Quality, honesty and integrity
Elwood Pens, a Pictou County-based business that creates artisanal, wooden pens, is receiving international recognition by finding its way to a Burmese princess, Harvard University and to clients in England, Germany, Costa Rica and China.
Company founder, Dylan Thompson-MacKay explains that his grandfather, Elwood MacKay, is the inspiration behind his business. “He grew up in less than ideal circumstances. He was in foster care. He dealt with alcoholism, but he turned his life around when he joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Despite all that he went through, he became known for his quality work, his honesty and his integrity.”
Dylan says that it is those character traits that form the foundation of Elwood Pen – a company that started with skills Dylan’s honed in his high school’s shop class. To build his craft into a company, Dylan enrolled in Business Administration at Pictou Campus.
Despite early success and interest, Dylan says that the confidence required to take his product to market wasn’t always there. “Many of my family and friends didn’t see it as a career.” That changed when he travelled to Ottawa as part of Big Brothers, Big Sisters Pictou County’s Youth in Office program and was introduced to Peter MacKay then Member of Parliament for West Nova and Regional Minister for Nova Scotia. “I talked to him about what I wanted to do: create my pen business and grow it into something that would create jobs around Atlantic Canada,” says Dylan. “He gave me the boost I needed.”
I was immediately impressed by Dylan – his intelligence, maturity and entrepreneurial spirit. My own grandfather was of the same generation as Elwood. Dylan is highly motivated by that ethic and wants to make his community stronger. I know he will do great things and I'm sure his grandfather would be proud.
Building a brand
“I realized that if I wanted to expand my business, I needed to learn to manage people, be a businessperson and make business decisions,” says Dylan, who then made the decision to add to his education and enrol in International Business at Truro Campus. Having successfully completed Business Administration – Year 1, Dylan now met the requirements for admission.
Soon after making the move, a learning opportunity though NSCC International brought Dylan to Europe. While there, he says was able to experience, first-hand, how business is conducted internationally. “My biggest customer base was, and still is, tourists. I realized that for my business to succeed, I needed to understand how to market to them.”
One way Dylan worked to understand his client base was to visit the Louvre in Paris –specifically, the gift shop. “I spent hours seeing how people would react to things like product placement and interactions, what they bought, liked, didn’t like and what they looked for.”
Dylan discovered that, for his customer, it all came down to value. “It is the value of the product, but it is also the value of the brand. I only sell things that are of the highest quality and I always try to carry out my work and live my life with as much integrity as I can – like my grandfather did. That’s the Elwood Pens brand.”
Dylan uses 45 different varieties of wood, sourced from around the globe, to create his pens. His favorite is Bird’s Eye Maple, which is native to Atlantic Canada, due to its unique specs and twists.