Many entrepreneurs will tell you that what they’re doing now is not what they initially set out to do. Making major professional changes—even mid- to late-career—can often lead to more fulfilling and successful outcomes. That’s what our series The Pivot is all about. Each month, we speak to founders, business leaders and entrepreneurs about how—and why—they changed course and found success in an entirely different industry. Here, we speak to Sarah Henderson, founder of home-goods brand, Hudson and Oak.
Having grown up on her family farm in Abbotsford, B.C., home-goods designer Sarah Henderson has always appreciated being surrounded by nature. After taking a marketing class in high school, Henderson knew she wanted to pursue a career in the industry and earned her marketing degree at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Following graduation in 2011, she worked as an account coordinator at Vega, a plant-based protein company. Henderson spent the next few years climbing the ranks, gaining experience in marketing departments in various sectors, from local municipal government to tech and B2B companies. “I saw these talented entrepreneurs do amazing things, but I never thought I would one day be an entrepreneur myself,” she says.
Then, in 2017, she bought her first place, a loft in her hometown. She wanted to decorate, and her sister suggested adding plants to warm up the industrial-looking space. Henderson followed her advice only to realize her options for aesthetically-pleasing planters were few and far between. “Back then, nurseries would only sell plain, traditional terracotta planters,” she says. Inspired by the idea of creating her own, a search for potential materials led her to fibreglass. “Fibreglass’s lightweight nature makes it incredibly functional,” she says. The material’s watertight qualities make it leak-proof, and it can endure temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius.
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After contacting a local manufacturer, Henderson designed the first two initial shapes: A traditional cylinder and a round planter in three different sizes. She had the planters hand-finished using automotive-grade matte paint, which would resist colour fading. It was then that her upstart, Hudson and Oak officially took root. (“Hudson” is a nod to the name of the building, Hudson Lofts, where Henderson lived at the time). She launched an Etsy shop, and her expertise in search engine optimization and email marketing played a key role in her side-hustle’s rapid success.
The high-quality, contemporary planters in customizable Pantone colours became a hit, with matte blush planters as the top sellers. Henderson sold approximately 700 planters in the first six months. “I started with $300 dollars to make my samples,” says Henderson. From there, she invested every dollar she earned into manufacturing more products. The success was exciting, but learning how to package and ship large, delicate planters across North America was a challenge. “Figuring out how to ship your product is something most business owners don’t think of in product development,” she says. Through trial and error, Henderson had to experiment with different packaging materials and courier services to ensure that her customers got their products safely and on time.
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Meanwhile, Henderson was still working her full-time marketing job in tech, which involved extensive travel throughout North America. “I had to become a scheduling pro,” she says, explaining she would ship products during lunch breaks and evenings after work.
But in the summer of 2019, the brand got a big break when it gained an endorsement from Canadian lifestyle influencer Jillian Harris. Hudson and Oak was selected as one of nine shops for a partnership with Etsy Canada called The Jillian Harris x Etsy Summer Collection. The collaboration featured Henderson’s pink medium and large lightweight planters, and Harris promoted them on her popular blog and on social media. Hudson and Oak suddenly gained 5,000 new Instagram followers. “The collaboration was one of the first moments I realized we were really onto something,” says Henderson.
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After years of working two jobs, Henderson decided to focus her time solely on Hudson and Oak in September 2020. Since then, Henderson says the company has experienced a 400 per cent increase in sales year-over-year, allowing her to expand to a team of five. In addition to planters, her product line now includes dinnerware, cutting boards and linen napkins. In the spring of 2022, Hudson and Oak opened a storefront in Langley, B.C. Around the same time, Indigo contacted Henderson and asked to sell Hudson and Oak products on indigo.ca. “Since onboarding with Indigo, we’ve seen an average increase of 20 per cent in month-over-month orders,” she says.
Henderson still designs all the products with her small team, and works with manufacturers in places like Vietnam, France and Morocco. Next up, she is launching a new collection of handmade ceramic candles this fall. She also wants to host in-store events, such as cocktail-making classes while using the brand’s new line of glassware, to help create a gathering place for her community. “Nothing compares to seeing people fall in love with the products you created,” says Henderson.