Profiles in Success:

Northwest Forestry

Our second Profiles in Success interview focuses on the direct marketing success of FSC certified furniture maker Gary Weeks, owner of Gary Weeks & Company in Wimberley, Texas. In future columns we’ll look at other successful entrepreneurs both within and outside the Northwest region and get their frank commentary on management, marketing, certification, and other issues. If you’d like to recommend someone, please let us know.

From a quaint, classy workshop and showroom in the hill country of Austin, Gary Weeks and his family ship hand-crafted furniture throughout the U.S. and several foreign countries. Gary and his wife Leslie were early adopters of FSC certification and have done a remarkable job of communicating the authenticity and human style of their family operation. We interviewed Gary to learn more about his strategies for a successful business model.

NCF -- What’s the most important aspect of your marketing?

GW -- Internet presence. The website allows us a highly detailed narrative format that’s tailored for relevant search terms. We have over 100 pages and 300 images and shipping and pricing information are never more than a click away. No other form of advertising offers that level of detail.

NCF -- Before you were well established, how did you reach new customers?

GW -- I focused on two things, getting my work in front of people and turning out a lot of pieces so I could perfect my designs. I sold a lot of pieces through consignment, typically at or below cost, and I hit the regional trade show circuit. I think a lot of craftsmen don’t realize how important price points are before you have a reputation established.

NCF -- What led to your FSC commitment?

GW -- I spent the early part of my career as a saw hand and mill worker in Arkansas and East Texas. All the old timers talked about how timber resources were in decline and I certainly saw that in the woods and at the mill. I’m also a hunter, fisherman, and hiker, so conservation is very important to me personally.

NCF -- Do you think FSC has helped sales and marketing?

GW -- Yes, but not as much as other factors. There’s not enough awareness. I think I probably contribute as much on the label by educating people I benefit from our certification bringing in customers. I definitely see it as a growth market though.

NCF -- If you could give other wood products entrepreneurs one piece of advice, what would it be?

GW -- Limit your offering to what your facility is best at. Tailor and fine tune the facility to the best products and manufacturing processes. That’s the only way to be efficient.

NCF -- What opportunities do you see for small scale manufacturers in the coming years?

GW -- I think the prospects are excellent for anyone that has good business skills and a creative product, but you need a comprehensive approach. The business skills are universal, but products should be a combination of your own tastes and values with plenty of input from the marketplace.

NCF -- Any parting words of wisdom?

GW -- Remember that building the business - the administrative aspects - is every bit as important as building the product. I’d also add that most small businesses are undercapitalized, and that leads to a lot of unnecessary stress, cash flow problems, and can really keep you from building the efficiency you need to be profitable.