Gareth Davies’ Maker House connecting consumers with stories behind products

By Denis Armstrong

Gareth Davies doesn't like cheap products made offshore, nor what they're doing to our environment, our economy and our culture.

That's why you won't find anything made overseas at Ottawa's Maker House.

Located on Wellington in Hintonburg, Maker House sells handmade artisanal furniture and household goodies; jams, hot sauces, cards and decorations. Everything in the store is handcrafted by local makers, carpenters and artisans. Most items name their manufacturer and come with a story. It's reminiscent of a time when Canadians manufactured furniture and household products for themselves.

“There was a time where you would shop in a department store and you would be buying something made in Canada, but that's way over 50 years ago now,” Davies says. “Now everything is mostly made in China, made to break within a few years so you have to buy it again. We're trying to connect people with the makers behind the items who know the story of the product.”

A former media salesman with a passion for carpentry, Davies opened Maker House in 2015, originally as a trial pop-up store to see if there was a market for handmade furniture. Customers looking for one-of-a-kind products made with natural organic materials by local makers scooped up everything in sight.

Since then, the store's expanded twice to accommodate the growing inventory of goods made by 200 makers from Ottawa and the capital region. Hot sauces, wool blankets, cocktail mixes, chocolates, cards and ornaments are the hot sellers this Christmas season.

Since the pandemic, Davis has added a space to process his burgeoning online business, and a woodworking shop out back where his team of carpenters make custom, handmade furniture.

But like many successful entrepreneurs, Davies doesn't have time to do the very thing that got him in the business (building furniture) in the first place. He's too busy managing the 20 employees who run the store and make the furniture.

“Managing a team is important. It's important to have someone you can hand things off to that you used to do. You have to trust your staff. They might be able to do it better than I can, because they're bringing a new perspective I don't have.”

A proponent of the 'shop local' movement, Davies says most of his customers “vote with their dollars on the world they'd like to live in — a person seeking a local option before they shop at Amazon because they know the hidden costs of buying the cheapest thing and offshoring their purchases.”

According to Davies, the business landscape in Ottawa for a locally-sourced retail is very strong.

“There's a lot of local pride here,” he says. “And there's a stability of income here going through tough times. There's a foundation of income, even during pandemics. So there's discretionary spending still happening. We're still on that priority list for people looking for stuff for their home that's well made, they can take pride in.

Maker House donates 2 per cent of its sales to support charitable organizations in the community, including the Parkdale Market.

During the pandemic they closed the retail store for nearly 15 months and focused the business online. The result was the store was able to maintain its sales without a drop in the bottom line. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 80 per cent of Davies sales were made in-store. During the pandemic, 100 per cent of sales were online.

“We're trying to reclaim what retail can mean,” he explains, hinting at loftier intentions. “With globalization and its race to the bottom of cost, we've sacrificed quality, good service and taking pride in the products we buy. Everything about our operation — from our website to our personnel is professional. That's a huge advantage we have, we present as professional or better than you would get from a big corporation.”

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