Last spring, Mason Smith needed something to do.
His hockey season was over – his junior ‘B’ Abbotsford Pilots team did not qualify for Pacific Junior Hockey League playoffs – and school had moved to an online-only format as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, armed with knowledge he gleaned from a high-school entrepreneurship course – but absolutely no clue how to design and build a website – he started an online business selling high-end kitchen knives.
“I was bored, so I was just trying to come up with something to do. I just thought I’d do it as a hobby, but then I started to make some serious money doing it,” said the 18-year-old Smith, who graduated last spring from Elgin Park Secondary.
“It’s something that I’d always wanted to do, but I‘d just never really had the time.”
With a few months before he would have to pack up and move to Saskatchewan for his since-delayed junior ‘A’ hockey debut – in the summer, he signed with Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Estevan Bruins – he set up to start his company, Dane Cutlery.
Smith spent hours researching every aspect of the new business – “It was a long process, a lot of YouTube,” he said – and eventually managed to source a manufacturer overseas. Smith, who designed the knives himself, and the manufacturer traded ideas back and forth “until we got it right.”
The products are shipped to him, and he sorts them and sends them out to his customers.
And then there was the website.
“I didn’t know a single thing about how to do it, but it was fun because it was new to me – I’d sometimes stay up until 8 in the morning working on it,” he explained.
“It took a lot of time, that’s for sure.”
Smith – who was born in Rochester, N.Y. and has lived in Canadian and U.S. locales from Louisiana to Grande Prairie, Alta. before arriving in South Surrey as a teenager – said one of the reasons he chose knives as his featured product was because he was inspired by the quality of an old set owned by his grandparents.
“They’ve used the same knives for like 50 years,” he said. “So I wanted t0 (create) something like that.”
On the subject of family, Smith noted that it took his parents by surprise when he told them of his business plan. Now, an entire room in his family’s South Surrey home is full of knives, boxes and shipping materials.
“It was kind of weird. They didn’t really know what to think at the start… but I showed them what it was about and how I was running it, and they were very supportive.”
He moved to Estevan in September to train with his new teammates – the team played a handful of games before the season was halted when COVID-19 cases began to rise – and is now back on the Semiahmoo Peninsula awaiting word on a restart, but there wasn’t any lull in business, he said.
“I drove to Estevan and I just brought a big bin of knives with me,” he said. “And once I was there, all I needed to do was buy boxes. It’s the kind of thing I can do wherever I go – all you need is a post office.”
Smith grew the business while on the move, too – thanks primarily to social media.
“I ran it mostly through my Instagram account,” he said, adding that he hired Instagram ‘ambassadors, who promoted and sold his knives through their own social-media channels, and received a percentage of the sales in return.
Though his business is profitable and running smoothly, he said he doesn’t have plans yet to turn it into a full-time job – he still has designs on going to university, which is part of the reason he decided to move to Estevan.
The Bruins are set to host the 2022 national junior ‘A’ championships – a high-profile event that traditionally attracts many university scouts.
“Hopefully COVID doesn’t shut that down,” he said.
In the meantime, Smith will wait patiently for word that the SJHL season – even a modified, shortened one – will resume, at which point he’ll pack up his knives and go east again.
“Hopefully they come up with something because I’m pretty bored,” he said.
“If we don’t get to play, maybe I’ll have to get into something else – maybe I’ll start selling nail polish, who knows.”
For more on Smith’s company, visit danecutlery.com