RetroWorks - A Year of Firsts


RetroWorks first year

Photo Credit: NorthStar203 from iStock by Getty Images

It’s hard for us to believe, because time flew so quickly, but RetroWorks is celebrating its first year this month and what an amazing time it has been!

Ultimately, RetroWorks was born out of passion for the industrial style aesthetic. In the summer of 2015, we needed some shelves for our relatively new home and Jamie decided he wanted to make some in the industrial style. He made the frame from steel angle iron and the shelves from rough sawn wood. Once he finished the shelves and mounted them on casters, we liked them so much that we felt we had the basis for a business selling them. By the end of the 2015, we had completed a refined design of our shelves, which now included accent brackets and rivet-like bolts. We sent out quotes to metal fabricators to have our steel pre-cut and drilled to our design specifications for the first 20 shelves. 

While we waited for the steel, we ordered our wood from a local mill. We also ordered rivet-bolts, accent brackets and brass boilerplates that were made from our design. Once the metal parts were completed, we assembled half a dozen shelves in different color schemes, including steel in clear coat, flat black, gloss black, and brown (rust color) and wood stains varying from white pine, pecan, chestnut, walnut and oak.

Once the shelves were completed, we needed to photograph them to put them on our developing website. We found a ideal location for a full day photo shoot and hired some friends of ours who are professional photographers. We had a great day working with From Away Media who took amazing shots of our shelves. 

 RetroWorks Shelf Photo Shoot with From Away Media

Photo Credit: RetroWorks

We felt like we were cooking now. With professional product photos in hand, we had to take care of a few more items before we were ready to launch. We worked with customs brokers to ensure that our products met the guidelines to be certified as duty-free, we worked with a local packaging company to design a package so we could ship our shelves across North America securely and we worked on product descriptions for our website.

Finally, on April 8th, 2016, and with great excitement, we launched our site and took our first steps as an online business.  We also simultaneously posted our furniture on Etsy as well.  With all our ducks finally in row, we were sure that the orders would soon come flooding in.

And then, like many start-ups, we waited. And waited.

Soon however, we had our first sale to a customer in Chicago. We were particularly excited by this since Chicago is a city that is very special to us and we vacation there frequently.  The first product sold was the Düsseldorf, our clear coat shelf with a pecan wood stain, a color scheme which has since proven to be one of our most popular.

It felt like a long time before we received another order and we became a bit discouraged, wondering if we would ever have lift off. We decided to go all in and build out our product line further. So we sourced some glass from a local manufacturer in Vaughan for our next products. Before long, we’d completed our new product designs and we introduced our industrial coffee tables and end tables with some fanfare by issuing our first mainstream magazine ad in Designlines. 

 RetroWorks Ad in October 2016 Designlines

Photo Credit: RetroWorks

Eventually, as we improved our search engine optimization, we had another sale, and then another and before we knew it, we were receiving regular orders. Some were small, such as a single end table and some orders quite large include a complete living room set. We’ve been fortunate to have customers all over Toronto, and a few cities across the USA as well.

Along the way, as we built our resources and developed our craft, we stopped having our steel frame parts pre-cut and drilled, but began to do this ourselves. We have also begun to take our own photos since we’ve become very skilled with photography since our launch. We even have begun to write for external sites to promote the industrial style look. These changes helped us develop our expertise and craft furniture that lived up to our vision of the qualities that industrial furniture should exhibit.

We’ve had a few bumps along the way that ultimately served to help us improve our service. In particular, after one disastrous shipment resulting in much product damage, we had to go back and examine our product packaging.  We established new packaging protocols that ensured our packaging was bullet proof and we could ship our products safely from coast-to-coast. The damaged shipment was an upsetting experience, but we ended up with a very satisfied customer when they received their replacement product and we improved the shipping experience for future customers.

We’ve enjoyed some great experiences throughout the year as well, including showing our furniture at the iconic St. Lawrence Market in old Toronto and meeting and learning from industry professionals including other craftspersons, interior designers, magazine editors, website developers, SEO managers, and our material suppliers.

One of the highlights of our first year is unquestionably the few chances we’ve had to meet a some of our customers in person. Each chance we’ve had to meet a customer in person has been a truly gratifying experience, however, our first local sale in Toronto was particularly special for us. This was the first time we had the pleasure of meeting a customer in person when we delivered her order. We're very proud of our work and work very hard to create products that are as beautiful as they are durable, but we weren't prepared for the look of delight on her face when we delivered her order.  We've never experienced anything quite so fulfilling.  It was thrilling to meet her and to see how happy she was when we arrived.  Equally special for us, she was the first customer to order a complete set of our living room furniture, so this was also the first time we had the pleasure of seeing the shelf, coffee table and end tables set up in someone's home.   When you work as hard as we do to make our products, we’ve learned that there really is no reward like meeting a happy customer. That is when we knew without question that in designing furniture, we’d found a passion that would consume us forever.

So, with a year under our belts, we are excited to take the next steps to grow further. Soon we will be introducing some new products to our industrial furniture line.  We will also soon be announcing a new commitment that is important to us and will enable us to support clean drinking water initiatives.

 RetroWorks Product teaser

We thank everyone who has joined us and been a part of our first year’s journey through RetroWorks. It’s been an experience of several lifetimes packed into one, and we can’t wait to see all that lies ahead and we hope you’ll stick around to see all that’s in “store”. 

Liz & Jamie

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