Soundview Millworks may be a thriving business, but there’s a decidedly hands-on, homey feeling to the Darien-based company.
As Grant Tankoos welcomes WAG on a recent morning, he ushers us toward a shop carved out of a converted garage while saying, “You’ll notice we’re not fancy.”
Soundview is, we will notice, an incredibly orderly and impressively inventive company dedicated to crafting “fine and custom wood products for land and sea.”
Tankoos, a lifetime local, launched Soundview in 2008 with a childhood friend (who would go on to pursue other interests). From the start, Tankoos — a self-proclaimed “boat dork” — says the goal was to “create a really great nautically inspired gift.”
“We came up with the idea of a cutting board. I said, ‘What if we put a cleat on it?’” he says, a nod to boating hardware and a step that would launch his future.
Soundview Millworks, though, was not the first foray into the business world for Tankoos, a corporate communications major who minored in psychology at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.
“I was at Vineyard Vines six and a half years,” Tankoos says of the New England-based clothing and accessories company. “I sort of started there folding tissue paper and tying boxes.”
He rapidly expanded his role, working with founding brothers Shep and Ian Murray to help “bring to life the retail vision” before eventually feeling the urge to branch out.
“It just sort of became time to stir the pot and try something different,” Tankoos says, adding that the Murrays have remained supportive.
“Talk about guys that want to see people succeed. They could have just as easily walked away from me. They are my biggest wholesale account and my biggest cheerleaders.”
But it was still a slow build.
“I didn’t take a paycheck for four and a half years. I got a job waiting tables at a restaurant,” Tankoos says of juggling paying gigs with Soundview’s early days.
From the start, Tankoos felt the unwavering support of his father, Randy Tankoos, whom he describes as — no pun intended — “a sounding board” and “someone who has my best interest at heart.”
The support, he shares, has gone from the literal — “I said ‘Can we use the garage?’ and he said, ‘I don’t see why not.’ … In the beginning, we weren’t able to pay him rent, pay him for space.” — to the more figurative.
Tankoos says most every evening his father will pop in after his own day at work, saying “So, boy, what’d you do today?”
His mother, he’ll add, is equally supportive, with Linda Tankoos, a nurse at Greenwich Hospital, always talking him up.
“She burns through more (business) cards than any of my accounts,” Tankoos says with a laugh.
With decades of experience on the water and associations with both the Noroton Yacht Club and the New York Yacht Club in Newport, R.I., the Tankoos family is all about life on the water so it was only natural that would come into play with Soundview.
“Boating is obviously a big part of who I am and a big part of what Soundview is, as well. … I spend all my free time on boats and working on them and just being out on the water.”
But, Tankoos says he’d come to realize that keeping Soundview’s creations strictly tied to nautical themes would be limiting.
“For every one boat person that’s out there, there’s 15 golfers,” he says. “If someone took me golfing at Winged Foot, it would be great to send them a cutting board with a tee handle.”
Such thinking led to expanded designs that touch on everything from equestrian to hunting to fishing, with custom designs always available, too.
Randy Tankoos also added another pivotal element to the company.
“My dad was actually the one who came up with the idea to do the personalizing and engraving,” Tankoos says. Now, he adds, close to 90 percent of all the cutting boards are engraved or personalized in some form.
That’s just one thing that makes them stand out.
“They’re all handmade in the United States,” Tankoos says. “It does cost a premium to do it, but we have a great product and we’re proud to stand behind it.”
The cutting boards are crafted out of American hard maple and Santos mahogany from South America.
Today, the company works with a production facility for manufacturing but does all finishing work, including computerized engraving, sanding, oiling and then preparing for shipment, on site.
“What’s nice is we’re still able to touch every product that comes through,” Tankoos says, as craftsman Keith Bennett adds handles to a board then carefully wraps it for mailing.
The process has found an appreciative audience, Tankoos says.
“It’s a special customer who purchases our products.”
But, Tankoos isn’t becoming complacent.
“I still think of it as a small business that has to go a long way,” he says, though he never wants to lose that personal touch.
“Ever since the beginning we’ve done a lot of holiday gift shows and trunk shows,” he says. “It’s irreplaceable in value, just being able to connect with customers one on one.”
The company has also begun crafting furniture, especially tables such as the custom teak and holly beauty that WAG sees in production. As Tankoos describes how it will look when done, his passion for both sailing and Soundview Millworks come into sharp focus.
“I love that classic nautical look, the high-gloss finishes and the contrast between the light and the dark.”
Though he may be standing in a converted garage in Darien, it’s clear Tankoos is envisioning smooth sailing ahead.
For more, visit soundviewmillworks.com.