Having been in the woodworking industry for over 20 years, owner Matt Sarre (M S #1) found a passion for creating and transforming recycled timber into feature boards, picture frames, furniture, and gifts. Together with son Micah Sarre (M S #2), M S Wood hopes to be able to provide their customers with a newfound appreciation for the wonders of timber, where every product created by the team is unique, a statement piece, and handmade with nothing but love.
With the upcoming Gathered Design Market in Hahndorf from December 13 – 15, 2019, I had a Q&A with Matt about his anticipations around participating in the market as a stall holder – have a read of our exchange below:
Tema: Can you please tell us a bit about yourself, Matt?
Matt: I’m a 47-year-old passionate woodworker. I’m married to Ros and we have three amazing teenage children and another wonderful teenager living with us – life is full!
Tema: What attracted you to the idea of basing your business around woodwork in particular?
Matt: I have been woodworking as a hobby for 25 years. The more I did it, the more I loved it. I was getting more requests from friends to make gifts and furniture for them and so two years ago, I took the leap to quit my ‘real’ job and chase the dream to do this full-time. I’ve worked in Pastorla Ministry and Community Engagement most of my life, both really intensive ’people’-work and while I still love working with people, there’s something really exciting about making and creating real, tangible things that create joy and memories for people.
Tema: When MS Wood progressed from being a concept to a reality, what were the key principles that you based your business around?
Matt: We want to reconnect people with the beauty of real timber. There’s nothing like the feeling of running your hands over a piece of solid timber furniture (people walk past our market stalls all the time and brush their hands across our boards just to feel them – true!). We are equally passionate about creating sustainable pieces that will last a lifetime – it breaks my heart to see our sidewalks full of 2 year ‘IKEA furniture’ that is already worn out or broken and just waiting for ‘hard rubbish collection’.
Tema: How did you decide on the range of woodwork that MS Wood was going to offer to its customers?
Matt: Our products come mostly from conversations with our family / friends / customers – people often send me ideas or needs that still influence what we make.
Tema: What do hope for your customers to experience when purchasing from MS Wood?
Matt: We want people to smile at the wonder of genuinely beautiful yet functional pieces and knowing that they’ve got something real and solid that will last a lifetime.
Tema: What attracted you to the idea of using recycled timber in particular for your products?
Matt: We love the story of recycled timber and the sustainability of its use. Every piece we make has a story – perhaps it began life as a dining table, or skirting boards from a house or maybe the timber was salvaged from the shed of an old handyman who collected the timber two generations ago.
Tema: Do you offer standard designs or are you open to custom orders as well?
Matt: Every piece we make is handmade and unique so nothing is ’standard’- even the sizes of our boards vary, depending on the timber were finding and using. So yes, custom-made is what we do. All our furniture are custom orders. We love the conversation with the customers and being able to create something that suits them.
Tema: What do you think helps MS Wood stand out from the rest in the industry?
Matt: People tell us our products are stunning. Everything is made and finished by hand. But perhaps what makes us stand out most is our commitment to connect people to the story of what we do. Taking the time to explain and share the story matters. People tell us they love knowing where their board or their piece of furniture came from or what their wine caddy was before it was a wine caddy.
Tema: What have you found rewarding about being a small-scale business in SA?
Matt: The lifestyle has really energized and freed our family. We work super hard and work more hours than when I was in a corporate job. However, the flexibility and variability brings everyone into the business and allows me more time with my family. We also really love the community support amongst other small creative businesses. In a relatively small market like SA, everyone is so friendly and open. Attending markets is like a family reunion for us and we couldn’t do what we do without the encouragement and support of other small businesses around us.
Tema: What have you found challenging about being a small-scale business in SA?
Matt: Business is hard work. Shows like Shark Tank show us the glamorous side of people, who are growing fast and taking over the world. Iconic stories of wealthy business owners and entrepreneurs can easily make you think business is a path to wealth and leisure. But, for small businesses like us, it’s long days cutting, shaping, sanding, getting to markets early and leaving late, in addition to managing cash flow, risking business loans, raising a family with no guaranteed income, and no superannuation – these are just some of the aspects that prove to be a daily test of our faith. Don’t get me wrong – we love it, but it’s a hard journey that takes grit and determination. Game on!
Tema: Do you primarily operate online or do you have a shopfront / stockists?
Matt: Most of my sales come direct and online. I’m developing some relationships with stockists and am excited to see where this heads in 2020.
Tema: How long has MS Wood been in business for and how has the journey been like so far?
Matt: I began custom picture framing from recycled wood in 2000. We expanded and launched MS Wood about 4 years ago and we’ve been growing it seriously for about 18 months. How has it been? Wow we could write a whole book on that question. It’s been amazing. More ups and downs than we could ever imagine. More challenges. And at the same time it’s grown faster than we could have hoped and we’ve done things we never thought we would have in our first two years.
Tema: Where do you see MS Wood in the next 5 years?
Matt: I’ve always got a millions dreams. I’m spending more time mentoring and teaching with high school students and others in the workshop and I really love this work. We have a vision and plan for this growing into something more core to our business. We’re also beginning to work with tree fellers and are working towards using more locally-sourced material – the idea of taking timber from the tree to furniture is very exciting. We’re exploring the idea of selling this locally-sourced timber to other woodworkers and hobbyists. On the retail front, we’re hoping that stockists will help us grow our boards and home wares into a steady revenue stream, so that I can focus on the creative energy more on bespoke furniture. And that’s just the start. We have big dreams. But we want to remain small, maintain focus on our family and be based right here in Adelaide.
Tema: How did you get involved with Gathered SA?
Matt: A close friend visited us at another market and said we should check out Gathered. We did and loved it. Jenna and the community there has been great. Some of our closest ‘creative friends’ are people we met at Gathered.
Tema: Is there anything else that you’d like us to know about you and MS Wood?
Matt: My 16-year-old son is a major inspiration and contributor to what I do and why I do it. My Christian faith also motivates a lot of what we do and our decision to chase this dream has been heavily influenced by our church partnership in Thailand and by my volunteer work mentoring support and serving others.
You can visit M S Wood at the Gathered Design Market from December 13 – 15, 2019 from 4pm – 10pm at the Thiele House in Hahndorf. Entry to the market is free and there is plenty of free street parking available nearby.
With thanks to Jenna O’Dell from Gathered SA for the interview opportunity
Interview conducted by Fatema “Tema” Sitabkhan
Answers and images supplied by Matt Sarre