Corks & Boards: Handmade charcuterie boxes in Millbrook, Ontario
Delicious, locally sourced charcuterie boxes from a family-run business
While driving down the highway with her daughter, Avril Greer was thinking of ways to stay busy during her newfound retirement. Her oldest daughter Ashley was about to go on maternity leave and Avril thought it was a great time to start something together. They pitched the idea to Avril’s youngest daughter, Kaitlyn, and she was immediately interested as well. Lo and behold they found the perfect idea. Corks & Boards offers charcuterie that is prepared fresh on the day of delivery or pickup. It was founded in October 2020 and is located in Millbrook, Ontario. On corksnboards.ca, you can find charcuterie boxes for all group sizes and taste preferences.
What motivated Avril and her family to start the business? They noticed that charcuterie is a niche market, especially in their small town of Millbrook and that it was the perfect business for their close-knit family to execute.
“There are not a lot of people out there doing what we do so we thought that there was an opportunity to get in there with something different,” says Avril, "We had no idea what to expect when we started but [Corks & Boards] has taken off. It has quiet periods that we appreciate but we have our busy times which have exceeded our expectations as to where we thought we would be almost a year later.”
What makes Corks & Boards unique?
In a small town with limited delivery options, Avril saw an opportunity to bring a unique food experience to Millbrook. Corks & Boards sets themselves apart by providing fresh, locally sourced ingredients and local delivery.
“Once people found out that we deliver, they were not only surprised but pleasantly surprised. We received many orders during the lockdowns for anniversaries, birthdays, sympathies, etc. People were so thankful,” says Avril.
Corks & Boards’ beautiful, hand-crafted wooden serving boards are another element that makes them unique. Each board is made from locally supplied kiln dried hardwood, all crafted by Avril's husband, Steve.
Creating a digital presence
Behind the brand name
At the beginning, Avril and her family had a lot of fun coming up with suggestions for a business name. There were many ideas, but one stood out. “We were all sitting around the kitchen island, having some wine, wondering what we would call the business. Suddenly, Tim [Avril’s son in law] said ’Corks and Boards’ and we all immediately said, ‘that’s it!’”
Getting a domain name and a website
In the early stages of Corks & Boards, orders were received through Facebook and Gmail. But, as business continued to pick up, Avril and Ashely determined they needed a professional website. That’s where Avril’s husband, Steve, came in. He has previous IT experience and volunteered to make the site.
“We were getting swamped with paperwork and it was easy to lose track of orders. I decided to automate the process and create [Corks & Board's] first website. I knew we would eventually hit a wall with this site, and three months later that’s what happened. We are now on our second website, and it has a lot more functionality. This has really helped my daughter and Avril so they can just focus on the charcuterie,” said Steve.
Facebook can be a great marketing tool for your business, but many small businesses rely exclusively on the platform for their digital presence. Facebook has limited functionality when it comes to businesses; read our blog for reasons why building your business on Facebook is a bad idea.
When building the Corks & Boards website, Steve chose a domain name that their customers would recognize and trust.
“I originally was looking into a .com domain but when I did research, it made more sense to have a .CA domain. The customer must be comfortable with the website, especially if they are making purchases using their credit card. A .CA domain provides that instant recognition that your business is Canadian. You have to be a resident of Canada to get a .CA domain and that’s what really sold it for me.”
Steve’s right—all individuals, organizations and businesses who register a .CA domain must meet Canadian presence requirements. It’s the only domain name extension that identifies a website as 100 per cent Canadian.
Why is embracing the Canadian aspect of the business important?
Corks & Boards is a proud Canadian business. They are a small, local business that serves surrounding small towns. It makes sense for them to make that Canadiana pride evident to their customers.
“On our website we have some pictures of local areas around Millbrook, Ontario as it has a lot of historical buildings—we wanted to have a hometown feel. We didn’t want to come across as a faceless company, so I think embracing the Canadian pride went hand in hand.”
What are some of your most popular products?
If you visit corksnboards.ca, you can pick from a variety of fresh charcuterie and hand-crafted wooden serving boards. Their most popular products are the Sampler Box (serves two to three people) and the Gatherer Box (serves six to eight people). Each box is hand-made with generous portions of sliced meats and cheeses, accompanied by seasonal fruits, vegetables, nuts, chocolates, spreads and crackers. Looking to treat yourself or a friend? The Individual Box is the perfect portion.
Corks & Boards' jellies are another popular item that customers keep coming back for. A variety of mini jellies are offered as the perfect complement to the charcuteries. Most Corks & Boards jellies are locally sourced from Hernder Estate Winery in Niagra and from Willow Tree Farm in Port Perry. Time and time again these jellies are a fan favourite.
How has the business grown?
Overwhelming support for a local business
Corks & Boards has exceeded all expectations almost a year after starting the business. Success has been largely in part due to referrals from customers. They have received overwhelming support from local clients and are now even receiving orders from outside town borders.
“On our website we asked people where they heard about us as they were doing their checkout. A lot of people said that it was by referral from someone else. This was a great thing to hear as it's one thing to sell something to somebody but at the end of the day you don’t know how much they enjoyed it or if there was an issue. To get a referral tells you that you are doing something right.”
Looking back, what have been the most rewarding parts of starting Corks & Boards?
Corks & Boards is a family business, a rewarding experience for Avril. Family members, like Avril’s sons-in-law, pitch in to help during busy periods by making deliveries. Avril’s youngest daughter, Kaitlyn, is also a huge part of the business. After being away at Police Academy for the past 12 weeks, Kaitlyn is back and lends a helping hand to operations. During the pandemic this new business has provided an outlet for everyone, especially Avril as a new retiree.
“It’s been rewarding to work as a family and have people willing to help pitch in with deliveries while we’re knee deep in making the boards. It is so satisfying that we get to all be here together and do this during the craziness of the pandemic.”
During a time when many families and friends couldn’t see each other, Corks & Boards was able to surprise people and build that personal connection with customers during deliveries.
“I've had so many lovely reactions. One time, it was a seventy-five-year-old man’s birthday and when we delivered it to him, he started to cry. It’s so sweet that you can make people happy or be there for someone and provide sympathy. With a mask on, I stood at the bottom of driveways and had many great chats with people. I love that part the most—getting out there and seeing people.”
A word of advice to entrepreneurs
“Get your products lined up first and make sure that you have a business plan. Then, set up your website as that’s where people will be reaching out to you—especially if you have a home-based business like we do.”
Having only a website does not guarantee that people will find your business online. Corks & Boards realized this and utilized social media to get their name out there.
“You can have the best product or website in the world but if nobody clicks on it then it doesn’t matter. We have done some promotions through Facebook and Instagram and from there it can snowball. Get your website set up, make sure your products are available and then get your name out there through social advertising,” says Steve.