This article appears in the March issue of 400 Life Magazine
Kristy and Brent McKee showed little surprise when their 8-year-old son, Ryder, came to them one afternoon in January and said he wanted to start his own business.
The third-grader is constantly looking for something new to work on, enrolling in gifted classes at Poole’s Mill Elementary where he attends school, playing in sports alongside his older brother and learning all he can about the projects his parents work on as part of their local carpentry business, Barn Doors and More of Forsyth County.
Kristy said her little boy has been interested in building and renovating since he was a baby, picking up a hammer and trying to help with home renovations even before he could fully walk and talk.
“He has always followed right along behind dad, doing everything that he did,” Kristy said.
When he came to him with the idea of starting his own business, they asked what he wanted to do, and he said, “I want to build something.”
His dad started to help him make his first items, and within days, the third-grader established Red Ryder Woodworks, which has quickly grown into a thriving business within the community.
Brent guided Ryder through making trays in all different colors with rope or metal handles and wooden cutting boards in all different shapes and sizes. Kristy said Ryder mostly creates the pieces on his own, but Brent cuts the wood for him because they’re not quite ready to let the 8-year-old wield a saw.
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Kristy posted photos of some of his work on the Facebook page for Barn Doors and More of Forsyth, showing a little bit of pride for their son and letting customers know about his new business. This is where Lindsay Letourneau, the owner of Peaches and Pine, first saw the news about Ryder’s venture.
Peaches of Pine is a new retail store in the Matt community in north Forsyth featuring home decor items and clothing, and even since before opening the store, Letourneau said she planned to partner with and support local artisans to help sell their goods in the store located in Matt Town Center off Matt Highway.
Ryder sounded like the perfect partner for her and the store, and she invited him and his mom to come to Peaches and Pine to discuss a possible agreement.
“She brought Ryder in at the beginning of the week, and he went over his product line with me and he gave me a sales pitch,” Letourneau said. “And we came to an agreement together and decided that I would carry his items in the store to help him market them a little bit more. His parents were just kind of posting it on their Facebook page. We have a pretty good following with the community, so I was happy to help him in any way that I could.”
Ryder left some of his products with Letourneau at Peaches and Pine that day, attaching his own price tags to the grey and white wooden trays. After she posted his products on Facebook and customers started to see more of his pieces, Red Ryder Woodworks took off.
In less than a week, Letourneau said she was completely sold out of Ryder’s items in her store, and had to call to ask for a restock. Ryder started receiving orders from all over the community and even a few from out-of-state customers. Kristy said she couldn’t believe how quickly his business had gained traction.
Kristy and Brent decided to use his growing business as an opportunity to teach both Ryder and their older son, Riley, about the importance of giving back to the community. They tasked Ryder with using his spare time and money to work on service projects that could help others.
When he heard this from his parents, Mr. Todd, a member of their church and friend of theirs, immediately came to mind. Mr. Todd gets around in a wheelchair, and they had recently found out that the lift in his home, which he uses to go up and down the stairs, had been broken for quite some time.
“So Mr. Todd has to go outside, no matter what the weather is, go around the house in his wheelchair, go down to the basement … just to go to bed,” Kristy said. “And then in the morning, … he has to come back upstairs.”
Knowing this weighed on Ryder’s heart, he decided he wanted to use the money from his business to help Todd and repair the lift.
Todd knew that Ryder had started his own business venture, but he had no idea what Ryder had planned to do with the money until he arrived home one day to see Ryder and his parents waiting there. They had called the manufacturer that made the lift ahead of time and paid for and scheduled a time for a crew to come out and fix the lift. They also paid for a one-year warranty so if anything else happens to the lift, Todd will be able to easily have it fixed again.
Mr. Todd was thrilled to find his lift fixed and ready to use again, and Ryder and his parents were happy to help out in any way they could.
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“This is not about notoriety for Ryder or our family because nothing we do [can be done] without God’s help …. We don’t need the recognition,” Kristy said. “It’s really about right now in the world, there is so much negative and hate and anger and division. Even in our own little hometown right here, there are so many people that could just use a hand up.”
Ryder has decided to work on a new service project every month to use his continuing support from the community to give back in some way.
As the community has rallied behind Ryder and his new business, he has filled more than 100 orders, and others in the community have volunteered to help him out in marketing his items and teaching him more about running a retail business. He has already made agreements with three other stores in the community, and he hopes to open his own store in the future.
“He is even shipping to other states and is working [out] a deal with a coffee shop in Arkansas,” Kristy said.
Ryder officially took over the title of CEO at Red Ryder Woodworks on Feb. 12, and his parents are excited to see what the future holds for their son and his business.
Kristy and Ryder wanted to thank Thad Hulsey, Ryder’s PE teacher at school and the owner of Hulsey Farm Tables in Gainesville, who donated wood to Ryder that he used to make his first pieces. Hulsey was also Ryder’s first customer, purchasing a wooden tray from him.
They also thanked Lanier Cabinets, who donated scrap, Ed’s Roofing, who has helped out where they could, and all of the others in the community who have rallied behind Ryder and purchased his products.
“I think the biggest thing we want Ryder to take away from all of these experiences is …. we are so blessed,” Kristy said.