Speaking Volumes: A Chat With Ben Seaman from Riverwood Acoustics - theHumm August 2020

Speaking Volumes: A Chat With Ben Seaman from Riverwood Acoustics - theHumm August 2020

By Kris Riendeau

Ben Seaman is the Co-founder and CEO of Riverwood Acoustics in Renfrew riverwoodacoustics.com . We contacted him to find out how the pandemic has affected his relatively new business, and why he is so passionate about the #BuyLocal movement.

theHumm: Your business is built on a fascinating premise: dredging up century-old wood that ended up on the bottom of the Ottawa River during logging drives, and turning it into high-end speakers. How on earth did you ever come up with that idea, and why does old wood make for good audio?

Ben Seaman: Our family moved to the Ottawa River ten years ago and every spring these amazing centuries-old logs would wash up on the shore. This area was built on the timber industry in the 1800s, and millions of logs floated down the river from around the 1820s to the 1990s. This premium historic timber is sought after by woodworkers, furniture makers and even musical instrument creators worldwide. The grain pattern and density of this wood is what sets it apart from today’s modern growth wood. This timber grew in climates more conducive to a slow growth cycle, causing a 25% more dense annular ring without knots or imperfections.

My background for the last 20+ years is electronics design engineering in the audio, aerospace and telecom space. I previously worked at a contract engineering firm that designed speakers for major US loudspeaker companies and have always had a passion for audio design. One day, I was discussing this idea of starting a speaker company with a good friend of mine (Scott Rathwell) who happens to be a mechanical design engineer whose passion is woodworking.

The next thing we knew we were hitting the ground running, designing our first product: the Hudson. We were absolutely delighted by the listening results of the Riverwood cabinet prototypes. This increased our passion to continuously push the company forward to now selling all across North America, with our sights set on European expansion.

How has the pandemic affected your business, and what steps are you taking to “stay afloat”? (pardon the pun…)

Luckily our business model has always been direct to the consumer, so our Shopify ecommerce platform was already established. The biggest issue the pandemic has created for us is the cancellations of shows (home, cottage and audio) where we can showcase our speakers and drive future sales and build relationships. Our product is demo-based — once people see, touch and hear it they are blown away by the sound quality of such a small speaker. In order to try and stay ahead of the competition we are increasing our online presence via target advertising, and as always we have our free shipping and 30-day return policy. This helps people have a risk-free purchase to ensure they are happy with the style/sound.

In your blog you mention that you grew up in Calabogie but then spent several years in Toronto and Ottawa. How did your time in the bigger cities affect your perspective on rural life in the Ottawa Valley?

Growing up in Calabogie was the best childhood anyone could ask for. I would spend all summer fishing and swimming, and go skiing in the winter. Being connected to nature and the outdoors is what really has always made me happy in life. When you go away for school from a small town to a big city like Toronto, you feel a bit overwhelmed and excited. The funny thing is I found myself coming home almost every couple of weeks, as rural life is a part of my DNA. Who doesn’t like a swim on a hot summer day followed by a campfire? After living in bigger cities, I knew I wanted to return back to the Ottawa Valley and find a forever home. We lucked out and found a great spot on the Ottawa River where now we can give our children the same happy rural childhood that I had. Talk about a full circle of happiness.

One of your recent posts was entitled “Is COVID-19 going to destroy our small business ecosystem?”. Please tell me why it’s not going to do that, and why it’s more important than ever for people to develop informed local buying practices.

This blog post was to stimulate people’s mindset on the importance of buying local. Far too often our consumer mindset is pushed into buying the cheapest product available, but this isn’t always the best practice. Often these products are not as high quality and will ultimately become a disposable purchase. Buying local will typically provide local jobs, reduce your environmental footprint, create community support such as charities, and ensure legacy for future generations of companies. I remember when I was a kid there was way more manufacturing in the Ottawa Valley that would create high-paying jobs plus spin-off supporting jobs. The COVID shutdown impacted small businesses more than anyone as Walmart and Amazon flourished. Many of these companies will unfortunately not make it, while others, with the support of the government, will hopefully make it back to a full sales cycle. The best thing we can do as consumers is to buy local from a small business to help them during this difficult time.

A big reason for starting Riverwood Acoustics was to regenerate engineering and manufacturing back into the local area.

What are you personally most concerned about at this time?

For me, I am concerned about all my small business owner friends during this difficult time. Many of these companies have had all their safety savings eroded and are just starting to slowly bring back revenues. There is no guidance for the timeline to return to normal sales again so it can be challenging to balance the books and keep the lights on. With every business that shuts its doors there will be a delay cycle before new ones open again and we get more stability in the marketplace.

What are you optimistic about in terms of what happens to rural small-medium businesses and communities during and after the pandemic?

The Ottawa Valley is poised for growth after this pandemic. We are always improving our fibre broadband internet infrastructure and offer much more affordable housing than major cities. A standard house here is probably 25% of the price of a house in downtown Toronto. The pandemic for rural folks wasn’t that bad as we had plenty of greenspace in our backyard. The shift of office environment to remote working style will continue to cause a migration to rural Canada. It starts with rural leaders stepping up and providing an ecosystem for growing these rural communities for today’s modern business. Renfrew County has done a great job in providing new initiatives for small businesses through the Futures Development program. We actually won the RC100K in 2018, a multi-stage Dragons’ Den style start-up competition that helped us start Riverwood Acoustics into full production.


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Special Scavenger Hunt Edition for 2020!
- theHumm August 2020

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- theHumm August 2020

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Speaking Volumes: A Chat With Ben Seaman from Riverwood Acoustics - theHumm August 2020

By Kris Riendeau

Ben Seaman is the Co-founder and CEO of Riverwood Acoustics in Renfrew riverwoodacoustics.com . We contacted him to find out how the pandemic has affected his relatively new business, and why he is so passionate about the #BuyLocal movement.

theHumm: Your business is built on a fascinating premise: dredging up century-old wood that ended up on the bottom of the Ottawa River during logging drives, and turnin......


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