It might seem like an oxymoron-being one of the nation’s premier handcrafters of wooden jewelry boxes, as well as an online entrepreneur who e-tails the majority of my products. The evolution of the handcrafting world and its migration to online marketing may sound like a strange juxtaposition, but in fact, has become a significant contributing factor to the sustainability of the craft industry in the US. I should know; my business wouldn’t be here today if I had not made the transition. If you are in the craft business and have not created an online presence, read on.
A little background may be helpful, as my career path was somewhat unique. In the mid-80′s I dropped out of law school and moved to a monastery in the northeast. Lucky for me, it had an incredibly well-equipped woodshop. What began as a contemplative hobby quickly evolved into a vehicle for me to explore and express my connection to spirit. As I entered into a quiet and meditative state, details that might escape others’ notice became prominent and called for my attention. My love for the spiritual qualities of balance, beauty, and getting things “naturally right” helped me through the difficult years of mastering the disciplines of woodworking.
My passion for woodworking soon found an outlet when I was asked to create some designs for jewelry boxes for a friend. As I experimented with various design features for the jewelry boxes, I began thinking about the possibility of making a living by building containers for precious objects. A vision of making outrageously beautiful pieces that would that would touch people’s hearts and remind them of their interior lives began to take hold in my mind. In 1994 I moved to Durango, Colorado and started my business, Russell Pool Fine Woodworking. My prototypes for jewelry boxes quickly became popular as I began to wholesale them to high end craft galleries and museums around the United States.
In order to reach as many galleries as possible, I attended numerous juried wholesale shows, such as the Rosen Group in Philadelphia and the American Craft Association show in Baltimore. I also attended some local retail shows in the southwest. While I was successful in attaining my goal of having my boxes sold in the very best galleries in the country, I found that despite hard work, long hours, and outstanding product, it was difficult to make ends meet and to justify the amount of personal and financial investment.
In 1999 the world wide web, as it was called then, was just beginning to be taken seriously as a marketing tool. I began to imagine what it might be like to sell directly to the customer instead of through galleries. While it concerned me to give up the security of the standing orders each show generated, the business to business marketing model and accompanying margins simply were not sustainable. I decided to create a web site and my wife and I worked together to design, write copy and create product photographs. I felt a bit like an explorer in the New World, not a lot of maps and no one in my situation to ask for advice from. But the business case for the site was compelling-selling my products directly to customers at twice their wholesale price made the margins a lot more workable. The site went live that fall and I spent most of the Christmas season on the phone selling product-my site delivered solid financial results. And the rest is history.
Here in Durango I still spend a lot of time focused on the work I love best-making stunning wooden products, getting the details right, and talking to customers who are looking for something more than the drab, machine manufactured designs that populate most of the web. I have also had to learn a lot-about search engine optimization, for example, and how to work with web designers and other marketing experts who can ensure that I continue to use cutting edge technology in service of the enduring legacy of handcrafting. Handcrafting and online e-tailing-it is an odd juxtaposition and yet without it, my work as a handcrafter would have been curtailed many years ago.