Chalkboard Chique - Rachelle
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started making chalkboards?
Chalkboard Chique started as a labour of love, literally! I began making chalkboard wine glasses, and then subsequently chalkboards, as a DIY project for my wedding. We wanted to offer the wine glasses as favours for our guests, and after a few failed attempts at making them myself, I finally found a way that looked clean and crisp. I realized that there might be a market for the glasses, if others had faced similar Pinterest-fails, and posted them on Etsy. It came to fruition totally organically, and I’ve become one of those real DIY-bride-turned-business success stories.
How did you learn how to make your chalkboards?
Every part of making the chalkboards, I have learned from my dad. He’d be the last person to take any credit, but Chalkboard Chique only exists because of what he has taught me and his continued support.
When I had first told my dad about the DIY chalkboard plans for my wedding, it was the perfect opportunity for us to have a project to work on together. Every weekend, I’d drive out to his home in Rockland and take over his garage/workshop.
He would teach me how to use the tools needed, from the mitre saw used to make the wood frames and the paint sprayer used to make the boards, until I felt confident.
What sets your chalkboard apart from others?
After about 2 years, it was becoming clear that my current way of building was too labour intensive to be sustainable for growth, so decided that I would no longer paint the chalkboards and instead supply them from a manufacturer. It took me years of research, but it was the best decision I made for my business to date. I still cut, sand, stain, and build all the frames myself, but with the new boards it has allowed me to scale the business. Working smarter, not harder, as they say!
The professional grade chalkboard surface is liquid-chalk marker compatible. The ability to use markers sets my boards apart from those finished with hardware store chalkboard paint. Fun-fact: paint is porous, so any liquid (markers included) will absorb and leave permanent marks. Our surface is not finished with paint, so it can withstand the use of the liquid chalk markers which can be easily cleaned with a damp cloth to leave a brand new, fresh surface every time.
What made you decide to start selling them?
At the time, I had no knowledge on how to run a business but I loved the idea that I could turn my love of arts-and-crafts into a self-sustaining project… all those trips to Michael’s and Home Depot could actually pay for themselves! I’ve always been a very driven person, so once I took the step of posting my first listing on Etsy, I was excited to see what I could do next.
In the beginning, each new skill I learned, like creating a website and taking my own product photos, directly impacted my growth. As a result, it allowed me to create a job I never knew I could have; to be my own boss and have total ownership over something going out into the world! Four years later, I still pinch myself that I’m able to make chalkboards as a full-time gig.
What’s it like to be a part of the local #MadeinOttawa scene?
Participating in local craft shows, joining small biz groups in the city, and connecting through social media has allowed me to meet a whole new community of people, not to mention, life-long friends (@sadieandjune and @the.stoutheart.company). Sharing challenges AND successes with other Makers (ideally with wine), is so important to keep your sanity and knowing that you aren’t in it alone.
I’ve also been especially lucky to connect with other businesses because of the nature of what I make. I’ll be the first to admit, I have Z-E-R-O lettering skill, and it’s something I often get asked about by clients, so I’m thrilled to be able to recommend and promote other local entrepreneurs. Special shout out to just a few of my fav hand-letterers in Ottawa: @ChalkedbyMabz, @Jackanddewey, & @Natasharunions!
You’ve done some work for Maker House. Tell us a bit about that.
Working with Maker House has been an incredible opportunity to grow and learn about a whole new branch of my business; wholesale. Gareth (MH Owner), and his awesome-sauce wife Sarah, stumbled upon my work at the Etsy: Made in Canada show in 2015 I’ve been in their store ever since it was a pop-up. You’ll also see one of my very first chalkboard sandwich boards proudly displayed outside their shop.
As my first wholesale account, there was value in working with someone local, especially to navigate things like wholesale pricing, contract terms, and inventory management. Most importantly I found that, as an online-based business, it allowed me to send customers to buy products that they’d not normally be able to see/touch/feel in person while the store itself introduced a whole new customer base to my products.
What’s the largest chalkboard you’ve made?
The largest chalkboard I’ve been able to offer is 24” x 48” (2 ft x 4 ft) due to the professional grade chalkboard surfaces that I use. I’ve had clients order multiple boards for menus, which make them perfect for restaurants. I would LOVE to offer larger sizing though, and I’m on the hunt, so keep an eye out in my shop.
Do you get a lot of custom orders?
I have been so fortunate to be consistently busy that it limits my ability to take on custom work throughout the year. With that said, there’s nothing like having the opportunity to be creative when working with customers and knowing that you are making something completely perfect for their space. For that reason, each January, I open up my portfolio and take on a limited number of custom orders.
Which do you prefer: Being in the garage working on your craft, or Going to trade shows and talking to people about the products?
I love being able to work in the garage. The work itself is labour intensive, but I like to think there’s a craft to picking the pieces for a frame, matching the woodgrains, and staining it so its juuust perfect. The only real challenge about working in my garage is our frigid Canadian winters, where I have to keep the door shut for 6-8 months out of the year. The fresh air and sunlight in the summer is something I covet dearly.
Flipside to that is I’m a known chatterbox. As an online, home-based business, I rarely get a chance to meet people who purchase from my website or Etsy. I am always genuinely excited to have the chance to talk to people about something I’ve put so much of my energy into, and I look at shows as an opportunity to 1) talk your ear off about chalkboards and small biz ownership; and 2) showcase something I’m so proud to have built.
You post a lot of educational / behind the scenes information on your Instagram Stories. What’s something that you’ve learned since being in business?
It’s not only fun to post behind-the-scenes work, but as an arguably male-dominated field, I think its so so so important to share my experience using with tools in my workshop. I feel like the more you are exposed to something, the more normalized it becomes. Instagram can be a black-hole for comparison, but with other female craftswomen posting informative content (@overallsandpowersaws, @diyhuntress, @re4mottawa, @3x3custom just to name a few), it can become such a positive place to shift perception. If I post a behind the scenes video, I want nothing more than to make someone feel like they can do it too!
In terms of what I’ve learned since being in business, I think that prioritizing safety and your health is very important when you are learning something new, like using power tools! I was fortunate to have my dad as a teacher, but accessing resources like local workshops, city of Ottawa programs, hardware store demos, etc… is great way to learn and to be informed of what you need to do to be safe.
When you’re not building chalkboards, what do you like to do in your free time?
Balance is something that, as any small business owner will attest to, is very hard to learn and manage. I’m a little more than 4 years in, and I’ve only just started to realize that all of the hard work needs to be balanced with something totally unrelated to what you do for work. What I do, is not who I am.
Because the business is so intertwined in my life, I often joke with my husband about what I would do with all my free time if I wasn’t making chalkboards. Creating and running the business is so important, but other things that spark joy in my life include having wine with friends, watching movie trailers online (is that weird?), hanging out with my cat, going on travel adventures with my husband, and watching wonderfully trashy television shows.
What’s your favourite place to go to for a night out in Ottawa?
I am a big fan of a night that includes a Burrito Grande from Ahora, and sharing one of their 1L wine jugs with friends.