Life & Business

Life & Business: Tuckbox

by Sabrina Smelko


After spending nearly a decade behind a desk at a UK architectural firm, Dan de Groot was itching to get his hands dirty and dive back into the land of power tools and sawdust. His passion for the handmade, derived from his education at Queensland University of Technology where he specialized in Industrial Design, quickly led him to up and move back to his hometown of Melbourne, Australia with his wife, Prue.

In 2008, Dan started collecting old timber machinery and gleaning wisdom from local craftsmen in an attempt to better understand the craft of furniture-making. Inspired by his newfound appreciation for the materials, machines and processes, he started creating furniture pieces in their backyard shed, and it wasn’t long before his backyard projects became a business. Together with his brother, Ant, and Prue, they launched Tuckbox, a contemporary furniture line with a focus on craftsmanship. From afar, their pieces look simple, but like their story, the beauty is all in the details. Today, on behalf of the talented team at Tuckbox, Dan is sharing the inside scoop behind their business! -Sabrina


Why did you decide to start your own business?

I had been working in design offices for a few years and I just needed to have a break, do something new and be challenged. I had no idea what that challenge was going to be.

Some people fall right into what they are good at and can tick along to their own beat with ease, but it took me almost five years out of working in design to end up finding my way back into it, with a business/work model which helped me not just enjoy design, but also get really immersed back into it.

But the real start of Tuckbox came about when my brother moved to the same city. He was keen to try something and we knew, without even discussing it, that between us and along with my wife Prue, we held a good number of the skills and energy (really important!) required to run a small design business.


When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?

We missed this part of the professional business beginning, actually. Our situation was probably a little rare as we very naturally fell into our roles having known each other so well and over a good period of time outside of business. Our start was simply down to doing what we really enjoyed doing.

As we progress and want to become more efficient, I think a clear definition of our business will become important. For now, we are working well designing and making and continuing to learn and challenge ourselves.


What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

There were probably two good bits. Apart from just “give it a go,” we went and had a good chat with a friend of Prue’s, who had begun her own very successful, small bedlinen business the year before, Kip & Co. Alex gave us so much good advice that we are really indebted to her, and so the best advice to come out of that, really — was to seek out advice.

Another gem came from our friend before we’d even started Tuckbox. She talked about finding the right people to be in business with, and had noticed over years of interviewing designers and creatives that family is often the best as their values and priorities come from the same place as yours, and you’re also used to spending a lot of time with them, which comes in handy during long nights in the workshop.


What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Probably in committing to the financial aspects of starting out the business. To really do it right at the beginning means taking a few risks and reaching a little further than you’re normally comfortable with. Starting out without a wage for anywhere up to 12 months or even more means these investments, where required, take a good bit of courage.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

You can’t do everything. You’ll need favors from friends starting out, then as you grow you just need to bite the bullet and invest in finding a mix of talents and personalities which allow you the time to do what you are good at and what you enjoy. The challenge, then, is to bring the best out of those around you and it will bring the best out of you.


Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?

So far so good… the small issues we have had along the way have been limited to teething problems with testing out new methods and new finishes. There is a rapid learning curve with product development and it takes a few failed attempts to hit the mark.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?

Time! Sleep and food aren’t given the respect they deserve, and for me, not being able to spend enough time with my daughter and wife is challenging. Anthony is a mad water-sports fan but he’s not been near the beach in months, (it’s summer here) nor had a proper break. Even with a fractured foot, burnt hand and sleep deprivation, he just keeps going.

Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?

Getting lucky with finding the right people really is our biggest success. Small business requires efficiencies and dedication beyond the norm and our little team is pretty awesome.


What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

I have found the most value comes from chatting with people who have been in business themselves. It’s been great for us to have contacts that have started out in business slightly before us, along with a couple that have been in business for a lifetime. Having a mentor along the way can also be really useful.

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

1. Are you ready to commit the time required to get this going, and can you do the marathon whilst doing the odd sprint at the same time?

2. Are you financially in a position to hit the business full-time or do you go part-time and reduce the risk?

3. Look to share the business responsibilities with someone else —  you can achieve so much more with the right people, you may even get a holiday…

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