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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Manitoba company operates in sustainable ways – Winnipeg Free Press

It was just 15 seconds of airtime. But it changed everything for Steinbach residents Melissa and Evan Funk.

It happened in April 2020, just after the pandemic hit.

The Funk’s company, Lynn & Liana Designs, was just starting to take off. Orders for their unique eco-friendly cheese boards and serving trays were coming in fast from stores across North America.

<p> Lynn & Liana Designs owners (from left) Mike Cancade, Melissa Funk, Evan Funk and Candace Cancade.


Lynn & Liana Designs owners (from left) Mike Cancade, Melissa Funk, Evan Funk and Candace Cancade.

But when the pandemic shutdowns started, orders for their products dried up as stores closed across North America.

“I didn’t know what we were going to do,” said Melissa, 27, the company’s CEO. “It was a scary time.”

Then, just a few weeks after the pandemic shutdown, the company was featured on Good Morning America’s Deals and Steals.

It was just 15 seconds of airtime on the weekly segment that features products from across the U.S. and Canada. But they sold 4,000 cheeseboards after it ran.

“It saved our business,” said Melissa. “It saved all our jobs. There were no layoffs.”

That timely appearance was just one of the many breaks — or “blessings,” as Melissa calls them — the company has experienced since it started in 2018.

That has included appearances or mentions on The View, CTV, Forbes, the Golden Globes and in a gift bag at the 2021 Grammy Awards.

Their products were also used for a special gift basket for celebrity mothers such as singers Carrie Underwood, Meghan Trainor and Katy Perry, along with rapper Nicky Minaj and actor Mandy Moore.

Trainor became a big fan, buying 70 cheeseboards for the cast and crew of her TV show Top Chef Family Style. She went on to showcase them on her Instagram and Tik Tok channels, garnering about 50 million views.

“Those were such huge things for us,” said Melissa, noting those mentions come about through word of mouth, attendance at trade shows, and by pitching their products to various media and organizations. “When it works, there’s all that free advertising.”

So far, everything seems to be working well for the company, which was founded by the Funks and Melissa’s parents, Mike and Candace Cancade.

Taking the name from Melissa’s and her sister’s middle names, Lynn & Liana Designs started in their home. Today it employs 30 people in the southeastern Manitoba city, turning out unique cheese boards and serving trays made of acacia wood imported from Indonesia.

<p>A serving tray.


A serving tray.

What sets their products apart from others is their environmentally friendly design and manufacture, courtesy of a soybean epoxy developed by entrepreneurs at the Oak Bluff Hutterite Colony, located about 70 kilometres from Steinbach.

“They take what was once a waste product and turn it into a resin that is easy on the environment,” said Evan, 29, who is the company’s financial manager.

When they first learned about the resin — what the Oak Bluff Colony creators call “ecopoxy,” — it was being used for art applications.

“We wondered, why not also use it for kitchen purposes?” he said. Soon after, the company was born.

At first, they used social media to get out the word locally about their products. But then a store in New York city heard about them and ordered six boards. When those flew out the door, they ordered more. Soon, other stores heard about the products and started ordering.

Today, their products are sold through a network of over 2,000 stores in the U.S., Canada, Europe and the Middle East, as well as direct to customers. Last year the company sold over 100,000 boards and serving trays.

“We just started by posting on social media and it snowballed from there,” said Melissa, adding they are very strategic these days about attending trade shows and following leads that could lead to more promotion and sales.

“Our approach is to say yes to opportunity, and not be afraid to take a risk,” she said.

The couple, who have two daughters ages five and three, weren’t dreaming about starting a kitchenware firm. But they were interested in owning their own company. “I always wanted to run my own business,” said Evan. “I wanted to be in control of my own destiny.”

It helped that they come from entrepreneurial families; he grew up working for his father, who owned Earl’s Meat Market in Steinbach. Her parents were always “involved in one business or another,” she said.

At first Melissa wasn’t even all that interested in getting involved; she had just gone on maternity leave from her job at Farm Credit Canada and was planning on being a stay-at-home-mother for awhile.

“But soon I started taking on a leadership role and really enjoyed it,” she said, noting that neither of them have business degrees — or any university degrees, for that matter.

<p>A charcuterie or cheese board.</p>

A charcuterie or cheese board.

“Our goal is to find the right people, create the best team, always be learning and don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Melissa said.

Faith is also an integral part of their lives for the Funks, who attend Crossview, a non-denominational church in Steinbach.

“Sometimes Christians separate faith and business, but for us everything is spiritual,” said Evan. “Our whole life should be an act of worship, including our work. We want to invite God into everything we do.”

Added Melissa: “Everything about our story revolves around our faith. Our father in heaven has given us so many blessings through this company. Now we want to pass them on.”