Going from craftsman to businessman - Half and half

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He also increased his knowledge base of technical skills, particularly for production work.

"[Owner Tom Harris] didn't really know the skills that I had and just plugged me into his flooring department where I was pushing boards through the machine all day long," said Mason. "I remember somebody asking me, 'Why are you always smiling and singing all the time?' I said, 'Because I feel like I'm on vacation.'

"It was a break. After running your own business and failing, then you get to go home after work and live your life, it was like vacation."
Mason's two sons came to work at the shop as well. His oldest, Mike, aspired to be a police officer and worked part-time while he completed college. But woodworking seemed destined for his younger son Chris, now 26.

"One of the most valuable assets earned during this period was the experience that Chris received as a woodworker," said Mason. "For five years under my tutelage and that of another department manager, he became a very accomplished craftsman. Despite my bias, I can honestly say that he's a 'natural' at what he does. His quality of work is exceptional and there's a plus — he's faster than me. As a production manager this is a trait I've always stressed and very much appreciate."

And then it was time to try again. Relying on his wife Debbie's unfailing intuition and constant support, Mason left his position at the mill in February 2004 and used the equity from their home to reopen his mill shop. But a year later, the business was again on thin ice.

"In 2005, our expenses exceeded our income by almost $37,000," said Mason. "These expenses were driven almost entirely by start-up costs. The four biggest factors were non-billable payroll expenses — which is a double-edged sword — to repair our older equipment and develop new production systems, the cost of equipment and parts for repair, large material purchases, mostly reclaimed inventory, and new equipment and tool purchases."

To get the business back on a positive path, Mason instituted an advertising campaign.

"I had all kinds of ideas including a Web site, but the one that worked the best was what my dad suggested and my wife took care of, almost without me knowing it. I got a call from Bill Austin [owner of Austin Design Inc. in Colrain, Mass.], who said he had my brochure in front of him. I said 'What brochure?' That was the start of the comeback."

Half and half
Mason's clientele is about half residential and half commercial. He acquires work by following leads from architects and builders, through marketing brochures and the company Web site, and exhibiting at a local craft fair.