Whenever I introduce folks to Woodchuck USA, the custom wood products company I founded nine years ago, I like to start with “The Why.”
Why does this organization exist? Almost from the outset, we decided that Woodchuck would always be dedicated to a mission rather than a product. The mission is simple: to get nature back into people’s lives and to leave the planet better than we found it. Our products are a gentle reminder to get out, explore and let nature invigorate and inspire you.
I believe we as humans are innately programmed to want to be in nature. When you’re in a big natural space like a national park, there’s something about it that provides a lot of perspective. It’s likely why, when people are in nature, we get these moments of clarity that add value.
In fact, I was in a national park when I came up with our Buy One. Plant One. program. For every single product purchased, Woodchuck plants a tree. So far, we’ve planted almost three million trees across six continents. Our biggest dream is to reforest as many trees as Teddy Roosevelt did, just over three billion.
Seeding a business
Back in 2012, when I was a senior at the University of Minnesota, I was rollerblading to the architecture lab after cheer practice when I dropped my phone and broke it. My fix was what became Woodchuck’s first product: a wood sticker for electronics that I made with a precision laser.
I started selling them to my buddies for $20 or a case of beer. Six months later, the wood sticker was in 1,800 Target stores. Exciting, right? Not really. In the first week, only seven units were sold. After getting that bad news, my buddy and I watched a TED Talk by author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek, who talks a lot about “The Why.” That’s when I set out to create a mission-driven business.
In 2013, just out of college, I made the pivot from retail to corporate gifting. Our first order was from Red Bull headquarters: customized iPad skins for Red Bull’s employees. Today we manufacture handcrafted gifts—wood journals, boxes, business card holders, coasters and iPhone cases, among many others—for 10,000 businesses across the globe.
But even as we’ve grown and shifted, we’ve always approached our business decisions through the lens of our mission.
“Our biggest dream is to reforest as many trees as Teddy Roosevelt did, just over three billion.”
Branching out our values
As our business grew and evolved, we naturally evolved our mission and values with it. And as we added employees, one of my core values has become creating American jobs—which is today just as much a part of our mission as the trees we plant. Outsourcing has consequences—to the economy, to the families who lose those jobs. We care about that.
Had we outsourced our manufacturing to China or Mexico, as many companies have done, our company would have been more profitable. But the fact that we manufacture in the U.S. not only resonates with our customers, but also makes us far more nimble—something we discovered during the pandemic.
When COVID hit, corporate gifting for events collapsed. On a Thursday in April 2020, we furloughed 11 of our 35 employees. On Friday, a buddy of mine asked if Woodchuck could manufacture face shields for frontline workers. We tested it and, it turns out, we could. I posted a video on Facebook on Saturday that went viral. By Monday, we’d sold over one million units.
Due to our pandemic pivot, we rehired everyone on Monday and, over the following months, we employed 350 temporary workers who made over four million of the plastic and foam face shields.
Last October, we switched back to making wood products. Woodchuck currently employs 50 full-time workers: our dreamers, our doers, our strategic thinkers. They could work at a Fortune 500 company and probably get paid more, but they believe in our culture and our mission.
Growing a legacy
Our mission has undoubtedly helped us build a stronger brand and company. It differentiates us from all the other corporate gifting companies out there that make their products abroad. Customers like that our products are made in America. And they like the idea that when they order 1,000 journals, they have contributed to planting 1,000 trees. We have gotten many, many repeat customers because of that. They are drawn to our “Why.”
Woodchuck has been around for close to a decade, demonstrating day after day how a mission-driven business can thrive. We’ve dared to dream big. We’ve had a heart and mission the whole time, and we’re still here. We’ve grown every year. It can be done.Print this article