biz ladiesLife & Business

Life and Business: B. Finlay Millwork

by Sabrina Smelko

Life and Business: B. Finlay Millwork
Though brother and sister Kate and Brennan Finlay of B. Finlay Millwork live just miles from me, I first met Kate when we were both working at a hotel all the way across Canada in the beautiful mountains of Jasper, Alberta. Since then we’ve kept in touch and I’ve followed their woodworking journey since. Whether it’s a piece of furniture or a complete renovation, Brennan and Kate believe in collaboration and involving the client at all stages — which I experienced firsthand when they created and mailed me a massive wooden number for an artist collaborative project I hosted (when most sent me a JPG). They believe in quality and it shows in their wood pieces that marry function and beauty. Today, Brennan is sharing their tips with us about entrepreneurship, values and transparency in business. Sabrina

Why did you decide to start your own business?

The opportunity to start our own company came relatively easy, as circumstances fell into our lap. I had been working in shops doing custom furniture and commercial installations for five years, while picking up extra work on the side. I was doing most of the side work independently and found a great amount of joy in it. Sure enough, one thing led to another and the side work started coming in more frequently, which led to my sister, Kate, coming on board. She, coming from a managerial background, was able to help me get organized with the work I had coming in and offered to take care of the administrative work.

Starting our own business didn’t scare us, as we grew up in a family full of entrepreneurs. Our mother, for example, owned two of her own companies, after years of being a small business advisor, so for us to start our own business felt like a natural progression.

Biz Ladies: B. Finlay Millwork

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

We wanted to instill some core values that would always become part of our work. As we started to think about our business model we felt that honesty, integrity and transparency — not only with our product but with ourselves — were great starting points for us. We talked a lot about who inspired us in our work lives and what we valued in those people. The early beginnings of our company consisted of many brainstorming sessions that focused on how we want to interact with our clients and how we would want someone to interact with us.

Biz Ladies: B. Finlay Millwork
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

I was given some pieces of advice when I made the decision to leave my full-time job to pursue my own ventures. The most valuable advice was from my mom, “It wont be easy, but it will be worth it. Under-promise and over-deliver, not the other way around. Lastly, always cover your ass.”

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Probably pricing. Ensuring that we took all expenses into account — rent, delivery charges, etc. to ensure we would make a profit. It was a real struggle to get a handle on material cost, our labor and still realizing we weren’t breaking even.

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

We’ve learned a lot since starting this adventure, but the biggest lesson we’ve learned is how important proper scheduling and transparency is. The more open you are with a client the happier everyone will be. We would rather call a client to say there is a setback, than to rush one of our pieces out the door.

Biz Ladies: B. Finlay Millwork

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

Our biggest underlying issue has been failing to recognize our worth/value. My sister and I started the company under-appreciating what our skills were worth. We recognize this as a major failure on our part and have learned it the hard way — more than once — unfortunately.

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

One of the biggest sacrifices that any entrepreneur faces is the amount of stress that comes with the job. When you own your own business, there are very rare moments when your brain is actually devoid of business thoughts. For me, being so focused on one thing has put stress on my personal relationship with my significant other. We knew that the strains of running a business would be tough, but at times it can be quite overwhelming.

Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?

It is one of the most gratifying feelings for us when we deliver or install a piece that we’ve built and we leave knowing that the client is as — if not more — excited than we are. We take a great amount of pride in what we do, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it, and when our passion and care is noticed/appreciated by our clients, it reminds us why we do what we do.

Biz Ladies: B. Finlay Millwork

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

My sister and I have been incredibly lucky and have been surrounded by so many supportive and creative people. They offer us advice and guidance when we’re headed into unknown territory. The biggest asset we’ve had is the people we’ve surrounded ourselves with. I don’t have any books to recommend, unfortunately.

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

1. Really know your product.
2. Figure out who your audience/target market are ASAP.
3. Financial backing. Be prepared to spend a lot of money to make money.


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  • These pieces are beautiful! I think it was touching hearing you say that one of your major problems was undervaluing yourself. I think this is a huge factor in business, and this weirdly delicate balance. I applaud you for recognizing it. I hope you’re making what you deserve on every piece now. It looks like you do high quality, unique, and valuable pieces that any number of people would love to spend a bit more on. Thanks for sharing.

  • Amen! “but the biggest lesson we’ve learned is how important proper scheduling and transparency is. The more open you are with a client the happier everyone will be. We would rather call a client to say there is a setback, than to rush one of our pieces out the door.” I dream every night that all our vendors live by this creed. Best of luck.