Talking with Seth Blanchard and Jonathan Steck about their company, Skylark Hammocks, is less like a business meeting and more like sitting around a campfire telling tales with old friends. It’s easy to understand how these two best friends, former college roommates, and social work professionals came up with the idea to start a business centered around fun. In fact, if you look up the word ‘Skylark,’ you’ll find that it’s an official naval term used to describe frolic and playing around, which, taken too far, could land you in trouble with your commanding officers. For Seth and Jonathan, it’s a reminder not to take themselves or their work too seriously. The sentiment is bolstered by their tagline – An Intolerable Lack of Seriousness.
As Seth describes, “Social work can be emotionally draining, and you deal with a lot of difficult issues, and there’s chaos and sadness and family issues and stuff, and so, we spent a lot of time talking about work and all these complicated things going on with our cases and stuff. We just decided that we needed to have some other things to talk about too. I kind of like to go out on limbs and try different things, and so, I was like, ‘Hey Jonathan, we should start a hammock company, man.’”
This foundation for starting a business may not be the typical route you’d learn about in a business course, but for Seth and Jonathan, it works well. At Skylark Hammocks, they create one-of-a-kind tie-dyed hammocks that blend both functionality and artistic appeal. From sourcing the fabric to cutting, sewing, and tie-dyeing it, they’ve zeroed in on what makes for the best hammock experience – and it’s not what you might expect. According to Seth and Jonathan, if your hammock experience makes you feel like a burrito or a banana, you’re doing it wrong. Skylark Hammocks are thoughtfully and meticulously made to provide the user with a comfortable ‘hang’ and an unobstructed view.
Like many business owners, Seth and Jonathan experienced the unexpected impact of the pandemic, which Jonathan recalls has had both silver linings and challenges. “We were able to really focus while we were each quarantined in our own houses. I was very busy out in my garage, cutting fabric and dyeing hammocks. I had extra time to really focus on that side of it. So the great news was, we were building up a lot of stock and had a lot of inventory.
The bad news was, there were no shows. There were no music festivals to go and sell them. There was no going into stores and asking people if they wanted to carry our line of hammocks. Everything ground to a halt with that aspect of it. But, we were also lucky to have a website and to be able to ship. So, we were able to try and market to customers who were online. And a lot of folks who are in their house realized, hey, maybe a hammock would be something good to do out in the backyard and help keep the kids busy. So, I feel like we had less of an impact than a lot of local businesses, which I’m really grateful for,” he says.
Although the pandemic has been a challenge, both Seth and Jonathan are clearly grateful for the entrepreneur ecosystem they’re plugged into by having their business located in Waynesboro. “I went and saw a presentation from the city planner and was just really happy to hear them say, hey, you know what, we’re not going to out-Staunton Staunton. We’re not going to out-Charlottesville Charlottesville. Let’s focus on what Waynesboro has to offer, and what it has to offer is a beautiful river running through it, which is a destination fly fishing spot. And it’s just fabulous to get out on the canoe or kayak. You can tube down the river. You see the kids playing in the river there at Ridgeview Park, and then we’re the gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains. We’ve also built up a lot of really good friendships and business relationships with some absolutely stellar folks, who have offered advice and cautionary tales,” Jonathan explains.
While most business advice might center around five-year plans and profit margins, Seth sums up Skylark Hammocks a little differently, “Sure, we make money at it, but it’s a passion project. It’s great that we sell hammocks, but honestly, going to music festivals and hanging out and selling them, that was the purpose of the business,” Seth says.
Don’t get it wrong though. Skylark Hammocks does all the things a business needs to do to be successful – they’ve just figured out how to have a heck of a lot of fun doing it.