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From acoustic speakers to cremation urns: How an Anmore student has turned his hobby into big business dreams

Reece Koufalis is about to graduate from BCIT's business administration program, nine years after he started his own business when he was 11 years old.

An Anmore student is using the knowledge he’s gaining studying business administration at BCIT in Burnaby to take his woodcrafting hobby in a whole new direction.

Reece Koufalis turned afternoons watching his dad, Randy, work with saws and sanders in the family’s garage workshop into a hobby business crafting unique gift items like beer bottle openers, wine caddies and keychains, then selling them at local farmers markets and maker fairs.

But a recent conversation with a funeral director from Saskatchewan looking for a cremation urn shaped like a grain elevator led to an “a-ha” moment.

When the funeral director pronounced his satisfaction with the final result that Koufalis had put together from about 25 different pieces of  wood, the 20-year-old craftsman made arrangements to attend a funeral industry convention in Las Vegas to see if he’d stumbled upon a unique niche for his skills and entrepreneurial inclinations.

Turns out, he has.

Koufalis said after a slow start, he left Vegas with an order for 50 of the foot-high receptacles from a Winnipeg funeral director.

The building boom means he’s had to learn how to scale his production to be able to turn out the same quality product quickly and efficiently.

Luckily, Koufalis has been learning just such skills as he nears the home stretch of his final year at BCIT.

“It’s changing from a hobby to a business,” Koufalis said of his woodcrafting talents. “It’s become more real as a business.”

Koufalis said as he watched his dad in the workshop when he was younger, he wanted to make things on his own too.

He did research on the internet, viewed videos on YouTube and decided to build little wooden block acoustic speakers that use the material’s natural properties to help project sound from a mobile phone.

His hewing and sanding coincided with the launch of a new community craft fair in Anmore that was offering vendors free tables to sell their wares.

Koufalis sold out his stock of acoustic speakers in a day.

“It was a burst of motivation,” he said. “That was a big boost.”

By the time Koufalis was 14, he’d expanded his line of products to include the bottle openers, keychains, wine caddies and even cutting and charcuterie boards.

His dad suggested he try branching into retail shops.

Koufalis cold-called gift shops from Whistler to Maple Ridge. Surprising even himself, he got orders.

“People liked I was so young selling this stuff,” he said.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Nobody was travelling. Nobody was visiting shops to purchase unique gift items.

“COVID killed my business to zero,” Koufalis said.

With time on his hands as high school classes at Heritage Woods Secondary paused then went online, Koufalis started innovating.

He generated sales over the internet and worked on even more products, like picture frames made of reclaimed wood and custom engraved wood award plaques.

Since commencing his studies at BCIT, Koufalis has been able to dive deeper into aspects of his business such as branding, developing marketing strategies, building spreadsheets to itemize expenses and revenues and creating systems to maximize efficiency, all while building inventory and crafting new products between classes and on weekends.

With graduation less than a month away, Koufalis said he’s equipped with the theoretical knowledge and practical experience to take on this next challenge of growing his business and taking it in a new direction with confidence and commitment.

“The world is opening up,” he said. “There’s a big opportunity and I’m only scratching the surface.”