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.

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