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Business Plan

Rustic Marlin Designs

Melanie and Brian O’Neil of Millis creating customized signs in their garage work area.
Melanie and Brian O’Neil of Millis creating customized signs in their garage work area. Rose Lincoln for the Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

After searching for personal gifts to present at their wedding rehearsal dinner in September 2012, Brian and Melanie O’Neil of Millis decided to create their own. The enthusiastic response to their gifts — handcrafted signs with their siblings’ names made out of reclaimed wood — led the couple to launch Rustic Marlin Designs, named for Brian’s love of fishing. The customizable signs and décor pieces are available online and through more than 50 retailers nationwide.

Q. Friends and family should be supportive. How did you really know your idea could become a successful business?

A. BRIAN: When we gave out our first signs, other people at the restaurant came over and wanted to know where we got them. We tested the idea at the Cohasset farmers market the next summer, and we sold over 100 signs in one night at a trunk show last Christmas. Then in January, the owner of Setting the Space in Plymouth placed an order for 50 signs, sold all of them, and put in a reorder a week later. We’ve continued to grow from there.

Q. Why do you think the response has been so strong?


A. MELANIE: People want sustainable products with character, and when they’ve had a part in creating them, they’re even more meaningful. We love working with customers to create a timeless piece combining the names, places, dates, colors, and all the other things that are important to them — or just a unique gift they can’t get anywhere else. I’ve gotten photos of blank walls with a note that says, ‘Can you make me a sign for this spot?’

Q. How much did appearing on WCVB’s “Chronicle” in September help sales?

A. BRIAN: I said I’d be happy if we got 10 orders from it, and we had 10 orders before the segment ended. I don’t know exactly how many we got as a result of it, but close to 100.

Q. Your Kickstarter.com drive has surpassed its $15,000 goal well ahead of the deadline. What are your plans for the funds?

A. BRIAN: Our challenges are more space, supplies, and tools. Literally every tool was something we’ve had forever or bought at a yard sale or on Craigslist. Our two-car garage is our shop area, and we do the staining, painting, and finishing in what used to be our exercise room. We need a dedicated woodworking shop.

For more information, call 508-376-1004, e-mail info@rusticmarlin.com, or
visit www.rusticmarlin.com.

Cindy Cantrell may be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.