Craftsmanship, Ingenuity, and Creativity Define “Made By Mikey,” a Small Business Dedicated to Building Quality Wood Products For Your Home. Michael Giel has been a performer in Toronto’s theater, film & television industry for many years. He’s worked as a musician, a comedy writer, and also as a singer. But Michael is also the owner of Made By Mikey, a small company that draws upon his experiences working with his family of carpenters, contractors, and engineers.
Initially focused on making custom frames, his company has grown to include custom storage solutions, tailor-made furniture, and vertical gardens. I spoke with Michael recently about how he got started, his passion for building things, and why there is even more demand for his work now.
What motivated you to start your own company? What services do you offer?
I’m an actor, and the best advice that I was never given by an acting coach was “know how to do something else.” So my business became a way of filling in the gaps between acting gigs to keep busy and make money. But the other motivation was my partner Rachel. She’s a surrealist painter, and one day I saw one of her paintings and said to myself, “that needs a frame.”
So I taught myself how to make a frame. I realized after that week-long process that it was something that I could do well. And through the power of social media, people started asking me if I also do several other things. So I began making custom frames but have since expanded into making other products.
How do you promote your business? Do you invest in marketing, or do you count on word of mouth?
Once I finished my first frame, I put it up on social media and basically said “look what I made.” And it appeared as if there was a real need for this because many people wrote to me saying, “this is great, can you make one for me?” There was a market for people who wanted something unique, tailored for works of art that they had at home and were often rolled up and sitting in a closet.
They didn’t just want to walk into a store and buy it; they wanted something made specifically for them. So within the first week, after I made that first frame, I realized that I was on to something. Thankfully through word of mouth and social media, the word got out that I was a guy who could make you anything you want.
What makes your products unique?
For the custom framing, I make my stain. I use rust and iron oxides. I use copper-based stains, so I can make natural ingredients that will last forever. It doesn’t leave a footprint on the Earth because it’s an entirely natural product. I started with a basic recipe of using rust in vinegar, taking steel wool, putting it in vinegar, and three days later, it would be completely dissolved.
I would use old nails and old screws. But now, every time I go for a walk, I look at the leaves and foliage and colors in nature and try to figure out how to take the color of those things that are sitting on the ground. So I use turmeric, which is one of my favorite things to use. The combination of turmeric and rust produces a gorgeous smoky gold that’s completely natural and lasts forever. Sometimes I’ll use beet juice and other things that are entirely untraditional, and it’s all experimentation.
How was your business affected due to COVID-19?
When the pandemic began, people were still requesting frames, and many were asking for vertical gardens. But I didn’t want to put a dollar ahead of someone’s safety. I knew before March 2020 that the whole year was gone, and I wasn’t interested in building and delivering to people’s doors. I didn’t know where the lumber and materials I needed would be purchased from, and I didn’t know where the next contract would come from.
So I put a notice on the website saying “sorry, I’m not taking any orders right now; I’m staying home and staying safe.” But there are many people asking for the vertical garden because they’re interested in growing their food. Recently I started retaking orders a few weeks ago, so I’m hoping for a banner year for the vertical gardens.
Tell me more about the vertical gardens. What inspired you to begin making them?
Vertical gardens are something that I’ve put much attention into lately. A while back, I saw some home gardens selling online and were stained with Minwax and petroleum-based products. And it boggled my mind because you can’t grow food out of these things that are stained with these products. So that was my inspiration, to invent something that was completely natural. Beeswax was my immediate go-to.
I had purchased it from an apiary in Orangeville. And I think people see the value in that. They know that it’s crafted from material that is made locally. I’ve spent this past year adding to my arsenal that already exists and expanding it. I’m refining things that I’ve already come up with, because I can’t just sit at home, I need to keep working and be creative.
What advice do you have for someone looking to start up a similar business?
The most important thing is collaborating with people that you trust and picking the brains of other creatives. Associate with other like-minded artists and bounce ideas off of them. It’s important to realize that all of the products that we use exist because someone said, “I have an idea, and if it doesn’t exist already, I’ll make it myself.” At some point, someone invented everything that we currently use.
So my advice is to do what you have to do to keep that creative spark going, and quite often, that involves finding other people that you can bounce ideas off. Artists and creative people tend to see each other; naturally, you have to make sure you’re paying attention.
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Author: Ian MacKenzie, Toronto, Canada. If you have stories to share kindly email: – [email protected]