In the words of the lady herself: “They are here, but desperately seeking resources and avenues to make a difference. It is difficult for them as they are not given an environment in which to flourish.”
I kept a promise to visit the workshop managed by Lacey Bartley, on my next trip to Mandeville. She recently had time with the Branson Centre of Enrepreneurship. In 2014, Lacey was named JBDC Entrepreneur of the Year, from over 215 small business owners. My blogger friend, Emma Lewis recently told Lacey’s story on her blog, noting that Bartley’s is seeking funding. My interest was in the business itself, and to see if a few suggestions could help with business development. Lacey was kind enough to let me film her in her office, and post a live chat on Facebook and Twitter. It looks like a nice, no mess promo film, to me. 🙂
But, let me repeat some of the essentials about the business. Bartley’s All in Wood designs, manufactures and sells 100% Jamaican handmade wooden traditional and contemporary furniture, jewellery, office and home accessories. Her main market is the tourism sector, in a broad sense. We ‘natives’ shouldn’t be shy to make her look towards us, though.
On her production strategies, Lacey has indicated that quality finishes and personalized service give products designed and tested based on the feedback and demands from its customers. As the company slogan best puts it, “Outta Many One Wood”. Bartley’s work with various wood types including: Cedar, Quango, Mahogany, Blue Mahoe, Poplar, and Pine and others. The products can be found in over eight shops and salons island-wide, and can be bought online.
One of Lacey’s important objectives is ‘social responsibility’, which covers many areas, from environmental concerns (eg. Mango wood is quick-growing, so it a sustainable variety), gender equity and equality (women farmers are helped, women are being trained to do wood finishing, young men are being trainded to do most of the woodwork), and economic sustainability in a holistic sense, by embracing and creating linkages (the workshop and house are the bottom of a steep lane, and the surrounding community is really a rural business ‘incubator’). She employs 11 part- and full-time workers. Lacey is building a ‘Circular economy’: Using the resources and people around us to build.
Many of Bartley’s wood products are made from scrap wood, though Lacey told me that she and her father also have local lumber suppliers, to whom they are loyal. But, Lacey calls herself a scavenger. So, while wood types vary, their off-cuts are used in every way, as good magnets, a variety of small items. The items don’t look alike, hence the term ‘bespoke’; a set is quantity, not colour, shade, or wood pattern. Sawdust goes to local chicken farmers, mainly women. However, Lacey is looking for funding to buy a wood chipper to make more sawdust: a bag of wood chips sits in the doorway of the house where she and her family work. Her father and some men were doing work on that house, which he told me had been undergoing renovation for 20 years.
But, for every ‘Lacey’, who has gotten recognition and seems to understsand well how to navigate the corridors and links for grant funding and other financial support, are there many who just flounder? Lacey has two degrees and she and I together struggled to find our way around a website that could open the door to some funding. Our four eyes seemed to find the right key, eventually, but she’d been trying for a few days, without success.
I’d suggested that she try to get a booth as an exhibitor at the upcoming FOROMIC event in Montego Bay. We looked at the cost, almost US3000 and Lacey blanched: “That’s almost a month’s sales!” Is the risk going to be outweighed by the rewards?
Lacey’s company has been in business for five years. That’s a long time for a new firm. How much longer will it be there? If her father’s renovation is anything to go by, a good few decades. Will she spawn or encourage others? Maybe. Lacey has formalized what she does, which is also not the norm for small businesses in Jamaica. As I found out a few days later, tax compliance is low in general and especially low with newer firms. Lacey is one of the exceptions. Being ‘above board’ is costly, and while it is a distortion of reality to make profits that are supported by not paying taxes, it’s an understandable position taken by many firms. But, let me leave that aside, for the moment.
I wish Lacey well, and encourage her in her efforts. I also encourage you to support her with real dollars. I’ll be checking in on her, periodically.