalyst that keeps him going and the heart of the business.
Shaping a better future for future generations is something that is at the forefront of the business. This is why they have gone to every effort to ensure they use sustainably sourced materials and minimise waste.
All of the waste materials are bagged and given to friends and family to help heat their homes and workshops.
Most importantly, Reel Wood Designs products are meticulously handmade and finished with love. As a business they put their heart and soul into creating these products and Jonathan really hopes you love them just as much as he does!
What they do.
Reel Wood Designs truly are a family run business from the core, Jonathan being the primary aspect of the business, roping in his wife to help with a lot of aspects, even the kids get involved!
Jonathan's children are both the greatest product testers, plus are also very demanding when it comes to research and development, requesting new products depending on their interests. They even play a hand in helping pack the items before they make their journey to their customers.
Jonathan ensures the technical elements of the workshop are performing efficiently and safely. He also, works closely with his wife on all new product designs all the way from a single idea to the finished product. The main part of Jonathan's job is to carefully hand cut each item ready to go through the several stages of sanding and finishing.
So now you know a little bit more about the business and who Reel Wood Designs are as a business, lets find out a little bit more.
So Jonathan tell us a bit about your business.
We are a family run business making eco-friendly and sustainable educational toys and home decor products. Focusing primarly on the educational side, encouraging children to learn through play. However we have slightly adapted our business and have expanded into a manufacturing company, changing with the needs of the business. We mass produce products for businesses that align with our companie's core values.
Most recently we have been working with a fantastic company called Abel Wooden Toys creating a tiny component for one of their new product lines. Which at large scale manufacturing is difficult to create via automation.
All our items are hand cut from start to finish, with no automated machines involved in the cutting process.
What's your biggest frustration in your industry? And how do you solve that?
For me the biggest frustration in the industry became increasingly more prevelant during Covid/Lockdown. The general population turned to producing toys as a side business to make some extra income when they were on furlough or had been made redundant, selling on smaller sites such as Etsy or making their own website.
Which is all well and good in theory unfortunately, many of these toys, trading standards actually reported up to 70% of those that were on the market were unsuitable and potentially dangerous. Some had none of the relevant testing standards, legal information, or age recommendation information on the products.
Obviously there isn't anything I can do about this personally as it's a job in itself to hunt those down and that's what Trading Standards is there for. All I can do is ensure that my business and products stay up to date with the current regulations, and are legally appropriate for sale. Brexit did not make this easy as the testing standards for the UK became an entity in itself meaning to sell to Europe and UK we needed seperate testing certificates.
One thing I would ask is any parents that are reading this, please check when you buy toys online that they come with the relevant UKCA/CE Testing standards and check the age appropriate recommendations. The standards are there to keep our children safe and that's what's most important.
Covid also brought about it's own set of struggles for me as a business owner. During lockdown when everyone was stuck in the house online sales increased massively as people couldn't go out anywhere to spend their money. Parents were forced to home educate and therefore, bought a lot of our educational products to help encourage that and make learning a more enjoyable activity for their children.
Unfortunately for us, when we came out of lockdown sales dramatically dipped, forcing me to look at a different way to keep the business afloat. Hence came the birth of the manufacturing side of the business, an element that when I initially started I wasn't to keen on, has become the new normal for me.
If you could go back to the beginning of your business, what would be the one piece of advice you would tell yourself?
I'd firstly advise myself to work with materials more attainable to the UK. We've had a lot of issues due to Covid, Brexit, The war in Ukraine, and fires in America.
But more importantly would be seperating personal and business time. I've found myself on many occasions still sat at my computer doing design work at 3-4am. Answering customer emails late in the evening during family time to try and ensure the customer isn't waiting for a response.
Implementing working hours is something I'm trying hard to work on but as you know yourself Stephen it isn't that easy. Running a business is definitely not a 9-5 job.
Tell us about your proudest moment as a business owner?
The proudest moment for myself was when we secured a wholesale stockist with the largest online eco retailer in the UK, Babipur. Seeing our products on their website and in their advertising gave me that realisation that we aren't just a small business with a website that no-one really knows about. It was at this moment I actually began to believe in myself, instead of masking imposter syndrome this truly solidified the belief in my own abilities.
Since then we have also featured in various different marketing materials one of them being a company called Grimms who are guided by the principles of montessori and waldorf educational approaches.
What would your advice be to someone starting out as a new business owner?
This is going to sound a bit aggressive here but, do your research! Don't just think "Okay I can do this" because there are many regulations out there that need to be adhered to. Most importantly though, be confident, be proud and believe in yourself.
If you put the time and effort in you can truly make a business thrive in even the most uncertain of times. Yes, it can be hard, sometimes feast or famine. But always understand that a business can adapt and change as you grow.
Is there anything exciting you want to share with us about your business? Any new products in the pipeline?
There are a few things we have in the pipeline just managing when to launch these and understanding the market is what is important right now.
We have some alphabet, number, phonics and maths boards launching at some point in the future expanding the storage for our products and also adding an additional educational element, to use as a shape sorter or alongside children's school work.
To try and tackle the rising cost of living and make our products more affordable and accessible to a wider audience we have decided to create the same product but from a cheaper wood and hand that saving down to our customers.
We are launching a pre-order of our Beech Alphabets which will be received in 8 weeks time on the product launch date. As a promotion anyone who pre-orders will receive a free vowel pack with their order.
Finally we are currently working with a company based in France to produce a fantastic product which I would love to talk about today but I can't. I believe it will be launching in November so keep an eye out in the wooden toy world for that one because it really is fantastic.
We also had some questions from people watching the live that we thought we would share with you.
What's your favourite product you make?
That's a hard one but it would probably have to be the lowercase alphabet. There's a nice rhythm to the cutting on the scroll saw that makes it a really pleasant product to cut.
How long does it take to make an alphabet?
It's been a long time since I cut and made an alphabet alone from start to finish as I make them in batches. The cutting itself takes upwards of an hour but that's not the only process.
I have to spend time looking at the wood to ensure there are no shakes or errors that will affect the functionality of the product. Then I have to stencil on the design, drill the pilot holes for the inner edges, cut the inner aspects out, cut the alphabet itself and then it moves onto the sanding stages.
A lot of woodworkers will tell you that the cutting isn't the time consuming part it's the finishing. Our products go through several different stages of sanding before they can then go through the sealing process. Once sealed and dried you then have the packing stages.
So yeah in short there is a lot of work that goes into producing one item.
What's your favourite wood to work with?
It would have to be purpleheart, the wood itself starts off brown but when hit with the UV rays from the sun it turns a gorgeous shade of purple. It's a wood that I never get bored of working with and truly is stunning.
If you want to find about more about this brilliant company why not head over to their website and check out some of their products, you even get 10% discount on your first order by signing up to their newsletter!
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