A Formula for Fun: Start-up energy meets a love of place with Skylark Hammocks

Skylark Hammocks & Apparel

Chatting with the co-founders of Skylark Hammocks and Apparel is a bit like meeting with fraternal twins. High school friends, college roommates, and vocational peers who have both found their home in social work, Jonathan and Seth finish each other’s sentences, delight in each other’s company, and seem compelled to invite you into their fold.

And their fold is full of laughter. Skylark Hammocks may be a company, but it was first a verb. To Skylark, according to Navy regulations that forbade the practice, is to display an intolerable lack of seriousness, described by Kurt Vonnegut as a charming and enviable crime.

This youthful, playful, and even mischievous outlook holds the key to everything that Skylark Hammocks, an online outdoor adventure equipment company, seeks to become.

 

Marketing = Play

As Jonathan and Seth navigate the fast, first-year learning curve of small business marketing, the Skylark philosophy permeates their plans. Selling not just a hammock but also an experience, they skylark through local events like ExtremeFest, Kite Days, Sweet Dreams Fest, and Outdoor Days at a local brewery. They aren’t aiming primarily for a national market but for a local one: the hikers, campers, and backyard adventurers who share a love of the same blue ridges that they grew up adoring.

They invite customers to try their hammocks, relax, and remember that there is more to life than speed and hustle. There are also days of smiles, whether they occur around campfire in the mountains or the backyard with your kids. Reconnecting with the lightness of relaxation, with the spontaneous opportunity for play, this is the message that Skylark wants its customers to remember and its products to inspire.

Jonathan Steck and Seth Blanchard of Skylark Hammocks & Apparel in Steck’s garage workshop. Photo by Norm Shafer.

Waynesboro = Home   

If Skylark marketing is an expression of play, then the location of the business is a manifestation of “unabashed love.” Jonathan was born and raised in Waynesboro, and along with his grandmother, mother, sister, and wife he works for Waynesboro public schools. Seth is the grandson of longtime Waynesboro engineer John McNair and has his own lifelong history in the City. Jonathan admits to a few years of “teenage skateboarding, angst and escapism” but says that has melted into “a calling to be here…I now realize that everything you can want is here.”

“Waynesboro is developing its own voice,” adds Seth. “I really appreciate that. Not just the outdoor scene, but also the restaurants, beautiful coffee shops, and more. It is attracting professionals who are passionate about being here. It feels like home.”

As Skylark settles into its first year in operation, Seth says they’ve also looked repeatedly to local company owners for advice and support. “All the business owners here have been so generous with their time for us,” agrees Jonathan.

 

Business = Care

Skylark might have begun as a way for two buddies to swap big dreams over beer (management meetings occur regularly at Basic City Beer Co) but it never strayed far from the vocational callings of its founders. “Even though we wanted to have time away from social work,” says Jonathan, “We couldn’t and wouldn’t take the social justice out of the business plan.”

Both founders wanted to direct a percentage of sales to nonprofits that are true to their roots, local, and moving money to where it is truly most needed. Seth has been a member on the Board of Directors of Way to Go, Inc. for over a decade, helping low-income families access transportation (fixing cars or making a down payment on a new car) in order to commute to work and become financially self-sufficient. Jonathan chose Warm: Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry, providing support and temporary shelter to homeless adults and families. Customers driving to outdoor adventures or spending a safe and relaxing night away from home are helping make sure that others in their local communities can do the same.

Jonathan Steck and Seth Blanchard of Skylark Hammocks & Apparel pack an order in Steck’s garage workshop. Photo by Norm Shafer.

Advice to Fellow Entrepreneurs

Both Seth and Jonathan acknowledge that there are large parts of their business that inevitably depart from their hoped-for playfulness.  “A lot of it is work,” says Jonathan. “There’s the daily content, website updates, trying to sell a lifestyle and adventure. But some weeks, you have a sick kid and spreadsheets and tax questions.” Seth agrees that in an industry that markets the beautiful moments – sunrises through tent windows, hammocks over waterfalls – Skylark “doesn’t have hours to create those moments. We just have moments to create those moments. That means we take our kids to our photoshoots. Our main photo was snapped by my four-year-old.”  Their biggest lesson: know what you’ve got, and work with that.

“The magic is in the balance,” says Jonathan. “Family. Responsibility. Work. Community. Social Justice. And then, also, the creativity, the burst of energy, the 110% effort. That, that right there, that’s skylarking.”

 

To Learn More about Jonathan and Seth’s adventures with Skylark Hammocks and Apparel, please visit them at www.skylarkhammocks.com. To read more about their fellow Waynesboro entrepreneurs who are working to make our local economy playful, just, vibrant, and sustainable, check back at GrowWaynesboro.com for ongoing small business updates.

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