In his father’s Terrace wood shop, Evan Ramsay brings out a wooden box full of V-shaped wooden children’s toys, filling the room with the smell of fresh cut birch.
“I call these stackers,” said Ramsay, a father of two. “They’re one of the easiest ways to get children to play with construction toys without all the cleanup.”
His start-up business, Cordial Carpentry, offers a variety of wooden children’s toys that not only are fun to play with, he says, but could be used for early childhood education as well. From castle structures to snowflake shapes, the 16 challenge cards are meant to encourage children to look at the design and then build it, without any help from parents.
“We’re going to make a star,” Ramsay said as he picked out five birch stackers and a printed challenge card from the wooden box — its four walls fitted together with intricate dovetailing.
“The angles of these toys are great for making complex structures,” Ramsay said. “It usually can keep kids busy for a half-hour or more, completely fascinated.”
The idea for Cordial Carpentry started when Ramsay discovered a company based in Japan that made wooden children’s toys out of cedar, an allergenic soft-wood. Ramsay initially substituted the cedar with plywood, which sold out fast with both parents and local daycare providers, and has now switched to non-allergenic hardwoods.
“It’s not about finding opportunity as much as it is hard work,” Ramsay said. He explained he wants Cordial Carpentry to play a part in early childhood education research by including a survey or research document with each box of toys for suppliers to fill out and submit in return for more toys.
“Then I can take that data and work with [universities] to publish the data openly for everyone,” he said.
“There have been several toy makers that have claimed that holding a wooden toy lowers your heart rate, it lowers your blood pressure, but they haven’t really proved it or cited it in anything. I think that’s needed because there are a lot of physical therapists, occupational therapists of all sorts who prefer wooden toys for numerous reasons and I want to know what those reasons are, list them, and make sure people know about them.”
The subject also hits close to home for Ramsay, whose daughter is seeing a paediatrician for speech difficulties. He said he has seen first-hand how wooden toys can help children work through complex emotions.
“Sometimes wooden toys allow her to express an idea or frustration,” he said.
In the last six months, the attention around Cordial Carpentry has grown. Ramsay was chosen a finalist for the upcoming 2018 Northwest Innovation Challenge on April 27, hosted by the Skeena-Nass Centre for Innovation in Resource Economics (SNCIRE). He has also been working closely with Futurpreneur Canada and ThriveNorth, meeting constantly with mentors and regional entrepreneurs to help get his business off the ground.
The wood for his toys is sourced from a local, sustainable provider in 10-foot panels, which are then cut into smaller boards and milled down into the final shapes. “A week’s worth of work can produce a diaper-box full of stackers,” Ramsay said, motioning over to a cardboard box filled with recently made designs.
Cordial Carpentry does have a website, and Ramsay credits networking tools like social media and smartphones for his current success as a distributed manufacturer. He explained that he wants to reach out to more local suppliers, each tasked with overseeing one stage of production to build a decentralized network of manufacturing facilities.
“There are a lot of semi-retired workers out there who are skilled [but] retail work is totally unfit for them. This way they can set up their own time and their own schedule,” Ramsay said.
If a parent were to buy similar stacker toys made from the original Japanese company, it would cost $14 a piece, turning a simple seven-piece set into a $100 investment. In comparison, Ramsay is hoping to get the price point down to $4 per piece.
He’s also exploring the possibility of renting out a box of toys at a much lower price for birthday parties and similar gatherings to keep children occupied for an hour, if not several.