Teenage Entrepreneur Launches His First Business
Story by Michael Seguin
Photography courtesy Albert Douglas
They say it’s never too late to learn a new skill. But rarely do you hear people dispensing the opposite piece of advice: That it’s never too early.
Albert Douglas is a 16-year-old entrepreneur at Vincent Massey Secondary School. He’s also the sole Owner of Benchmark Outdoor Furniture, a company that provides clients with high quality, hand-painted outdoor furniture.
Albert embarked on this entrepreneurial venture earlier this year, while still in Grade 10.
“I started this business because most of my extracurricular activities were cancelled because of COVID,” Albert explains. “I needed to find a summer job. Fortunately, I heard about the Summer Company Program.”
The Summer Company program, managed through the Windsor Essex Small Business & Entrepreneurship Centre, helps students start a summer business and gain valuable experience as an entrepreneur. Offered in partnership with the Province of Ontario, this program provides entrepreneurial training, mentorship and grants of up to $3,000 to eligible students.
“I applied for the program in April,” Albert states. “I had to create a business plan and design prototypes for all my furniture. I even had to register my company name before I started building anything. After that, my mentors helped guide me through the rest of the process.”
The instructors were immediately impressed with Albert’s drive and ambition.
“I first met Albert earlier this year, when he was 15,” Susan Taylor, the Program Manager of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Student Experience at the St. Clair College Genesis Entrepreneurship Centre, reports. “When he first asked me for help, I thought, ‘Wow! What a great value proposition!’ I was blown away by his entrepreneurial mind. He’s incredibly bright and creative.”
And despite the quality of Albert’s products, he is almost completely new to the process. He only started building outdoor furniture a few months ago, when he was still figuring out his business model.
“I taught myself how to build furniture back in April,” Albert explains. “I noticed that the price of outdoor furniture was rising because the price of wood was going up. Every store I looked at seemed to be selling out. Also, there was an increased demand for outdoor furniture because of the COVID restrictions placed on restaurants. Not to mention all the outdoor gatherings more people were having. So, I decided that I could enter this business and be successful.”
Albert’s products are made from SPF and pressure-treated wood. His website currently features several pieces of furniture, including a Handcrafted Outdoor Bench, a Handcrafted Adirondack Chair, a Wooden Picnic Table, a Wooden Footstool and a Wooden Outdoor Coffee Table. Each product is meticulously coloured using a paint sprayer.
“This is very much a family operation,” Al, Albert’s father, explains. “Everyone is very interested in it. His 14-year-old sister Lenore helps him with painting. And I tried to teach him how to use his hands. Both Albert and his sister learned about a lot of tech things when they were younger. They even helped me wire a shed last summer.”
Thus far, Albert is already getting glittering feedback on his work.
“I took some of my furniture to a farmers market last weekend,” Albert states. “Everyone seemed to like them a lot! One person even thought that I bought the furniture somewhere else! They were surprised when I told him that I built everything myself.”
Albert has been continuing to grow his business throughout the summer. Every Wednesday, the Summer Company program provides him and the other students with guest speakers.
“I am learning a lot,” Albert explains. “I’m learning how to sell to customers and build an online brand. I’m also learning about how to make social media posts that people will notice. A lot of skills that are really useful for selling during the pandemic and beyond.”
The importance of selling online has being impressed upon Albert.
“Some people are doing more online shopping,” Albert states. “So, it’s important to utilize digital marketing as part of your broader business strategy. So, I personally put a lot of time into making sure I have great photos of our products and great attention-grabbing posts.”
“It’s all pretty amazing,” Al explains. “I’m very happy that Albert decided to start this business. I am very grateful that there is a service like the Summer Company program available to help young people out. And I think that everything they have learned these last few months will be very beneficial to them later on in life. Instead of looking for someone to give them a job, these students have learned to get out there and learn about entrepreneurship.”
Now, as the summer ends (as it regrettably always does), Albert considers his future plans for the business.
“Depending on how well we do, I like to continue the business past the summer,” Albert explains. “I know that there may be a big market for Christmas gifts in a few months. So, we might release some Christmas-themed products.”
Still, Albert is content to keep his options open for the moment.
“At this point, I haven’t really decided what I’m going to do after high school,” Albert states. “I might go into Engineering, or Law or Computer Science. I still don’t really know!”
Still, whatever Albert chooses, one thing is for certain – that the time spent with Benchmark Outdoor Furniture was time well-spent.
“For anyone else looking to start a business, my advice would be to be prepared for whatever happens,” Albert explains. “Have a plan in place so that you can react quickly and accordingly. And you want to take any opportunity that you can you market yourself to other people.”
More information about Benchmark Outdoor Furniture is available at benchmarkoutdoor.ca. As well, more information on the Summer Company Program can be found at webusinesscentre.com/en/how-we-can-help/summer-company.aspx.