One evening, while Steve and Kristen Johnston were chatting about Kristen’s talent for refurbishing old furniture, a light bulb went off and sparked the idea of a TV show where these guys take curbside furniture, re-think and re-do it, and then give it back to the original owners.

At that moment, the hit show Junk Brothers was conceived.

Success is no coincidence

After developing the idea and getting the green light by HGTV, the Johnstons’ sold the lion’s share of equity to Chris Knight at Knight Enterprises in Ottawa, who used his production talents to usher the show to syndication.

It was no accident that the Johnstons were inspired. Kristen had a long-running show – The Decorative Painter – on Rogers TV in Ottawa and was an expert picker, making amazing things from discarded items. And as a professional musician and entrepreneur, Steve had the creative and business sense to realize the potential of the show. In the mid-1990s, Johnston found success in compact disc (CD) replication with Healey Disc, established by Leslie Howe of Distortion Recording Studios and early associate of Alanis Morissette.

Thanks to NAFTA and a low Canadian dollar, business boomed with global exports of 4-5 million CDs annually. “There was at a point where my closing rate was 98 per cent,” says Johnston. “Until the advent of online music.”

When one door closes

By the mid-2000s, when returns for the Junk Brothers had run their course and CDs were starting to gather dust, the Johnstons applied their attention to Liverpool Court Studios – centring on the technical creation and planning of events, pre-producing audio and video material, and executing the actual events.

“It was time to change focus,” says Johnston. “Being a musician and moving into a creative and multi-media industry was a natural transition.”

Some highlights include NBA basketball, Ottawa Senators hockey and the largest festivals in Ottawa, including Ottawa Bluesfest, the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and the Ottawa Folk Festival.

Johnston now helms the freshly-created Ably Productions, focusing on generating multiple forms of creative art, from conceptualization and design to delivery.

Recently becoming part Media Mall – a collection of creative entrepreneurs in Ottawa – Johnston is embracing new concepts in multimedia strategy. “Working in a symbiotic fashion with House Edge Media, we’ve bundled our creative services into monthly subscription packages,” he says. “And at varying levels of commitment, businesses of all sizes and budgets can access professional, quality creative. It’s perfect for SME [small- and medium-sized enterprise] support”.

Membership has its privileges

The subscription business model is now used across multiple sectors, including satellite radio and TV, wireless and internet providers, martial arts dojos, and lawn-mowing services.

Some of the benefits of the subscription model include a more committed customer base and increased potential for upselling or cross-selling other products or services.

Already in talks with a few bands and labels to work in conjunction with their stage performance, Johnston says international clients are open to doing business when they are offered a good value proposition. “NAFTA is still in place, there are no shipping costs and with the benefit of the digital age, it’s like we’re next door. Coupled with a lower Canadian dollar, we’re a very attractive option for international SMEs.”

Get more export insights from Steve Johnston of Ably Productions in this interview.