Now It's more than a hobby for birch bark entrepreneur
What started as a "honey-do" project a few years ago has turned into a full-time business for Jim Sheldon, the owner of Bottle Bay Birch in Sandpoint.
His wife had seen a birch-bark covered mailbox and asked him if he would make one for her. She liked the results so much, she asked if he could make a lamp. Sheldon decided to take a sample to Eklektos Gallery in Sandpoint to see if they'd be interested in selling a few. They ordered five.
"I didn't know I really had a product until people started to reorder," he says.
It's just grown from there. His birch-wood products have since been picked up by such huge mail order firms as Sugar Hill, Plow & Hearth and Sandpoint's own Coldwater Creek.
When Bottle Bay Birch quickly grew out of Sheldon's space at home, he moved into an industrial site, and he's now hired two full-timers and occasional temporaries to help in manufacturing and business operations. Even Sheldon, a contractor before moving here from Virginia four years ago, is surprised at the success of his 'hobby.' "I never envisioned being this big," he says.
And yet, the business fits his goal to work for himself in a creative adventure that involves the outdoors. He's pleased that his product is one that can be harvested from dead or dying trees. For some time, many birch in our region have been dying because of a boar beetle infestation.
Sheldon soon found out just how vigorously the beetle is attacking the region's birch; the first versions of his lamps were literally eaten away by the pest on a showroom table. Shortly afterward, he started kiln drying all the raw birch products to eradicate the beetle before he starts working with the wood.
Today, Bottle Bay's product line includes lamps designed with metal and birch, handpainted lampshades, tissue boxes, clocks, switchplates, paper towel holders, wastebaskets, wind chimes and vases.
He has ideas for new products, but no matter what he comes up with, "in some way or another there will be birch tied in someplace."
- Billie Jean Plaster