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Grand Bank business re-purposing historical fishing trays

Chris Emberley, left, and John Hillier never dreamed their wooden products would get the support they have from the community. COLIN FARRELL/THE SOUTHERN GAZETTE
Chris Emberley, left, and John Hillier never dreamed their wooden products would get the support they have from the community. - Colin Farrell

Two Fellers With Wood in Grand Bank working hard to meet product demand

GRAND BANK, N.L. —

What started as a project fuelled by curiosity has grown into something neither Chris Emberley or John Hillier of Grand Bank could have ever predicted.
The pair – known as Two Fellers With Wood – have been working hard to create a variety of customized wooden products by re-purposing historical fishing boxes.
Their first products were serving trays and shadowboxes.
"Chris had the idea," Hillier told The Southern Gazette. "He said 'you think we can sell a couple trays made out of these herring boxes?'
"So we said we'd give it a try."
The pair started by purchasing 11 boxes from a supplier in Grand Bank. Emberley wanted to keep one box for himself.
"He said if we sell 10, if that's all we sell, we'll get a bottle of scotch for ourselves, and that's where it started" said Hillier, as the pair burst out laughing.
They started with two designs – the Guinness and Jameson Irish Whiskey logos.
"Sunday night I went to bed and we had 36 spoke for," said Hillier. "Monday night when I went to bed we had 134 (orders), and that's when it blew up."
The duo has received tremendous support from the community, with some even ordering their trays to be sent as gifts to others outside of the province.
"We've got them gone to B.C., down to the southern states," said Hillier.
Emberley feels the original appeal of the herring box trays was the historic link to the town, having come from the former Sea King Fish Plant, which is being demolished.
With business booming, and a steady demand for the Two Fellers' trays, things were in full swing, until they lost their supplier of herring boxes.
"We ran into a couple of bumps," said Emberley. "We started this in February, we came up with this idea and we thought we had an endless supply (of boxes). It turned out that we didn't have an endless supply, basically we got ahead of ourselves, it was a popular thing and then we saw the end of it (when) the supply was cut off."
He said they found themselves at a crossroads.
"We said, 'well, we can give this up, or we can try to adapt to what's going on."'
The decision was made to start building their own trays using re-purposed ash and cedar. It was a move they weren't sure was going to pay off.
"We didn't think it would work, because people were all tied to the Sea King thing, but what happened is that John made unreal boxes, so now we have a lineup until December. In fact, we cut off taking orders," said Emberley.
Hillier said he was gone to Calgary for five weeks and when he returned home they had 90-plus orders for the handmade boxes, "so I got back and started making them, and if I made 30, we had 40 more orders, no getting ahead of it."
The pair hoped that when they were able to secure 300 herring trays it would help with the backlog of orders, but to their surprise it was not the case.
"A majority of people said, 'no, we'll wait for one of yours.'" said Hillier.
They can produce 50 to 60 herring box trays per week, but with the handmade trays they can produce about 20 trays. Hillier says the handmade trays are a more labour intensive, having to measure, cut and assemble the wood.
Emberley says others have contributed to the success of the trays. Their stencils are designed by a graphic artist in the U.K., and Chad Forsey, a tattoo artist from Grand Bank, designed the logo for the business.
The pair recently set up a booth during the Grand Bank summer festival, selling 40 boxes in two-and-a-half hours.
Emberley said they are having fun making the trays.
"This is awesome, having an idea, it started off awesome, then all the sudden it took off," said Emberley. "We (had) a couple bumpy roads and then we overcame that; it became popular again and here were are still going with it. Are we giving up our (day) jobs? No, we're not, but it's just awesome that people like it."

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