Before we dive into today’s amazing interview, I want to introduce you to Erickson Wood Works. They’re a woodworking studio out of California that specializes in creating gorgeous surfaces for photographers, specifically food photographers. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while you might have heard me rave about Erickson Wood Works in my posts The Best Props for Food Photography and the 7 Photography Resources that Changed My Blog.
I actually stumbled across their boards back in 2014 when I was working at a healthy beverage company as the social media manager. I was just learning photography and kept wishing I had a consistent surface to shoot on that would make our photos look high quality and consistent. After some deep dives in google, which brought me over to Etsy, I found Erickson Wood Works.
We ordered five of their double sided boards and it was absolutely a game changer for our shots. Shortly after invested in one for my own blog. Since then, I’ve watched their boards appear on some of the most popular food blogger’s sites across the web.
I reached out to Ginny several months ago because I wanted to connect and learn about how she got into this business and hear her story. No surprise it’s pretty amazing and incredibly serendipitous. As a young business owner who believes in the amazing power of connection and community, I was so drawn to how they started and grew their business and I think you will love it to!
Tell me a little about your background. How did you get into woodworking and why were you inspired to start making wooden boards for food photographers?
We actually got into this by accident! Doug was working full time as a counselor, and started woodworking out of our garage as a hobby. He built us a picnic table and a headboard, then started selling his headboards locally. A local portrait photographer asked if we’d make her 2 double-sided 6’x6’ platforms for her studio, and we thought- what the heck, let’s see if any other local photographers want something like this. Then we got a call from a local food blogger who wanted to know if we could make her a smaller version of those double sided platforms for her food photography. She came by our place and grabbed her boards, and commissioned a few others. And casually mentioned that there were a lot of other bloggers who would be interested in having photography backgrounds made as well. That gave us our little “hmmm” moment. “Hmmm, what if?” She referred us to a few other people, and we decided to give it a shot and reached out to a few bloggers that we followed and it’s just grown from there.
How did you market your business at first?
A lot of our business started (and continues to come from) word of mouth referrals. Which is hugely rewarding because it’s like, oh my goodness- people actually like what we do! We sent out a handful of emails introducing ourselves to food bloggers we followed and admired, doubting we would hear back. I literally jumped for joy when we would hear back from someone.
Has social media made an impact on your business’s growth?
We realized early on that Instagram was an amazing way to connect with bloggers and photographers. It’s inspiring to see the labor of love and the amazing amount of talent and creativity in the food community.
Taking that first step to start something is always the hardest step, what sparked you to actually start building, then selling these boards?
I’d been working for a real estate appraisal firm for almost 12 years, before being laid off in the Fall of ‘13. Doug and I had always talked about me going back to work full time once the kids (who were starting pre-K and 2nd grade) were in school. The closer it got, the more I was dreading finding a new, grown up job. After looking at our finances, Doug said that if I could sell 15 boards a month, we’d be just fine. I took that challenge, and sold 20 boards that first month. I was like- this is it! I’m never going to get a grown up job- I’m going to paint! And that was it- I was so excited to get to create and make something artistic, and was thrilled that people actually wanted what I was making!
The internet is a pretty crazy magical place where businesses that truly specialize can stand out, was specializing in such a niche market ever something that scared you or did you see it as an opportunity?
I don’t feel like we were ever scared by it, I think it was more like, holy cow- I can’t believe this is a thing! Every time we set a goal, we surpassed it, which blew my mind. It was really exciting to feel like what we were doing was just the tip of the iceberg.
What’s your favorite part of the processes?
I think my favorite part is having a finish or a look in my head, and then trying to actually translate that onto a surface and seeing what happens. Some of my favorite finishes have come from “mistakes”.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of owning your own business?
We started working out of our teeny tiny 1-car garage just trying to provide for our family. Now, I start each day by dropping my kids off at school and then heading to the shop. Every day I’m creating and painting and doing something I love and I’m passionate about. I’ve met and interacted with the kindest, coolest, most creative people. The food community, and blogger community is so nurturing and encouraging, I had no idea! I cannot believe this is my real-life grown up job. I feel overwhelmingly, unbelievably lucky to own my own business and have the love and support of my family in doing so.
What has been the biggest driver of growth in your business?
Word of mouth and connecting with people on IG has been huge for us. And we work really hard to not only make surfaces that are in demand, durable, and cleanable, but to provide good customer service to our clients. Each board we make is like a little piece of myself that I’m sending out there- and I think people feel that, and respond to that.
Outside of food bloggers, who are some of your biggest clients?
We work with a lot of freelance photographers and food/prop stylists.
At what point did you realize “oh, wait I’ve got something really special”?
I don’t recall a specific point. I keep pinching myself thinking- is this real? I get to paint and be artistic and people really appreciate it- it’s crazy amazing.
What’s it like seeing your boards on some of the most popular food blogs across the web?
Oh my gosh- so awesome. First off, I’m a terrible photographer. Horrible. So I know what it looks like when I photograph our boards. When I see these crazy talented people take such stunning shots and with our surfaces in the background, it makes me really proud. I’m so thankful I get to do this, that I’ve built this with my husband, and that our kids are involved as well.
What’s been your proudest moment since you started your business?
My 8 ½ yr old daughter was in the shop painting a board the other day. When she finished, she’d created this gorgeous surface, and told me, “Mom, I really want people to buy this. Like, I want them to think it looks cool, and want to buy it from me.” And I told her I knew exactly how she felt. It’s been so rewarding to have my son and daughter see me as a strong woman and entrepreneur, and see how Doug and I support each other in this.
What’s been the biggest challenge since starting?
Balance. Balance is always a challenge. Making sure I’m getting quality time with my husband and kids, making sure I’m investing enough in our business so that things get done properly. But I have family and friends who love and encourage us. I’ve got a community of friends who have our back and I’m so grateful for that.
You must see a ton of beautiful food photography, what’s one (or two) pieces of photography or styling advice you’d give to food bloggers who are just starting out?
Oh gosh- I’ve already admitted to being an extremely subpar photographer… but I am able to recognize what looks good (even if I can’t recreate it)! I think photos that look layered and lived in are always appealing- as if someone was just sitting down to eat that amazing smoothie bowl or kale salad or grilled fish.
Props that have been loved on- maybe from your family or a great thrift shop always photograph so well!
Obviously you’ve grown a ton in the last few years, where do you see your business in the next three years?
My hope is that three years from now we will still be going strong. I’d love to really be focusing on the custom finishes and unique, one-of-a-kind pieces and really grow myself artistically. And it would be super fun to work on some larger pieces- maybe on site painting for larger walls and backdrops.
I’ve reread this interview SO many times because it just makes me smile ear to ear. It reinforces everything I love about this community, about putting in the work, taking risks and being your own boss.
They’re offering a special 10% discount if you use the code “longrunner” at checkout here through the end of June (2016).
Disclosure: I was given 2 surfaces to photograph and use in collaboration with this post. However, I 1000% fully believe in their products and have and will continue to purchase and recommend them to anyone who is looking to level up their food photography.