Chanhassen’s Brian Rodenz made the leap from high tech to low tech when he started his second business, Little Wooden Wonders toys. “I’ve always just loved the look and feel of natural wood colors,” he says, enjoying the illustrative banter between contrasting wood tones—maple and walnut, light and dark.
Despite an inclination for working with wood, Rodenz’s career path took a sharp turn when he was first starting out and attending Brown College, where he studied computer repair and troubleshooting. Rodenz eventually opened his home-based business, Click Start, a computer service company, which assists clients in setting up computer systems, training users on new programs as well as solving virus and security breach issues.
While he enjoys owning and operating his own business, Rodenz had other plans. Even though he had never taken so much as a shop class, he wanted to try his hand at woodworking. He purchased a scroll saw (think sewing machine that cuts wood), carved out a workspace in his garage and began filling the homes of friends and family with wall hangings and other small gifts. He kept his creations to a small footprint since furniture wasn’t a practical option. “Well, what am I going to do with a house full of chairs?” Rodenz recalls asking himself. “You can only give away so many chairs.”
After the birth of the Rodenzs’ first daughter, a national toy recall due to toxins caught the couple’s attention. After a bit of research, Rodenz decided to pop out to his garage and create a nontoxic teething bunny made of beech wood for baby Julia. The idea bubble popped into a hobby and later a business, allowing Rodenz to satisfy his creativity, while providing children with traditional, handcrafted wooden toys.
Since opening his online shop on Etsy, Rodenz has sold about 10,000 items, including local and national orders and fulfillments to every continent except Antarctica. “It’s crazy to think (there’s) a toy I made in my workshop that someone in Dubai is playing with,” he says.
Price points range from $6 (small truck) to $45 (push mower). The product line, which began with a teething toy, has grown to include puzzles, rattles and custom products. Rodenz uses a variety of wood, including aspen, cherry, maple, pine, poplar and walnut selections. Many of the pine cars and aspen puzzles do not include a finish, but Rodenz uses organic jojoba oil and natural beeswax to coat and protect other items.
As a person who built a career around using the left side of his brain, Rodenz appreciates the opportunity to put problem solving and computer viruses aside. “It’s all very analytical,” he says of his computer business. “It’s very process-driven. At the end of the day, your brain is shot. The woodworking is such a creative process, and it balances it out.”
It also provides an opportunity for Rodenz to work with his children. “My kids have always been my test subjects,” he says, and, in some cases, his designers. After one of his daughters drew a prototype, Rodenz promptly crafted a model. “Twenty minutes later, she had a toy car that she designed.”
There are plans to expand Little Wooden Wonders’ reach. Until then, Rodenz takes pleasure in seeing his handiwork bring smiles to the faces of his smallest customers. “I just love it,” he says. “I take pride in what I do, and I find joy in having the children play with the toys.”
(Julia, 5; Erica, 3; and Andrew test toys with Brian.)