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FRU-GAL: Flap or flop? Getting birdhouse venture off the ground a real adventure

What is the opposite of hibernate? I don’t really know, but I feel like I’ve been doing just that. Instead of going into sleep mode for the winter, I’ve been hyperactive — building a brood of birdhouses. Hopefully, they will all fly the coop in the spring.

What is the opposite of hibernate?

I don’t really know, but I feel like I’ve been doing just that. Instead of going into sleep mode for the winter, I’ve been hyperactive. I’ve been told that I should make up my own word to explain this state that I am in. How about “hiber-active”?

Hiber-activity, in my case, means pulling longer shifts in the garage when the days are shorter. It’s a garage in name only, to be truthful. My car rarely has a roof over its head anymore ever since my Fru-gal "birdhouse factory" got up and running.

On occasion, I do emerge from the so-called garage and burst into the house in a cloud of sawdust — kind of like the dust devils you might see cropping up in the Arizona desert. Usually, I spin my way into the dining room and land there. As you might have guessed, it is a dining room in name only — it’s more like a workshop and warehouse than an eating area.

Also, I’m pretty sure I’m driving my poor husband bananas. You see, we have a domestic arrangement that we defaulted to early on in our marriage — I cook and he cleans, generally speaking. Except that lately, there’s been more cleaning than cooking going on. When I am revving up for a big project (vroom, vroom), he is not far behind me with his broom, broom sweeping up all the dust particles I manage to spread throughout the house.

All of this is the roundabout way of saying spring is coming.

Even if it’s not always obvious outdoors at this spring-forward time of year, it’s been self-evident indoors at my house for weeks. The thing about spring, if you are a small-time craftswoman like me, is that you have to be ready to spring into action.

IMG_2887The fish swimming on the surface of this birdhouse used to be shower-curtain hooks. I try to use upcycled materials as much as possible. (LOUISE LE PIERRES)

And so I am building a brood of artsy birdhouses in the hope — anticipation? — that once the snow melts for good and people start sprucing up their yards and they begin to check on their cottages, they might be tempted to liven up the season and their surroundings with one of my humble creations.

As you may know from my previous columns, I have made it a hobby of mine to re-purpose old or discarded items and turn them into yard art or home ornaments. I am a firm believer in the fact that you don’t have to spend a fortune on landscaping or interior decorating to make your garden or home more interesting.

I am also a firm believer in doing it yourself and letting your inner whimsical self express itself through whichever form of yard art tickles your fancy. It’s amazing what a little encouragement, trial and error and inspiration from the Internet can do — even if you don’t think you have any talent to speak of.

I’ve discovered that making crafts is a bit of a journey into the unknown. First you make them for yourself, then you might make a few for friends and acquaintances — and if you are at all successful at that, there comes a time when you might have to decide to go bigger or stay home.

That’s the stage I have reached now — and I hope you will join me for the ride in the next few months as I face failures or hopefully enjoy success. Perhaps there will be a little something from my experience that others can learn from if they are considering setting up a small home-based enterprise to make a little pocket money.

Thankfully, my brother-in-law is a good source of free advice, because frankly, I am a babe in the woods when it comes to running a business. “Babe in the plywoods might be more like it,” chirps my husband.

Speaking of chirping, back to task at hand.

It was only recently that I branched out into making decorative birdhouses out of recycled materials, including plywood, door knobs and knick-knacks I come across at second-hand stores.

Last fall, I started building them in earnest because a friend invited me to present some of my wares at a “barn sale” in Lower Sackville. To my great surprise, I sold out in an hour and a half. Ever since, I’ve been taking a few orders for custom-made birdhouses and selling the odd one here and there.

At the beginning of this year, I decided to kick it up a notch and build a bunch of them on spec.

This is an act of faith, although I must confess I also have nagging doubts. Building birdhouses en masse involves a whole lot of work with no guarantee of a big payoff.

But there’s no turning back now. Call me crazy, but I have resolved to bust out of my own little garage and enter the World’s Largest Garage Sale at Exhibition Park in Halifax in April. As far as I know, I’ve booked two tables (the cheque is in the mail) for the very reasonable price of $60. So now the pressure is on — I calculated that I had 40 days (since the time I decided to take the plunge) to make 40 birdhouses if I am to have enough inventory on hand.

So far, I am on pace to meet that goal.

That’s because the switch to mass production has caused me to change a few things around here. Since it’s apparently illegal to enslave my niece and nephews in my sweat shop, I’ve had to figure out how to work smarter — maximize efficiency and optimize workflow, as they say in business circles.

Instead of making a single birdhouse at a time, I am now making a batch of basic ones at the same time and filling in the individual details and characteristics later.

I’ve also discovered that having the proper tools does wonders for productivity. I am grateful for the mitre saw I got for Christmas, the nail gun I have on semi-permanent loan and for the surplus plywood a friend delivers to my house quite regularly, out of the kindness of his heart.

Keeping production costs down is also key if you want to make a profit. Painting all those birdhouses can be expensive, so I acquire paint in sample sizes at the hardware store for $4 a jar. It makes a big difference — I can cover half a dozen birdhouses with that.

Another $4 strategy that seems to have paid off so far is paying to boost certain posts on my Facebook page of a birdhouse that has just rolled off the assembly line. (Building a dedicated Facebook page to showcase my crafts was one of the first business moves I made over the winter— it helped me take things from the word-of-mouth level to the world-out-there level.) The occasional paid boost has paid some dividends — in occasional followers whom I do not know personally and in occasional sales I would not have made otherwise. Also, the importance of posting regularly is becoming apparent.

So what else have I learned so far from my attempted transition from hobby to home-based venture? That there is too much to do (I need a clone) and much more to learn (I need a consultant).

What I know already is that if this ever ceases to be a labour of love, the daily grind will not be worth it. Furthermore, I must say I can’t wait till spring really comes so I can keep the garage door open and enjoy the sights and sounds of the season while I bang away at my small business — instead of being stuck in my woman-cave half the time.

Anyway, I suppose I should get back to my assembly line now. The early bird catches the worm, as they say, although I kind of feel like I am the one who is on the hook.


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