Joel Donkervoort, Spruce Moose
Tell us about yourself
My name is Joel Donkervoort. I’m 29 years old, I was born and raised in London, and I’m the founder of Spruce Moose.
Upon graduating from Western University with a degree in Civil Engineering in 2012, I worked as a Structural Engineering Consultant for nearly two years, but I longed for a creative outlet. I began creating unique, affordable, and practical wares for myself, which unexpectedly ended up generating a customer demand for the products; my partner-at-the-time and I responded by launching Mac&Joe, a small side-business selling our handmade bow ties and scarves. We participated in a handful of shows starting in 2013. During this time, I found a weekend serving job to help my transition from engineering into real estate where I loved working primarily with first-time home buyers. Mac&Joe shut-down in 2015 and I took some time to re-evaluate everything about my business before launching Spruce Moose in the spring of 2016.
Tell us about your business
Operating in London, Ontario, Spruce Moose is a distinctly Canadian brand providing trendsetting, premium, locally-crafted clothing accessories and home décor while insisting on exceptional value, superior service, and continual innovation.
After officially launching in 2016 as a side-business, Spruce Moose became best-known for bow ties, scarves, and bracelets which were only available at local shows, such as Home County and Gathering on the Green, and at select local retailers including Grow & Bloom and Little Label’s Boutique. In February 2018, Spruce Moose began selling every Saturday at the Market at Western Fair District - by October 2018 we had expanded into a double-booth location, the Market had extended operating hours to Saturdays and Sundays, and I had transitioned into Spruce Moose as a full-time job! (If you haven’t been to the Market at Western Fair District, I encourage you to check it out - there are over 100 vendors open every Saturday 8-3 and Sunday 10-2.) Spruce Moose is now known for bow ties, pocket squares, winter and summer scarves, bracelets, pillows, woven blankets, and a large selection of prints and cards from 12 local artists encompassing Spruce Moose’s scope of “trendsetting Canadiana”. Over the past few months, we teamed-up with two prominent map artists to collaborate on a series of local map prints of London neighbourhoods.
As a busy entrepreneur, what do you like to do when you take a break?
It’s a funny concept to work for yourself partly for the flexibility, but then find yourself scheduled to work every weekend while also working harder and for more hours than when you were working a full-time job for someone else. But I wouldn’t change it for a thing! I truly love what I do and I appreciate what a gift it is every single day! I usually disconnect from work on weeknights in order to have time with my partner, and I love visiting my family at least twice a week - Sunday dinners are a must! Every year, I make sure to take a week or two away at the family cabin in Haliburton and a week out west visiting my brother. With friends, I’m always game for a nice coffee or a good game of Mario Kart. When I’m just taking a quick break from work I love getting outside to walk or bike along the Thames Valley Parkway.
What advice would you give to someone starting a small business today?
Find something you love and build a business from there. You will be spending a lot of time with this business, and you’ll get to know every aspect of it way more than you’d think. Pace yourself / be realistic yet optimistic / don’t bite off more than you can chew. It has taken me over 6 years to get where I am today, and it was only 6 months ago that I took the leap into full-time. By this time, I already had a customer base, a refined product line, a recognizable brand, a permanent weekend retail space, and a business plan guiding the next couple of years. I’m still working on a lot of development for Spruce Moose including an imminent relaunch of my website, but it’s important to ensure that what’s being delivered is quality and functional.
Look for opportunities that push you and help grow your business in the right direction: An example would be the Starter Company Plus Program offered by the Small Business Centre which pushed me to truly evaluate my business and to get out of my comfort zone; ultimately, it helped provide me with a thorough action plan for my business and funds to invest in my business.
What’s in the future for your business?
Our short-term goals include focussing on our retail space at the Market at Western Fair District, participating in local shows, getting our website running, and ramping up for the huge 11-day One of a Kind holiday show in Toronto this year! A main mid-term goal is increasing our scope by hiring/sourcing for assistance in production, booth and show coverage, and shipping and fulfillment. Our general long-term goal is stated within our mission statement: to be a trusted Canadian favourite for trendsetting, premium, locally-crafted clothing accessories and home décor while ensuring exceptional value, superior service, and continual innovation. My dream would be to keep developing more products, expanding our retail and production spaces, and providing local employment within Spruce Moose - a business focussed on quality, sustainability, community, and offering functional, affordable, unparalleled products.