Matt Beaudoin started tying rope bracelets when he was 7 years old to earn his allowance.
Now, his Mystic Knotworks is a staple of the Mystic riverfront, and the small business administration named Beaudoin Connecticut Small Business Person of the Year, presenting the award to Matt and his wife Jill at their Cottrell Street workshop on Tuesday.
Connecticut Small Business Development Center business advisor Matt Nemeth nominated Beaudoin for the award back in December because of the cultural importance of knotwork in southeastern Connecticut, and also for the workshop’s unique work practices.
Beaudoin took over what was then “Beaudoin’s Rope Locker” from his grandfather, Alton, in 1996, under the condition that he wouldn’t make it a full-time endeavor. Beaudoin tied knots as a hobby until 2009, when he realized that he was making more money sitting on his couch and tying knots than he did going to work, considering his commute, he said.
“When it’s all said and done, you’re getting paid 8 hours, but you’re losing 11-12 hours of your life,” Beaudoin said.
Now, Beaudoin gives his workers the chance to work from home. They come into the workshop for 30 hours of training, and they keep track of how fast they work and how many pieces they’ve made. Once they can produce enough at a steady pace that the rate they’d be paid per piece goes over the minimum wage, they can work from home.
People working from home are making between $15 and $20 an hour, Beaudoin said. They don’t have to worry about a commute or a uniform and can work as they want throughout the day. It can fill the gaps of a day to almost not feel like work, he said.
“When I was doing it for my grandpa, I used to throw on a good movie and tie knots, so my mind’s on the movie, not on the work,” he said. “What we do is simple once you get used to it.”
Boats and knots run in Beaudoin’s family. His great-grandfather was born on a tugboat between ports on Lake Champlain – where his great-great grandfather owned a fleet of barges and tugboats. Beaudoin’s grandfather, Alton, started tying knots in the Merchant Marine in the early 1930s. Alton served and was injured in World War II.
“When he came out of his coma in the Philippines, he asked for a piece of string to make sure he could still tie knots,” Matt Beaudoin said.
Alton Beaudoin kept knot-tying as a hobby stateside, and it gradually grew into a business by the time Matt was born.
Beaudoin said he thought about closing down the workshop when everything shut down in March as COVID spread. Nemeth convinced him to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loan from the SBA, which covered eight weeks of labor and operations.
“It gave us the confidence to keep the business running and keep most of our employees working,” Beaudoin said.
Mystic Knotworks keeps about a two-year supply of raw materials on hand to ensure there aren’t issues with re-ordering. That gave them an advantage in the early weeks of the COVID shutdown, as international sellers of rope bracelets couldn’t ship to the U.S., leaving Mystic Knotworks as the only seller being advertised online, he said.
“We were doing like 300 orders a day, it was absolutely nuts,” Beaudoin said.
The workshop’s wholesale business has almost been wiped out completely this year, as has business making decorations and centerpieces for weddings. But it’s shaping up to be the best year Mystic Knotworks has had for retail sales, Beaudoin said. Walk-in retail usually accounts for about half of their sales, but it’s more like two-thirds this year, he said.
Even without international tourism and fewer long-distance tourists from the U.S., Mystic has been busy this summer, Beaudoin said. They’re seeing more people travel from within Connecticut, a crowd he’s hopeful will keep returning to Mystic even as COVID-related travel restrictions are lifted.
Still, he’s concerned about restaurants, which drive the traffic into Mystic, he said. A dry summer has helped restaurants navigate restrictions by relying on outdoor seating, but Beaudoin said he’s concerned about a steep drop off in the winter.
“The way downtown Mystic works, it’s based on the success of our restaurants and hotels, because that’s what gets people into town,” he said.