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THE PIVOT: Takeout craft kits part of Urban Rustic DIY Studio's COVID-coping strategy

Bruce MacDonald, owner of Urban Rustic DIY Studio, heads out to deliver signs for a curbside pickup outside his Sackville Drive business on Tuesday, May 26, 2020.
Ryan Taplin - The Chronicle Herald
Bruce MacDonald, owner of Urban Rustic DIY Studio, heads out to deliver signs for a curbside pickup outside his Sackville Drive business on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. - Ryan Taplin

The Players:

Serial entrepreneurs Laurie and Bruce MacDonald own the Urban Rustic DIY Studio in Lower Sackville and Coffee Pro outlets in Halifax’s Scotia Square and Sydney’s Mayflower Mall.

The Problem:

The temporary shutdown of their three stores due to the global pandemic left the MacDonalds stuck with roughly $16,000 in monthly operating expenses and zero revenues from their retail operations.

The Pivot:

The couple quickly adapted by selling do-it-yourself craft sign-making kits and ready-made signs on a takeout model inspired by a local restaurateur.



The doors are closed at the Urban Rustic DIY Studio in Lower Sackville, but the business is booming because the savvy entrepreneurs who founded it in September were able to quickly adapt to the reality of the COVID-19 market.

Laurie and Bruce MacDonald had to shut down the shop where customers could make craft signs, as well as their Coffee Pros in Halifax’s Scotia Square and Sydney’s Mayflower Mall, in the third week of March. That’s when non-essential businesses throughout Canada were forced to close as part of measures to control the pandemic.

Even though they were shut down, the businesses had roughly $16,000 in monthly operating expenses, with about half that to keep the Urban Rustic DIY Studio afloat.

The craft sign shop was still a startup created with about $50,000 of capital and not yet breaking even on March 23, when the MacDonalds had to lock the doors.

Yet, less than two months after shutting that store, the MacDonalds had turned the studio into a profit centre for their retail operations’ parent company, RLB Enterprises Ltd.

“It was quite the paradigm shift when we couldn’t have classes,” says Bruce MacDonald.

Urban Rustic’s business model had been built around the social aspects of customers coming in, sometimes with friends, and taking classes to learn to make craft signs. Suddenly, that core aspect of the business’s appeal was gone.

“There was some frantic brainstorming,” says Bruce.

“The restaurants were rebranding and changing what they were doing to have more takeout.

“We were already set up on our website to take bookings and payments for our classes, so we were able to retool, add some pages and have do-it-yourself kits to go.”

Every Tuesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, customers who have ordered Urban Rustic craft sign kits pull up to the store and park. They pick up their cellphones, call the MacDonalds and say they’ve arrived to take delivery.

Customer service

Bruce MacDonald, owner of Urban Rustic DIY Studio, loads a sign into a car outside the Sackville Drive business on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. - Ryan Taplin
Bruce MacDonald, owner of Urban Rustic DIY Studio, loads a sign into a car outside the Sackville Drive business on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. - Ryan Taplin

Wearing a face mask and gloves, Bruce comes out with the product, waves to the customers - often through the closed windows of their cars or at a safe distance - and watches as they pop open the trunk. He puts in the kits or craft signs he and Laurie make, and the customers leave.

There are roughly 300 products on the Urban Rustic website, ranging from small do-it-yourself craft sign kits retailing for $29 through to bigger, ready-made 3D versions that cost about $120. The MacDonalds market their now-online business with about $400 worth of social media ads per month, posts on the store’s Facebook page and through Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

It’s all working out so well the MacDonalds, who previously owned and operated English Butler stores in Atlantic Canada, are looking to expand production and start shipping ready-made craft signs throughout Canada.

“That will be in the next six months . . . looking for an offsite place, probably close to our home,” says Bruce.

“We’ve already ramped up production of signs that we will make for you . . . and it’s most of my day right now.”


The Pivot is a regular business feature showing how one Atlantic Canadian company is adapting to new market realities with innovative products, services or strategies. To suggest a business for a future story, e-mail pivot@saltwire.com.

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