Playing Nice in the Sandbox

07/08/2024

10 Questions with Sandtastik

Sandtastik was established in 1989 by Ken Wolek in a response to customers asking for a safe, clean sand. The company was sold to a private investor in 2005. Located in Port Colborne, Ontario, Sandtastik distributes sand, clay and sculpture modeling products all over the world.

Sandtastik currently has more than 1,405 products. Its most popular item is its 25-pound package of White Play Sand, as it has no free silica, which is a natural substance that can cause health risks. Instead, Sandtastik’s sands are made from feldspar sourced from a handful of special mines across the globe. Meanwhile, its clays come from Spain.

Bert Sabourin, Sandtastik’s general manager, recently sat down with us and explained how Sandtastik’s small, yet dedicated team works to provide a safe and fun product for young learners.

 

Sandtastik is dedicated to helping kids “imagine and explore in a safe and worry-free environment.” How does Sandtastik fulfill that mission?

We provide safe, non-toxic products. Everything we sell is ACMI (Art and Creative Materials Institute)-approved and has the AP seal. We do it every year because we sell to kids. When we test, we test the bag, the labels, everything. We use the CPSIA (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) guidelines and Amazon guidelines. We’re selling for kids to age 3 and up, so we can’t take chances.

We color the sand as well with organic and non-toxic resin. Our sand is available in three different grades. The very fine sand is used in the science market. The regular play sand is the most popular sand that we sell. Then we have therapy sand which is coarser. They’re all from the same rock, but they’re just ground differently.

 

How have you seen your products utilized?

The two most popular things with kids are sand and water. Just to play in the sand or put your feet in it, it’s therapeutic. Therapists like it too because kids will play in the sand with little figurines and start talking. If somebody has an arm injury or has muscle problems, they’ll take two different colored sand and the patient will practice spelling in the sand; if they make a mistake, they can just shuffle it and start again.

 

What are the benefits (mental, educational, physical, etc.) of working with tactile items?

Our sand promotes growth and co-ordination. The play sand has finer particles; when students are using this sand at sand or water tables, the sand molds well and is very soft. It can be molded with water, and once it dries, it just collapses.

 

How does Sandtastik’s sand stand apart from other/regular sand products?

It’s a very pure product. Once a customer buys it, they don’t have to throw it out. If a kid spills their ice cream in the sandbox, all they have to do is put the sand in a bucket of water, rinse it out with a couple drops of dish soap and then they can dry it and use it again.

It’s a niche market. Our customer service is key.

 

If given the chance to play with a Sandtastik product, which would you personally choose – and what would you create with it?

I enjoy sand art, sand layering and just playing with your hands in it. My daughter is a teacher and we make tacky boards. One week, she wanted some with the school logo. Some students make these boards with sand art. For the sand art boards, we use premium, American-made products and the sand sticks to it well. You can customize it.

 

How’s business?

       Our growth has been steady every year. Whenever there’s an opportunity to help someone, we try to do it. We donate a lot to Rotary clubs and stuff like that. If they have a fair, we’ll give them bottles of sand and they’ll do a sand art table.

What other markets, apart from education, do you cater to?

We’re very diverse. We’re in the sand market, the display market. We make butterfly and fruit fly food for the science industry. We can also do colored flooring.

 

How do you support retailers who sell Sandtastik products?

One of the key things is we like to control our brand. To be a vendor of Sandtastik products, you have to be approved. One of the key criteria is to have a brick-and-mortar store. That means a lot, and we don’t have a lot of people discounting our products. We definitely protect our dealers and distributors against people who don’t have any investment in the product. We have a dedicated staff that monitors everything.

Some of our products are high-volume items. If a dealer wants to carry our product, they can apply, get approved and go place their order once they finish work for the night. We’ll ship the item to them the next day through UPS.

 

How often do you launch new products? What’s your most recent item?

We haven’t launched any in a while. We’ll look at the products that we have and re-issue them. Most recently, we released pottery clay about a year ago. We got into the pottery field by accident. There was a shortage of product after COVID, and a lot of the potters couldn’t get any clay. So, we got into the clay business. We work with ACTÍVA which has Blackjack clay and we bring in clay from Spain. Pottery at home is a growing market.

 

What are you most proud of about working at Sandtastik?

Having a great dedicated staff that is dedicated to producing the highest quality products in a very professional manner. Most of the 18 employees have been here longer than me, and I have been here 25 years. It’s a family. The quality is superb – nobody cuts corners or does half a job. I couldn’t do it without the staff I have. They’re just as proud of the company as I am.

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