Success Stories

A Woodworker’s Hope for the Future

Kevin Hamel is the owner and operator of Gonzo Gardeners, where he passionately builds garden boxes and inspires a community of gardening enthusiasts with advice and hope for a greener tomorrow.

If there’s one piece of advice that Kevin Hamel of Gonzo Woodworks & Design wholeheartedly stands by, it’s that you shouldn’t wait around to do the thing you’re most passionate about, you should do it now. Kevin is a woodworker by trade, and has been doing it for 35 years. In recent years, he began spending his evenings and weekends building gardening boxes. When he found himself out of work in his early 60s due to his bad back and arthritic legs, he turned this side hustle into a full-time gig.

Kevin decided to open his own woodworking business in Chilliwack, B.C. just as the pandemic hit. Oh the timing! He began to feel anxiety and fear, then suddenly, something shifted. “As it turns out, everybody who was stuck at home decided this would be a great time to plant a garden. And so, I just happened to be the guy standing in the right place at the right time with the right product and at the right price point,” he says with a warm smile.

Let’s talk about the business

“A few years ago, I guess about five years ago, I wanted to make us some garden boxes. And I've always had an idea of an interlocking system that doesn't require screws and nails and a lot of input from the end user. So, I developed that system over the course of a few years,” Kevin says. While woodworking is the main business of Gonzo Woodworks & Design, lately, Kevin’s focus has been on the subsidiary business, Gonzo Gardeners, as it continues to take off.

When Kevin saw an uptick in the gardening market when the stay-at-home orders began to surge amid the pandemic, he got straight to work for months on end without any days off. His dedication paid off. “I started manufacturing my little fingers off... I was working seven days a week, or 10 to 12 hours a day trying to keep up with the demand,” he explains. He needed reinforcements, and fast. Luckily, he was able to hire his son and another student to lend a helping hand on work that didn’t require his skillset.

Kevin was able to land a price point that resonated with people during this time of crisis. “I was able to get lots of people who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it, I was able to get them functional gardening systems,” he says with pride. Not only did this provide him with the fuel to keep building, but it also gave him the peace of mind that he was able to help so many people out.

Kevin saw a need for people with limited space to grow a garden, like a small balcony or tiny space in front of a window. “There are so many condos and apartment dwellers, and people that don't have the big yards in order to put in big gardens. That was the market that I was looking at. So, my product lines have been designed specifically for those people, so that anybody who wanted to grow a garden could do so,” he says. These interlocking garden boxes are built to be easily knocked down and stored away at the end of the gardening season. “You can put your soil in a bag, you can put the garden boxes away and bring them out next spring. And use them as sprouting boxes, it's really an all in one system,” says Kevin confidently.

Gonze Tierd Box Line

[Image description: Three wooden garden boxes handmade by Kevin Hamel of Gonzo Gardeners are arranged in a half-moon on grass in a park with green trees in Chilliwack, British Columbia.]

As a seasoned woodworker, Kevin also has plenty of gardening tips and planting advice to offer green-thumbed consumers. He jokes that while the advice is not always well founded, it is well intended. With handouts like, “How to Garden,” “What to Plant,” and “When to Plant It,” he is not only offering a product, but also a value-added service with content that keeps gardening enthusiasts coming back again and again. This community of gardeners continues to grow and share with him great stories, and lots of gardening successes. This inspires him to keep on growing!

3 ways partnering with Community Futures helped Kevin thrive:

  1. Helped him financially with a small startup loan
  2. Helped him develop his online presence
  3. Taught him, in every aspect, how to start and run a business

How the business has impacted his life

Out of work, and facing the reality of an intimidating career change, Kevin realized that opening his own business was the only option. However, it wasn’t impossible, not for Kevin, whose motto in life is “How hard can it be?!” So, he got up, dusted himself off and moved forward.

Kevin was able to set up his business so that he could control how to operate in the shop while mitigating his disabilities, which worked out in his favour.

