From Living Room to Board Room: Chapter 1

Written by Mikey Deegan, Client Solutions Manager at LinkedIn (and now all things 'tech' to Beech & Walnut, the family business): 

Today is big day in the Deegan house.

After a lot of hard work over two lockdowns, support from friends, and some bumps in the road along the way, we just launched Beech & Walnut, our family business producing handcrafted Irish hardwood pieces.

Each month I will be writing about the highs and lows of starting a family business, the challenges we faced and what we're planning next. Everything from the nuts and bolts of the business to the family arguments.

Here is Chapter 1 in that story. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have.

From Living Room to Board Room: Chapter 1

Our website is live. 

We’ve just launched Beech & Walnut, our little Irish family-run company that makes handcrafted cheese boards, chopping boards, and everyone’s favourite – the Heirloom Board. 

This is the first in a series of posts detailing the ins and outs of starting and growing a family business.

How it started

For as long as I can remember, my Mam has said what a shame it is that our family never had a business in the house. A few months ago, amidst the depths of Lockdown 1.0, my Dad, a lifelong carpenter, began toying around in his “workshop” (a friend’s unused garage), putting his skills to work. After playing some with different ideas, someone suggested cheeseboards, and from there the idea was born.. After a few days, Mick arrived home with some samples and we all loved them. Debbie’s gang of friends weighed in with how "fabulous", "gorgeous", "amazing" and "wonderful" they are and that they would each love one, so the idea seemed like a good one. 

After some research, hours and hours of Pinterest scrolling, checking out the competition, we decided we’d give it a bash. 

I had been in London while this was going on and was largely ignoring the streams of Pinterest screenshots in the family Whatsapp group. My first post-lockdown flight home was booked for June 25th for the arrival of a new family member, and most recent addition to the Beech & Walnut team, baby Tom. 

However, before his arrival could be scheduled in, my then 9-months pregnant sister had set our family board meeting for 9am on June 26th. Agenda set and everything. After my Dad asking “Is it worth doing?” a hundred times that day, we decided it was, but there had to be some ground rules. We talked about only allowing ourselves to discuss business during certain hours, not to get pissed off with each other, not to let it take over too much family time, not to kill each other, etc. We even set up a separate Whatsapp group, so clearly we meant business. And of course, as in all good meetings, we decided on some next steps. 

 Naturally, my Dad’s job was to make the boards. Sophie, my sister was in charge of packaging and design and my Mam, Debbie, was to write our copy in the flowery way she always does. I was given the tasks of Shopify set-up, Facebook and Instagram integrations, Revolut for Business... all the things that happen on the computers. 

So we got to it. 

Getting things moving

Day One we found a nice local man that could supply the boxes, so that was one task out of the way. 

After a few weeks of back and forth between different engravers, trying to weigh up the pros and cons of laser engraving over a router  (laser gives a nice burned look, but a router is more reliable, in case you were wondering), we got the engraving and customisation settled. 

 Sophie spent two weeks convincing us that the leaflets that go along with the boards when packed absolutely had to be letterpressed or else the business would surely fail. Needless to say, we found a man with a letterpress.

The ongoing conversation about what to wrap and package the boards in; muslin or cloth? A light cardboard wrap? Liberty of London sends everything in a light cardboard wrap so it must be good. But so do Amazon... Is cardboard even sustainable? Maybe cloth is better.  

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Our wonderful friend, Peter Varga of Humans of Dublin, very kindly offered to help us out with his photography skills in exchange for a board of his choice, so we, Sophie and I, got to learning how to take pictures of food like you see in the ads.

Warning: it is incredibly difficult to take a nice photo of meringues. But we got through the day and Peter worked his magic. Our work with Peter is now continuing in the form of our very first marketing campaign, so stay tuned for details to come on that.   

Then there was the question of the boards themselves. My Dad insisted on Irish hardwoods, and none of us were going to question him. We decided on Spalted Beech and that beautiful Walnut, some of the finest timber this island has to offer.  We wanted something high quality, weighty, something that you could feel was important and full of character. And as an added bonus, Spalted Beech has that nice grain that looks nice in Instagram filters.   

But what kind of boards should we make? Should we add a leather string so people can hang them? Do people want to hang them? My Mam claims she would never buy a board that she couldn’t hang off a hook in her kitchen. We decided no to the leather string...too much faff, but maybe later down the line it’s something we’ll reconsider. After some showing off to our friends and asking for some feedback, we settled on a few different types of serving boards, chopping boards and bread boards, along with the Heirloom Board that I mentioned earlier. 

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The Heirloom Board gets a special mention because it is special to us. You can see Monny’s curry recipe engraved on the board pictured here (feel free to use the recipe). Monny is our Granny, but she is the kind of Granny that feels like she is everyone’s Granny. Everyone loves Monny’s curry nearly as much as they love Monny herself. So when we had the idea for what is now called the Heirloom Board we knew we had to get one made up, and once we saw it we knew that was the most special piece of the business. 

The bumps along the way..

When it came to working together, it turns out that your Dad is still your Dad and your Mam is still your Mam even during the hours of an official business only meeting. We quickly realized that no matter how many rules were set, this is still a family business and it was time to embrace that fact instead of pretend otherwise between certain hours. 

Just as I was sitting down to write this last night, it was discovered that no one had actually ordered any boxes from the nice local man I previously mentioned! Revolut Business would only accept payments from the UK so was basically useless, and DPD never got back to us. But, we’ll figure it all out.

So finally, it is November 11th 2020, we’re in Lockdown 2.0 and it has been 138 days since our first official Family Meeting, but only 29 days since the official Beech & Walnut Whatsapp group was established. My Mam has finally gotten her way and our little family-run business is about to launch. We would love it if you would support us.  

So there you have our behind-the-scenes look at the creation of a family business. This is a new world to me and my family, so once a month (ish) I plan to write a post like this to give everyone an inside look at the highs and lows of starting a family business. You can expect to hear how we go about everything - from product development, sourcing our wood, family arguments, Enterprise Ireland grant applications, who minds baby Tom when Sophie is busy, and everything in between... 

And of course, please check out the Beech & Walnut store, follow us on Instagram, and share with your friends. We would love your support.