The write stuff
Pictou County native sees wooden pen business growing
When he was a high school student, Dylan Thompson-Mackay thought he might like to be a university professor someday.
But he took a course in woodworking at Northumberland Regional High School, made himself a wooden pen and after a banker from Toronto made note of it one day while playing golf, a light bulb went on.
“I had no interest in anything related to pens,” Thompson Mackay. “I did not understand that you could get pens that aren’t for sale at a dollar store.”
He designs the wooden pens himself; the metal components have to be bought from overseas, but he’s aiming to reach the point where he can manufacture them domestically.
Now 21, Thompson-Mackay started making the pens in his uncle’s garage while attending the NSCC back in 2014, then ran the business out of a baby barn in 2016. He later lived in The Netherlands on an internship during the summer of 2017, where he was planning and running summer schools for college students as well as doing market research for his business. So he’s worked on them for a few years now, improving the product, and on July 11 opened a space on Argyle Street in Halifax, which includes a woodworking area, office space and retail.
“I went from just myself and now there’s six of us,” he says.
He hired five part-time students for the summer and once they go back to school in September, Thompson-Mackay will hire more staff, increasing production from 50 pens per week to around 250; the retail cost is anywhere from $50 to $500.
Thompson-Mackay is now working on building a business that involves making and selling pens, along with being a social enterprise. Made from local and exotic hardwoods, he sold them last summer at the Pictou Weekend and was at New Glasgow Farmers’ Market this month.
“I think I sold 75 pens,” in the summer of 2016, he said.
From the beginning of June until the end of 2018, five per cent of the purchase price of an Elwood pen is given to charity and is split among five non-profit groups.
The only confirmed one so far is Big Brothers-Big Sisters, Thompson-Mackay added, because it’s an organization that is important to him.
“I was a little brother growing up in Westville.”
To take advantage of e-commerce, the company’s website was rebuilt “from the ground up” and is starting to attract customers from beyond Canada.
Dylan Thompson-Mackay with his wooden pens.