“Jobs of the Future” is a series focusing on career paths, local job opportunities, programs, and tales of success that highlight North Bay's diverse job market.
Oak and Willow is a local North Bay company focusing on eco-friendly household products and cleaners and the companies founder Haley Massicotte says the whole thing started as a happy accident.
“I had started making our best-selling product, our eco-friendly toilet pod cleaners, for myself and I had a couple of extra jars which I put up on our local buy and sell on Facebook. In 24 hours, I had over 200 orders and from there I just kept expanding our product line.”
Massicotte says she started making those products because of her cats.
“I have four cats that like to drink from my toilet and so I came up with the toilet cleaners for that purpose, mostly because I am a neat freak, but also to protect the cats.”
Massicotte says it was a chaotic start to opening a business.
“It started off with just me in my dining room, and as it was growing, my partner and I took over one room in the house. At the same time that was happening, I was pregnant, and I went into preterm labour. We started with the toilet pods in February, became a business officially in March and my son came six weeks early at the end of March,” says Massicotte.
“We were looking to launch our website and all of the other products at the beginning of April and my son was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. We hired our first employee part-time right around then, and she’s been here the entire time and we have two full-time employees now.”
Massicotte says they renovated her home to make space for a workshop in the basement. She says owning her own business and being able to provide two jobs is a very rewarding experience.
“It's nice to be able to nurture my own ethics and morality into the workplace. For example, something we do different is that both of my employees earn exactly what I do, I don’t make more than them, we profit share,” says Massicotte.
“We went to a Christmas Market in Mississauga and within that we had predetermined the percentages of the profits that we would put back into the business and after that we completely split everything.”
Massicotte says that line of thinking came from a video she saw on the social media app TikTok.
“I was never a big fan of minimum wage, but I’m not sure I would have gone as far as I have in my business model without seeing that video by TikTok personality Madeline Pendleton who runs her own clothing business as a self-proclaimed “communist business model” where everyone makes the same amount of money. I really respected that model,” says Massicotte.
“Obviously, her business is a lot larger than ours, but it was a video on how she got all of her employees new cars at the end of the year because her goal is to have a profit of $0 at the end of the year; everything goes back into the business and the employees. So that’s something I wanted to incorporate into Oak and Willow and so my employees make the same as I do. I think that is really important because it means my employees are going to work super hard and they are going to be really appreciative because people are used to working the bare minimum and giving the most they can.”
Massicotte’s business has thrived under this model and in less than a year they have products being sold across Canada.
“Before we were a business, The Work Shoppe on Lakeshore Drive in North Bay approached us and said they would love to feature the toilet pods in their store. I agreed to do that, but we also didn’t have a company name or business cards or anything and so within two weeks we created all that and launched our website. We also then made our wholesale application and from there, stores just started contacting us. We have never reached out to a store, which is super cool considering we’re now into 25-30 stores from B.C. to Nova Scotia,” says Massicotte.
Massicotte says she didn’t ever envision the business growing to what it has.
“When we initially got all those orders, I didn’t think that this would happen. I’m really bad at saying no and so I was just saying 'sure you can come to pick all these up tomorrow' to the people that were ordering even though I was super pregnant at the time and my partner and I are driving around to all the grocery stores trying to find the things we need for our ingredients,” she says.
“So, as the week went along, and we just kept getting orders we started to envision what this could be as a real business. Not necessarily a product expansion or to what we’re doing now with employees, but there was a moment where I just thought that it would be great to be able to make this work so that I could stay at home with my son and schedule my own work.
The Oak and Willow business line has now expanded to include dish soap, room cleansing sprays, hand soap, soy candles, dishwasher tablets, and more.
“It took us months to get prepared for the product expansion and plan that out. I’ve investigated every ingredient and how it's sourced and researched who our wholesaler is and made sure that where we’re getting them from has the same sort of ethics that we do, including fair pay for employees,” says Massicotte.
“I think it would be pretty hypocritical if our employees get that and where we source doesn’t. I really think in a business like this there is no hierarchy, the business couldn’t function without me, but it also couldn’t function without the employees doing what they do, and it was important to find that elsewhere.”
And keeping in line with that integrity, Massicotte says the benefit to shopping with Oak and Willow is the local customers' contribution to zero waste.
“Locally we do a refill program. All our products, no matter what it comes in, you can return that bottle or that jar and get the product refilled for a discounted price. By repeating that model, we keep everything at completely zero waste,” she says.
When looking at their future goals, Massicotte says the goal isn’t to get rich off this business, but instead to push other companies to rethink how they are making and distributing their products.
“I hope more businesses do exactly what we are doing, I'm ok with them taking on this idea,” says Massicotte.
“Our goal is not to become Walmart or any other big corporate brand. My goal is not to have outside manufacturers because once that happens it's hard to then have complete quality control and not just with the ingredients but also with the labour. Oak and Willow will never franchise, or if we do it will be small. For us, it's all about the benefits of having our own business that we control. I work 60-70 hours a week, while my partner gets to stay at home with our son.”
Massicotte adds supporting a local business goes a lot farther than people may realize.
“I think it's really important as it all boils down to supporting our local economy. We’re in the Farmers' Market and so when you buy something from us, it is almost always directly spent back on other local vendors. It’s the same with collaborating with local businesses, it means you’re making connections and you then don’t have to source products from bigger companies because someone right in your own backyard has what you need.”