Loveland area couple Gib and Lisa Coalwell made a few wooden boxes decorated with sayings but a large order put a toll on their small laser engraver.
The owners of Wordsmith Wood Shop needed to hire staff, get three more engravers and quickly learn manufacturing on a large scale. The couple blends handcrafted wood and engraved words to create heirloom boxes, bookmarks, recipe cards, coasters, magnets and cutting boards for their wholesale, retail and individual customers.
“At that point, we realized this is getting bigger than us,” Gib said.
The Coalwells received a purchase order in May 2018 that more than doubled their sales. They turned to the Larimer Small Business Development Center for advice after initially meeting with the Loveland Business Development Center in 2008 when the business was still a hobby.
“The one thing about the LBDC and the SBDC, no matter what we need next, they have it,” Lisa said.
The Coalwells originally didn’t plan to own a business but circumstances led them to combine Gib’s hobby with Lisa’s word-based career. Gib worked for 25 years in chemical manufacturing, and Lisa taught for nearly 20 years in Thompson School District, plus worked as an education reporter and freelance writer.
In 2001, Gib’s job ended with a company closure. He got a practical job but also acknowledged his love of woodwork after seeing a local artist at a craft show. He participated in his first craft show in 2001, launching Orion’s Woods named after his and Lisa’s view of the stars.
Gib started with custom-order boxes, selling them at shows, and then in 2011, a repeat customer wanted an engraved wedding gift. He hired out a laser engraver, and at Lisa’s suggestion bought one in 2012. They began engraving boxes for customers, but a year later, Lisa noticed the engraver often sat idle and suggested bookmarks with sayings to create a product supply.
“We always say it’s peanut butter and jelly that go together, Gib and Lisa and words and wood,” Lisa said.
In 2013, the Coalwells started an Etsy Marketplace online store, and with advice from the LBDC, rebranded as Wordsmith Gifts. They later became Wordsmith Wood Shop for an even better fit for their special event and location mementoes, logo branding and clever sayings and designs.
“We mix words and we mix wood. That’s what we’re at today,” Gib said.
In April 2016, the Coalwells went on a trip to Texas and stopped at a major retailer to drop off samples, receiving a large purchase order for 5,000 bookmarks. A year later, they added a second major retailer, plus started making ornaments and recipe cards, and their sales numbers doubled. Adding magnets in 2018 again resulted in another doubling of sales.
By then, the Coalwells realized they needed staff and met with Nikki Larcher, an SBDC consultant, to learn about human resources and now have five employees. They see other consultants, such as Mike O’Connell about business planning, Franklin Taggart about marketing and Amy Alcorn about social media. They also enrolled in the Small Manufacturer’s AdvantEDGE program and in April received a $6,000 scholarship. They meet with Jonathon Jaggers, a manufacturing consultant, for intensive training to develop a business plan and optimize their manufacturing processes, productivity and financial results.
“Their partnership is a blend of creative skills and excellent customer service,” Jaggers said. “They are responsive in filling their customers’ needs and requests.”