Opening up a retail store had been the dream for JM & Sons — a Toronto furniture startup known for streamlined, rustic designs — when SBC profiled the company last November. But eight months later, founders Andre Jr. Ayotte and Mackenzie Duncan have discovered that a successful, handcrafted furniture business doesn’t necessarily require brick and mortar.
Ayotte and Duncan are instead focusing on selling their products through their e-commerce store, JMandSons.ca, while hosting a series of shipping container pop-up shops in some of Toronto’s trendiest neighbourhoods. “We simply couldn’t rationalize a brick and mortar store, and the more we push our business model the more we realize that what we do is online,” says Ayotte, sitting on a wooden “square chair” he designed and crafted, as curious visitors pass through the furniture-filled shipping container in Liberty Village.
“What’s important for us is that we don’t have brick and mortar, we don’t have the overhead, we can be competitive in terms of pricing, and that’s what we want to do.” JM & Sons’ classic designs and competitive pricing have captured the attention of international customers as well. Today, 40 per cent of their products are exported, 60 per cent of which is sold to the United States, 25 per cent goes to Europe, 10 per cent to Australia and 5 per cent elsewhere. “We’ve had terrific international press, so we have international visitors on our website,” says Ayotte.
“We wanted to capture that, so we’ve been designing a lot thinking of these people.” While heavier items like tables, chairs and desks remain popular products for local consumers and visitors to their pop-up shops, Ayotte and Duncan now offer smaller pieces that can be more easily shipped abroad, such as tray tables, key holders and coat racks.
“There are barriers in terms of touch and feel, but we’re overcoming that slowly with pop-ups, with mailing (wood) samples to people, and also the price point is making a lot more sense now,” says Ayotte. The company has managed to grow consistently at 20 per cent month over month without the overhead of an expensive retail location.
Now, Ayotte and Duncan don’t see online retail as a temporary solution, but a defining feature of their business. “It is not only part of our identity, culture, and what we do, it’s our competitive advantage,” says Ayotte. “We have to leverage the fact that we’re small, we have to leverage the fact that we can’t justify brick and mortar.” JM and Sons will bring their shipping container of handcrafted furniture to a number of Toronto neighborhoods throughout the summer, including the Beaches, Roncesvalles, and the Distillery District.
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