By Keri Langhorst / Featured in Make It Minnesota's Winter 2014 issue.
In 2007, Mark Herbert gave his wife Jan a necklace that he had made from a beautiful, perfectly round rock he’d found on the shore of Lake Superior. This sparked the idea for their business Naturally Unique. Mark and Jan began collecting Lake Superior rocks and creating one-of-a-kind home decorations. In our society, most objects are mass produced; Mark and Jane are dedicated to producing objects you can’t find in a big box store.
Later that year, Mark attended his first craft show, the Harvest Moon Festival in Ely. Jan commented, “Mark was overwhelmed with the success of selling the products.” After being so well received, Mark and Jan knew they had a great product and potential for success.
Mark and Jan have expanded their business to include a wide variety of products, including rain gauges, lamps, necklaces, wine stoppers, and many others. “We’re always open to suggestions and willing to work with customers to achieve the exact product they desire,” Jan shared. Some ideas from customers include bookends and bud vases. Bud vases were created after Mark and Jan discovered people were already using their rain gauges to hold flowers.
Mark and Jan have also incorporated the Ely greenstone and taconite iron into their designs. Mark also sandblasts images into the products. In keeping with their choice of materials, Mark likes to keep the images close to Minnesota nature. The most common ones he creates are bears, loons, fish, and paw prints, as well as initials. The nature images are mostly found on the rain gauges, while initials tend to be used on necklaces and wine stoppers.
A common theme in their product designs is cairn. Cairn is defined as “a mound of rough stones built as a memory or landmark.” One design consists of four or five rocks stacked together with a piece of driftwood in the middle. A second design is four or five rocks stacked without driftwood. Each design is 5-7 inches tall and able to be rearranged. Customers can use it as a trailmark, a sign of hospitality, and much more. This design is also found in their lamps and bud vases.
One of their most memorable experiences working with customers was a request for a sandblasted rock. A customer from Sweden requested a rock to read “I love you, will you be my wife.” Mark and Jan produced the rock. The customer planted the rock in Greece, took his girlfriend for a hike, and there she discovered it! They were married soon after. Mark and Jan enjoy bringing happiness to their customers.
Their business has also done work for MN Power and the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in Duluth, MN. Their clientele has expanded simply by word of mouth. “People travel to multiple craft shows to buy our product. People come back to buy many of the same product for different family members,” Jan commented. Mark attributes much of their success to affordability. “Customers have complimented us over and over again that our product is well priced,” he said. With their average product selling for $10, customers are able to buy for multiple people.
Their products are one of a kind, personalized, and functional. With Christmas right around the corner, they make wonderful gifts. Jan commented, “My husband made my grandson a blessing rock, and he carried it around all day.”
Naturally Unique is a hands-on business. Mark and Jan collect, wash, cut, drill, and design their product from start to finish. They ensure a one-of-a-kind product and work with customers to ensure quality and satisfaction.