Entrepreneur sees local furniture in our future

The Yukon’s vast boreal forest holds wildlife, a few villages and towns, a city and millions of dollars of imported wood furniture.

The Yukon’s vast boreal forest holds wildlife, a few villages and towns, a city and millions of dollars of imported wood furniture.

Why doesn’t someone just make the furniture here?

That’s the reasoning of Wayne Spring, a man on a mission to set up the Yukon’s first furniture factory in his hometown of Watson Lake.

As well as being the Yukon’s first full-scale furniture-making facility, it could also provide valuable opportunities for local youth, he said.

An experienced Watson Lake woodworker, Spring has already secured customers, land and community support.

All that’s missing now are several more investors.

The project will cost $700,000 to launch.

Watson Lake resident Bud Larsen has already signed on for 26 per cent, and Whitehorse-based däna Näye Ventures has agreed to finance Spring’s 26 per cent per cent buy-in, provided he can provide a 15 per cent cash equity – equal to roughly $27,000, or “$50,000 if he wants to knock the loan down a bit,” said däna Näye business support officer Allison McNevin.

Spring, a self-taught furniture maker, currently runs a small independent furniture shop out of his basement.

For 10 years he has been incubating the idea of a large, multi-employee workshop.

Using scrap pieces of Yukon birch from sawmills, Spring has already assembled a significant stockpile of usable furniture lumber – “sweat equity,” as he calls it.

Unlike most other methods of wood furniture making, Spring’s does not use any form of kiln drying.

Instead, he cuts the wood into small strips, leaving it to dry naturally, and then glues the strips into boards.

“You’re taking a raw product, you’re building something, and you’re value adding. It doesn’t get any better than that for a business,” said McNevin.

Spring has located a 468-square-metre facility on 1.2 hectares in Watson Lake that would be ideal for the shop.

If established, the facility would employ two full-time adult workers, in addition to Spring and two youths.

The factory would make chairs, tables, coffee tables, dinette tables, dressers and armoires.

“Pretty much anything that you would find in a house that we can make out of wood,” he said.

Spring has received assurances from two Whitehorse retailers that they would carry his products once the operation is fully established. One, X-Press Furniture, already carries a few of Spring’s coffee tables. 

The Yukon Inn told Spring it would incorporate his furniture into upcoming renovations.

“We were hoping to tap into 15 per cent of the market share in Watson Lake and five per cent of the market share in Whitehorse — this thing is totally realistic,” said McNevin.

Recently, Spring, in partnership with däna Näye Ventures, drafted a full-scale business proposal for the furniture facility.

With plan in hand, Spring is canvassing financial support for the initiative.

In a brief period, he has spoken with a variety of territorial and aboriginal organizations.

So far, no bites.

“Nobody really wants to pay attention to what I’m trying to say. I’m trying to do things for Watson Lake … and nobody wants to invest,” said Spring.

When Dennis Fentie was MLA for the Watson Lake region, he said he would “do nothing” to help the proposal, said Spring.

However, NDP leader Todd Hardy showed some support for the initiative when he met with Spring more than two years ago.

A boon for almost non-existent Yukon furniture industry, Spring also believes his business will serve as a valuable booster for Watson Lake.

Five per cent of all profits would be put into a local youth fund, which would then help establish a separate, youth-run corporation devoted to the manufacture and sale of various wood products, said Spring.

As well, once Spring’s shop is established, it would be available for woodworking purposes by local students.

A few years ago, the plan was well-received by local education officials in a joint proposal drafted along with now-retired elementary school teacher Charles Skinner.

“I honestly believe it’s a business that would be excellent for the Yukon,” said McNevin.

While marketing solely within the territory during the first year, Spring eventually hopes to expand the business to neighbouring provinces — and all around the world.

“By 2010, we want to be marketing Yukon products to the Olympics — my argument is that I’m doing all this advertising, I’m shipping all over the world — that’s promoting the Yukon,” said Spring.

“So you’d think the government would be pretty interested in my getting this thing going.”