DIGBY, N.S. – According to the children’s song, monkeys love to jump on beds, but the real question is, how many loved sock monkeys are jumping out the door?
Ask that question of Sherrie Kearney, who owns and operates www.monkeysandmore.com, an online business from her home in downtown Digby, and the answer would be, more than 3,700 this year alone – more than enough to keep her and her husband Dale hopping in 2017.
Sherrie Kearney says she had a ‘crafty background’, but it was in 2014, after she’d suffered two heart attacks and a stroke that she needed to find a way to work from home.
It was suggested to her that she create sock monkeys, so she studied the typical creation and found it a bit scary looking. Picking up the new design challenge, Kearney created a sock monkey that is friendlier, with a smiling mouth and larger eyes, a new face that launched a thousand monkeys.
But the path to her current success wasn’t without its obstacles. The first dozen monkeys Kearney created didn’t sell at a local craft show, so arriving back home, she put two up for sale online and they sold immediately.
“Online is where it’s at,” Dale Kearney said, sitting at the computer in what’s supposed to be the couple’s dining room, now converted into a monkey design and crafting room and business sales centre.
Since those initial two monkeys sold, the couple has sent thousands of monkeys across the country and around the globe. The monkeysandmore.com monkeys have been treasured by the Prime Minister, autographed by stars from General Hospital, adored by musicians Rick Springfield and Jann Arden, and tweeted about by major Hollywood stars. Their monkeys were even invited to be included in Oscar and Grammy goodie bags, however Kearney said the turnaround time for the request wasn’t long enough for the monkeys to be created.
But the business really took off in early 2017 when monkeysandmore.com was awarded a licence from the Canada 150th committee. The couple remembers that announcement well, because after the business was mentioned on CTV Halifax Live at Five, they did $27,000 in sales. So many in fact, that they had to shut the website down for a month – they were too overwhelmed.
Sherrie still handcrafts each monkey, and it takes her four hours to create a monkey, from start to finish. She remains very concerned about quality control, and loves the fact that they can each be customized. She’s just designed one for Valentine’s Day with a heart bearing the couple’s initials in bright stitches. Her other handmade designs include cats, dogs, moose, horses, unicorns, ballerinas, mermaids and many more.
But after the Canada 150th success, they received a call from CBC and were awarded six different CBC licences including the license to create Hockey Night in Canada monkeys. Their monkeys are now sold through the online store on the CBC website.
Dale is now convinced that all Digby-based businesses need to be online if they want to be successful. He said they post new monkey ‘like and shares’ on Facebook, and one time, had 554,000 people like and share their post.
Purchasers can pick up their monkeys at their home-based business, however Dale says that’s rare.
“Our shipping costs are more than $18,000 through Canada Post this year,” Dale said, adding he’s spent a lot of time dropping off parcels at the post office. “I see a lot of Amazon boxes coming through here, because that’s what people want to do. Stay home and order online.”
When asked if they’d ever open a storefront downtown, Sherrie shook her head.
“No, never,” she said. “The rent is crazy, and if you add it up, it would cost us almost $2,000 in expenses every month, not to mention having to decorate the store and keep it fresh. Why would I do that when I can stay home and work in my pajamas?”
Dale is so convinced that online is the way to go, he suggested that four or five stores in downtown Digby should create a virtual mall website to support more online sales.
“Without online sales a lot of those stores will fail,” Dale said. “We’ve got a bunch of beautiful stores downtown. They need to get together and get online.”
When they sold out of sock monkeys before the end of November for Christmas sales, Sherrie decided to try something new – eight-foot fleece, tartan scarves. They were an immediate hit and now they’re struggling to keep up with those orders as well.
But it’s a happy problem to have – how to expand their booming business successfully. Sherrie envisions a day that they’ll be in a larger space with some trained workers to help fill the sales that keep arriving through their busy, online order desk. They have now been invited to have a space in the Halifax Seaport Market, and as of June, will have a presence there full-time, so they can maximize sales to the tourist cruise ships.
While they’re both convinced it’s their online presence that will keep Sherrie’s monkeys jumping out the door, finding ways to better manage the workload continues to be a challenge.
“Running your own business is always really hard work,” Sherrie said, with a shrug and a small laugh. “It’s really long days. Sometimes I start at 10 in the morning and I don’t finish until 11 at night. On those days I wish I could lock the shop door at 5 o’clock, shut off the lights and go home.”