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Yarmouth online business goes national with Canadian provinces but also stays true to its local roots

Yarmouth online shop Saltwreck has been seeing a lot of success. Involved in the business are Andre Surette, Miguel D'Eon, Randy Smith and Mark Dunkley.
Yarmouth online shop Saltwreck has been seeing a lot of success. Involved in the business are Andre Surette, Miguel D'Eon, Randy Smith and Mark Dunkley. - Submitted

YARMOUTH, N.S. – Yarmouth area-based online retailer Saltwreck has gone national with maps evoking iconic East Coast and Canadian landmarks in the wake of its first big business deal.

But it is still very much a local company.

On its website, at www.saltwreck.com, the two-year-old company now features maps for every Canadian province, many of them in those iconic shapes. They are shown on the website in black frames mounted on a white-painted brick wall above a computer.

But Saltwreck only sells the prints. And only online.

In the real world, there is no brick wall. There are no black frames and no computer. That image on the website is the work of a designer using Photoshop. The company also has no salaried employees, no traditional office space, and no bricks-and-mortar retail outlet or salespeople.

Still, it’s booming.

Only weeks after being founded by Tusket resident Miguel D’Eon and relative Mark Dunkley in March two years ago, the fledgling retailer snagged its first sale, a deal to provide Dartmouth-based Kept gift shop with about 60 prints.

Then, Lady Luck smiled on the startup.

Kara MacGregor, principal at Halifax-based Mac Interior Design, walked into that gift shop in the fall of that year, saw a Saltwreck print juxtaposing a map of Dartmouth on the shape of a kayak, and quickly decided this was just the thing for the 174-room Delta Hotels by Marriott – Dartmouth.

The Armour Group-owned property was then under construction after the gutting of the former Ramada.

“What I loved was the topical representation of the map of the city with the lakes, roads and harbour embedded in each piece,” said MacGregor in an interview. “It was perfect for . . . the Delta Dartmouth because it’s the city of lakes and kayaking is very important for them.”

It was then that the company knew it was really onto something, said D’Eon, Saltwreck’s president and chief executive officer, in an interview.

The company has low overhead and it looking to continue to expand its sales.

“(Recently) we had two more stores contact us, one in Lunenburg and there’s a craft brewery, Heritage Brewing Co., that wants to carry our artwork,” D’Eon said.

In Atlantic Canada, Saltwreck’s prints are also being carried at Yarmouth’s Every Bloomin’ Thing, the Sip Café in Meteghan, and St. John’s Twisted Sisters Boutik. The bulk of the company’s sales, though, come from its own website and another identical online store on Etsy, at: www.etsy.com/ca/shop/saltwreck.

"We have been asked to go international with the concept, but it is most important we don't lose that local authentic feel,” says D’Eon. “This buy local tidal wave is what got us to this point, and we can't steer away from it."

Examples of the prints they make, which embed maps from a local area into iconic landmarks and items associated with a location.
Examples of the prints they make, which embed maps from a local area into iconic landmarks and items associated with a location.

STARTING THE BUSINESS

A former Royal Bank and Grant Thornton employee, Saint Mary’s University business grad D’Eon left the financial sector’s corporate trappings to get a diploma as a paramedic through Medavie HealthEd in Moncton before returning to his home province.

During the downtime at his new job, D’Eon reflected on other things.

“I realized that some days I had an enormous number of hours waiting for a call — which is a good thing because it means people are healthy, but it can get boring,” he said.

Enter Dunkley.

While still a program manager with Ottawa-based Shopify during that company’s heady, early days, he met bluenoser Dominique Babin-Muise, a Yarmouth physician who was then still a med student at the University of Ottawa. When she graduated and came back home to practise, Dunkley followed.

It was at a family gathering that Dunkley and D’Eon met for the first time. Their conversation quickly turned to possible business ideas that would work in rural Nova Scotia.

“We started off with the idea that we would make something with driftwood so we went out collected driftwood from the waterfront and I made picture frames,” said D’Eon.

The maps with their iconic shapes were Dunkley’s idea. Using an open-source program called Map Box and another such open-source program to get the shape of a lobster, he created a Yarmouth lobster-themed map.

“With that extra artistic flair, the extra oomph of the shape, we knew we were onto something,” said D’Eon.

He says they want to be a brand that screams, ‘I am so proud to be Canadian.’

"We want to tell Canadian stories in a Canadian way,” Miguel D’Eon says. “The artwork is rich with all kinds of references to our country and to small towns and Canadiana.”

Taking his inspiration from Nova Scotian apparel retailer East Coast Lifestyle, the two Yarmouth area entrepreneurs immediately created an online store that initially featured the Yarmouth lobster map and also prints featuring a Dartmouth canoe and Halifax Peggy’s Cove lighthouse.Other Yarmouth prints include the iconic Caoe Forchu lighthouse and an anchor, synonymous with fishing.

There are other many other local and regional prints featuring Wedgeport, Tusket, Woods Harbour, Pubnico, Shelburne, Digby and Clare.

THE PRINTING PROCESS

Yarmouth printer Randy Smith, who operates out of his house as Print Shop Pro, has been churning out the 8x10-inch prints for Saltwreck that are then delivered directly to customers.

Early on, D’Eon also realized making all the frames by hand from driftwood was a laborious, time-intensive process and the frames also added to shipping costs. Saltwreck stopped providing the frames and now only sells the prints.

D’Eon also devoted himself to improving the website.

Despite those early adjustments, though, Saltwreck was still able to pay back its initial investment within a few months and has since provided its shareholders, including André Surette who manages the online store, with returns.

A serial entrepreneur, Dunkley is now a silent partner at Saltwreck and has since started another online business called Snap Flyers, at www.snapflyers.com, to provide the real estate industry with marketing material.

It’s been a labour of love but one that D’Eon had to promise would not interfere with his family life.

When he first started Saltwreck two years ago, his wife was expecting their first child, Hugo, who was born only weeks later. Now, she’s pregnant again and their second child is due in late October.

D’Eon has so far been able to keep a promise he made to her when he started the business — that he would only work on it during his down time at work.

Well, almost.

The business takes up about 20 hours per week of D’Eon’s time. Most of that is downtime at work but he also puts in the occasional evening or a few hours on his days off when he’s not with the family.

Yarmouth graphic designer Jeff Clairmont produces the artwork on contract.

“I come up with the rough ideas for the designs up front, the general outline of the online store . . . and research how to maximize conversions and answer any questions that come from the website,” said D’Eon.

Although it is currently focused on growing its Canadian sales, Saltwreck is also considering expanding throughout the world with new online stores offering similar product in other countries, including the United States and Australia.

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