I Want Your Outdoor Job is a new series I have started that finds people in the outdoor industry who are making a living doing exactly what they love to do, and asks them how they did it.
When not working on their canoe paddles, Fiona and Mike are the primary caregivers for their autistic son, Makobe and actively work on autism awareness in Ontario.
1) How long have you been in business and what got you started?
Fiona: Mike and I met over 10 years ago while working at the Toronto Sportsman Show in the Swift Canoe booth. Mike was working for Swift and I was the guest paddle painting artist. We married a few years later. We always had a dream to work in the outdoor industry and own our own business. With my father (a.k.a. Poppa Badger) being a wood worker and finisher as well as inherited owner of the family business, Badger & Son (he was the grandson), we naturally spent time around his shop learning the ropes, working with wood, mostly fine furniture. My parents were avid canoeists, as are Mike and I, and it was just a natural progression for us to take our passion for working with wood and mix it with our passion for paddling. When my dad retired and shut down his business, everything just fell into place and we decided to carry on the Badger family name for a 4th generation. Sharing a shop with a friend in the beginning and only working on weekends, we started Badger® Paddles in Spring 2009 and have never looked back since.
Mike: We have been in business about 3 years now. It was just always something I wanted to do. I knew it wouldn't be easy but I still wanted to do it. We are at it full time now and I couldn't be happier.
2) What’s the best part of your job?
Fiona: One of the best parts of my job is when you put a coat of finish on a paddle and with each coat; you see the depth and the beauty of the wood truly come to life. It's almost mesmerizing at times especially when you work on a birdseye, quilted, curly or burled wood and the grain looks 3-dimensional. You can get visually lost in it.
I also really like the conversations with the customers and people we interact with in the industry, on Facebook, and Twitter, etc. It's so much fun!
Mike: Test paddling! Being able to make things with my hands that people will actually use and enjoy and is made from local natural resources is fantastic. It’s also a great excuse to fill the shop with tools.
3) What’s the most difficult aspect of the job?
Fiona: We don't really ever get away from our work because we mostly work from home - even when we go paddling we have Badger with us now!
Mike: One of the most difficult aspects is the production planning. Having everything timed right from the kiln to the expected shipping date.
4) What are two tips you can give to somebody looking to start their own paddle making company?
Mike: I would have to say that if you are trying to start any company, make sure you have a business plan but talk to other paddle makers first. They are a great group of people and are always happy to talk trade with a passionate wood worker and fellow paddler. Also, keep your fingers out of the saw.
Fiona: I like what Mike said. Definitely contact other paddle makers and make a connection. We count a number of paddle makers as friends. You also have to decide if you are going to do it all by hand or use machines. And make paddles for friends and family and get their feed back before you go out there with your product. When we walked into one store when we first started - the guy took one look at our paddles and let out a big sigh of relief. He then told us that they get people in trying to sell paddles all the time and when they show up with their goods - they are wonky and not consistent enough to sell in a store.
5) What about your job do you think would most surprise people?
Mike: I think people would be amazed at how many steps there are in the process and the number of times that a piece of wood is handled before it's a finished paddle, ready for dipping in the water for the first time.
Fiona: I think people would be surprised at how difficult it can be sometimes, when you get a really nicely grained paddle that is light in weight, to hand it over to someone else and not ever get to use it yourself!
Photo Credits: Badger Paddles