To take something as solid and sturdy as wood, then transform it into something as aesthetic as a bowl or vase, could be profoundly rewarding for woodturners like Thomas Hart. The North Carolina artisan is the creative behind WindingWoods.US.
“I'm an artist, I believe in making beautiful things,” says Hart. “Winding Woods is about bringing beauty into everyday objects by making art that doesn't just hang on a wall but can be utilized every day.”
From $25 keychains to $100 white marble pens, his decorative items for sale include handcrafted pens, bottle stoppers and other unique items.
But for Hart, the process of creating is just as important as the end-product. “During the pandemic I found my love for wood turning that I had lost previously, so here in 2021, I launched my new business exclusively for my wood-turned projects,” he says.
The pandemic served as a catalyst to revisit his original passion of wood turning, and hopes his creations as well as the story behind his business can bring a dose of inspiration to anyone.
Says Hart, “My mission is to share a little piece of my soul with everyone that shops at my business.” Here, he shares a little piece of his entrepreneurial journey, a story that is just as captivating as his wooden works of art.
What was your career path before launching WindingWoods.US?
I was a fractal artist, and designer. I did websites, images, short animations, and lots of really unique projects. I worked from home and barely survived, but I enjoyed every moment of what I was doing. I spent most of my days typing random values into a fractal design program like Apophysis or Chaotica, and seeing what came out of it. Other days were filled with writing code or babysitting a project being put together by the computer.
When did you first discover your passion for this type of art?
It's really a two-fold story; when I was in college I was wood turning for fun, I had big dreams of turning wood turning into a full-time thing. But life got in the way, and my career in marketing, which was my major in college, took over. I quit wood turning for a while, and out went my dreams.
What inspired you to create the WindingWoods.US business and website?
When the pandemic started it really affected all of us, and I was hit really hard because all of the sudden my design business wasn't getting any customers anymore. Things happened, my design computer broke, I was having trouble repairing it and everything in that moment sucked. So I returned to my old love of wood turning, just for some inner peace. That's when someone in my family suggested selling my wood turnings to a small business. I thought about it, and then I decided to cut out the middleman and get back to my college dreams. I thought to myself: "I could sell them to a business, or I can start a new business and probably do better at it."
So I went with it. I spent two months coming up with name after name, checking to see if it was taken, and looking for eCommerce platforms that I could use to start my business on a budget.
Describe what it was like establishing an online presence for your business. What role does the .US domain extension play in your online branding?
The .US domain extension really helps cement that you're a business originating from the US. Anyone can start a website these days, and use any of the unique domain extensions available, but most people still go for .com and it's a really crowded space there. For a small business, I think it's more important to leave that lasting first impression with a unique URL. So I looked at all the options available after I had picked out my business name and I double-checked everything and ultimately I chose .US for the fact that it gave my internet business a location, and helped set me apart from the .com mess.
What were your initial expectations when you first launched your business?
I didn't think I'd make more than one or two sales, enough to maybe buy a little more inventory and keep myself afloat--but I had to try something in that moment.
Besides building a business website, what is another entrepreneurial skill set you learned along the way?
Once you get up and going, use social media to your advantage, it has given everyone a platform to share, and there's tons of small businesses that work together to help each other get recognition. It's hard and it takes time but you shouldn't give up just because of that. In fact, I'd say it gives you all the more reason to do it!
Tell us about a milestone or moment in your business that you are proud of.
There was this moment my first week being open, after having teased the website for a week or two where sales on Winding Woods passed the money. I had made from my design business for the month and that realization that "People actually like my work" and during that time I started getting comments on my social media accounts where I'd been advertising from people who got their fine writing instruments and were ecstatic over them. It's that moment where you go "why did I ever abandon this dream? what was I thinking?" because you've just succeeded in it and probably could have years ago if you had chased it then.
What advice do you have for other makers and artisans who want to turn their passion into a business?
Just try it. Do it. Don't give up, and don't listen to the people who will try and hold you back. If it's something you want to do, you do it, and it's not easy. You have to put 40 hours sometimes just to make one sale, or you can end up making one post on social media and have it generate a month's worth of sales. It's indefinite and it's scary but you'll be rewarded for giving it your all.
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