After years of watching her brother, Timothy “T.J.” Bowen, handcraft wood furniture, cabinets and intricate pieces in homes around Iowa, Alexa Schirm asked him to make a cutting board and cooking utensils as gifts.
That request and Bowen’s response led to the founding of BoWood Co. with his brother-in-law, Payton Schirm. Picking up the tools he had used for many years, Bowen began the creative process of crafting a line of cutting boards and kitchen utensils.
“I started making prototypes about three years ago,” Bowen recalled. “I gave a lot of stuff to people we know and asked them to try it out for a while.”
Last summer, Bowen and Schirm contacted NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids about its artisan vendor shows. When the first day to exhibit arrived, several vendors had canceled because of 90-degree heat, and BoWood was able offer its products outside the market.
“I decided to contact the people setting up the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market about a possible booth,” Schirm said. “Every two weeks, they would have someone who had canceled and we were able to have a spot. We ended up doing all but two or three of the farmers markets.”
Schirm, who worked with Alexa to create a website for her food blogging business, Simply Roots Wellness, developed a website for BoWood — www.bowoodco.com. Bowen continued to develop new products during the winter months.
“We launched the website in November,” Schirm said. “We were very busy around Christmas.
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“We sold a cutting board and cooking utensils to a customer in Alaska. We also have had orders from Canada.”
Bowen and Schirm launched BoWood in Bowen’s garage, converting it to a wood shop.
He makes kitchen utensils in the shop, but crafts the cutting boards in a larger shop in Vinton where he is employed by the owner.
“I was trying to do it for a while in my shop, but the tools really take up a lot of space,” he said.
This year, BoWood secured a booth each week at the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market. The company also expanded the size of its display space, enabling it to show more products.
“Last year, we were lucky in that there was a gap between our booth and the person next to us,” Schirm said. “We were always running out of space to show our products, so we decided to expand this year.
“We started the first year with three cutting boards and cherry and walnut utensils. We have added maple and exotic woods as well as the oil to protect the wood in cutting boards and utensils.”
BoWood buys the wood for its products from Hills Hardwood Supply in Iowa City. Bowen and Schirm also have begun making contacts with other potential sources, especially for the more exotic varieties of wood from outside the United States.
BoWood cutting boards require time to manufacture and “settle” in terms of the wood and glue process. Customers can expect to wait as much as three to four weeks from the time a board is ordered until it is delivered.
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”Anyone who spends over $75 for a cutting board gets a free bottle of oil,” Bowen said. “It requires time to create a quality product.
“Our prices range from $25 for a small cutting board to as much as $500 for a large custom board made with exotic wood.”
Schirm said BoWood sells more kitchen utensils than cutting boards, primarily due to price and quicker availability. He said the majority of the company’s customers are women, but men who enjoy cooking and want a well-appointed kitchen also are likely to purchase BoWood’s products.
“A lot of people are not ready to buy when they visit our booth or website,” Bowen said. “They will come back a couple of times before deciding to make the investment.”
Schirm is a mechanical engineer who designs and has received patents for rock-crushing machines for an international company with a Cedar Rapids office. Bowen continues to work crafting fine cabinetry and furniture as well as doing finish work.
BoWood is their ”full part-time” occupation, requiring a lot of nights and weekends. Next month, they will take their products to a show in Kansas City and to Boulder, Colo., in September for a two-day show.
“Although we may not get a lot of orders at the shows, we will get a lot of cards out and that will direct people to out website,” Schirm said. “The shows will give us a lot of good exposure and enable us to see what people in other states want for their kitchen.”