A typical day in Kevin’s life

An early riser, Kevin finds “me time” in the early hours of the morning. He grabs a coffee and plans his day. Some days he is out and about doing estimates, other days he is prototyping his products, and sometimes he is focused on building the pillars of his business.

“I wear an awful lot of hats. So, it depends on what hat I'm putting on that day. My favourite thing, of course, is getting to the shop and building... That's the part that really, I'm passionate about,” he divulges.

When he is ready to deliver one of his creations to a customer, he likes to put all his focus into their needs at that given moment. Kevin isn’t simply in it for the money. He is a problem solver. He not only solves his customers’ problems, he builds and nurtures relationships with them. “I encourage them to get a hold of me, you know, even if it doesn't have anything to do with my boxing, if it's a gardening issue, if it's anything that I think I can help you out with, just let me know.”

Here’s what Kevin learned about her business amid the pandemic

During this time of crisis, Kevin demonstrated his willingness to leap into uncharted territory and roll with the punches. His courage, agility and grace under pressure paid off. “I opened up my business as the pandemic hit. Everyone decided to start gardening, and I was the guy selling gardening supplies!”

The exact moment you felt the most proud of your business

Kevin felt the most proud of his business the moment the realization set in that he could thrive and help people despite his personal obstacles and the challenges of the pandemic.

“The smile on somebody's face is worth way more than any, any money that's changing hands... That's the satisfaction of knowing you've done something that people love,” he shares. In his line of business, feeling good about what you do usually comes hand in hand with how your products and services make people feel. “People need to grow their own food… [If] you want to ensure the quality of what you're serving to your family and yourself, grow it yourself. You can control the conditions, you can control the soil, you can control how much it gets watered, you can control how much it gets loved,” he says. Kevin pauses for a moment, then adds this encouraging perspective, “You start out with the seed, and you end up with a bounty. Not only is it a bounty, it's something you've done yourself, for yourself and your family. And what could be more rewarding than that?!”

How Kevin overcame barriers on his entrepreneurial journey

Kevin’s different abilities weren’t the only barriers he faced along the path to becoming a business owner. “The initial challenge that I faced was how to financially proceed.” A small loan through the Community Futures’s Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program got him started. “Being able to buy my initial supply of inventory, it helped me with developing some infrastructure within my shop that I desperately needed. And it just took that worry off of the table for me,” he explains.

Gonzo Production Shop

[Image description: A look at the Gonzo Gardeners woodworking shop with machines on the right and stacks of finished wood on the left, ready to be made into garden boxes for small spaces by this Chilliwack small business.]

With that support, Kevin overcame the financial burden most business owners face, and was then able to focus on product development, customer service, and his growth strategy.

He credits his friends, family and support system for guiding him through the many obstacles that have come his way. “I'm not so experienced at marketing, or finances, or how to manage finances, and how to move my business forward… I can't stress enough how helpful [Community Futures] were in guiding me through those, you know, potential pitfalls, and they made it a lot easier, and actually, vitally easier, than what it would have normally been,” he emphasizes.

What’s next?

Kevin’s refreshing advice for anyone seeking a more purpose and passion-driven career is what makes him an asset to his community. His positive and forward-looking outlook comes across in his work ethic, customer relations, and professional development

“Allowing somebody to do what they're passionate about, I think, is probably the key to anything. If you're passionate about something, do it,” he advises.

And as for his words of wisdom for aspiring and veteran gardeners alike? A simple yet uplifting thought: Planting a garden is believing in the future.

“The EDP [Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program] was absolutely the key to the whole thing. Not only did they give me the tools that I needed to continue forward, but they believed in what I was doing. And I can't over stress how critical it is to have people believe in you.”

-Kevin Hamel, Owner & Operator of Gonzo Woodworks & Design and Gonzo Gardeners

 

Contact

Community Futures British Columbia
C230-7871 Stave Lake Street
Mission, BC  V2V 0C5
  1-604-289-4222
 

About Community Futures

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