Against the grain

  • By Evan Caldwell / Herald Writer
  • Sunday, August 1, 2004 9:00pm
  • Business

GRANITE FALLS – While Vicki Urbanick was looking through a mail-order catalog at animal-shaped craft items, inspiration struck … under her cocktail.

She thought someone could make some money by placing these bear and wolf designs she saw in the magazine on wooden coasters. Urbanick had received some blank wood coasters from a friend made from thin, round slices of wood.

Then a few months later, Urbanick was laid off from her job as a marketing manager from ATL Ultrasound in Bothell when it became Phillips Medical Systems.

“The evening I was told I was being laid off, I just said, ‘Go for it,’” she said. “Why not … I had enough money.”

She looked for competition, found none and developed her goals and a business plan.

Then Urbanick started Backwood Creations in Granite Falls about a year ago.

Urbanick made some coasters and ornaments from lodgepole pine by sanding, branding and coating them with polyurethane. She then packed up her product and hit a Christmas craft show last year at the Puyallup fairgrounds.

“That was a complete disaster,” she said. “I learned so much from that show.”

She didn’t know how to display her items, how to pick a good location for her booth or even which item to promote the heaviest.

Urbanick said she worked on those issues and has managed to turn a profit from every show since.

But earning a profit wasn’t enough. After fine-tuning her operation, she decided to write a book aimed at women about how to succeed at a home-based hobby or craft after a personal catastrophe such as a divorce, separation or layoff.

“I’m writing this book as if I was writing to one of my girlfriends,” she said. “It’s full of pep talks, funny stories, mistakes … all in an effort to motivate and educate.”

She spent most of July on the shores of a remote lake in Canada with a typewriter working on the book about how women can start a home craft business.

She had looked for competition and couldn’t find books covering how women can recover from a life-altering event and start a home craft business, she said.

A CD is planned to accompany the book – which she hopes is in stores by fall in paperback – that has useful forms, tip sheets and information.

She said she was inspired to write the book after several customers and friends urged her to after visiting with her at craft shows.

Urbanick started her craft show business with her first “big investment” of wood poles worth $30 followed by a $75 saw.

Since then, she has transformed her already rustic-themed home into the place she creates her rustic-themed wood crafts.

“It takes 11 steps to make a coaster,” Urbanick said.

Coasters start in her garage by being cut from a pole, dried and branded with a design. Then they move onto a tarp covered table in her living room where she sands the wood, applies sealer and later polyurethane.

“It takes about a week or two to make a coaster,’ she said. “But I usually do about 400 at a time.”

She also makes ornaments, candle logs, napkin rings, toothpick holders and business card holders with the pieces of wood left over from making the coasters.

The most popular items are the bear, bear paw and wolf coasters as well as the “Dear Santa, I can explain” ornament, Urbanick said.

She is one of many women successfully launching their own business in the last 15 years. Privately owned businesses started by women have doubled since 1987, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research in Washington, D.C.

Sharon Hadary, the center’s executive director, said about 38 percent of women-owned home businesses sold nondurable manufactured goods, such as Urbanick’s items.

“I think the perception is that (women-owned home businesses) are the little woman making dolls out of socks and selling them at the county fair, but I think you’re going to find they are substantial businesses,” Hadary said.

Women have also been more aggressive than men when grabbing onto business opportunities through the Internet, Hadary said.

Urbanick, whose businesses is online at backwood creations.com, said she is researching the best way to place her products online before going mainstream with something like eBay.

Hadary also said a great number of home-based women business owners are on their second careers.

“I was a suit – nails and all – I was totally corporate,” Urbanick said. “Now I walk around in slippers … it’s fun.”

Urbanick, who often worked 12 to 16 hours a day as a marketing manager, now works “more normal hours.”

“There is life after a layoff – just be positive and open,” she said.

Reporter Evan Caldwell: 425-339-3475 or ecaldwell@ heraldnet.com.

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