While he would help his wife with a Pinterest project every now and then, Ellis Swanson has never considered himself an artist.
But one day when he couldn’t hear his music in the shower, he decided to put his grandfather’s tools to work by taking a scrap block of wood and carving a natural amplifier instead of buying a speaker.
Swanson realized he was onto something, and with the help of friend John Dunlap he started Morph Speakers — natural amplifiers made of wood that are a green alternative to electronic amplification for cellphones.
“I never took wood shop at all in high school or college, I just kind of learned what works and what doesn’t,” Swanson said. “I never thought I’d be doing something like this. I’m not artistic in the least bit when it comes to painting, but apparently I have something when it comes to woodwork. I like creating something from nothing.”
The two just started selling the speakers for $30 each in April, and the business is a side project for both, with pieces crafted by Swanson in Dunlap’s suburban garage. Basically, Swanson takes a block of wood and carves a slot in the top where the phone sits. The hole continues through the wood and out of a speaker hole that amplifies the sound acoustically.
Each speaker is unique, though they follow four basic molds. One is made for Samsung Galaxy phones, the others for iPhones.
There are four options for stains, which can be used on any basic mold, and each piece is unique in either the edging, texture or wood pattern, Swanson said. He’s also playing around with making more customized speakers, like one with a carved American flag — a present for his brother who is a Marine in Afghanistan.
“It just feels natural. The music is already there from the phone, and you’re just controlling it instead of having to produce it with a speaker or plugging it in,” Swanson said. “Not having any strings attached is cool, and people like that. People can take their speakers wherever they want, and you can’t do that with a Bluetooth speaker. That battery will run out eventually.”
He and Dunlap toyed with the idea of relying on online sales for business, and decided to take orders through Etsy, an online marketplace focusing on handmade items. In addition, they also set up a weekly booth at the Denton Community Market, which serves as a replacement storefront, and the products are also sold in the DIME Store, a downtown shop that sells items handcrafted in the Denton area.
“We wanted it to be something bigger than just online sales,” Swanson said. “Online can do so much, but I like in-person interaction, and that helps us to get our name out there, and support other makers out there.”
The Denton Community Market has served as a business incubator for Morph Speakers and other businesses like it, said Kati Trice, who manages the market. Every season, she said, she’s seen ideas like Morph start with a few products and a table, and the entrepreneurs grow the product and their booth over the eight months the market is open.
“From day one, it’s been a producer-only market, so we’ve cultivated this growing network of entrepreneurs that are also producers,” she said. “It’s a goal of the community market to be a small business incubator.”
This has helped the business ingrain itself in the community and build the clientele, Dunlap said.
“It’s really surprised me at how well we’ve done so quickly,” he said. “We searched different markets and investigated Internet marketing, and decided we wanted to start here at home in Denton. We’re very thankful of how accepting everyone has been.”
The next step is to find Swanson a proper workspace, hopefully somewhere in Denton, where he can increase production. As that happens, he hopes to gradually cut his hours at his day job and eventually make the company his full-time work, and maybe add new products, Swanson said.
“Simple is the best, so we run with certain ideas and if they flourish, we keep going with it,” he said.
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.