The strength of being small - A custom shop

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Huston left Moser in 1988 and started his own business in a workshop adjacent to his home in Poland Spring.

“Some craftsmen who left Moser were disgruntled because it had become so large and was ‘counter to the creative spirit.’ But I realized that Tom’s approach of continually growing his business wasn’t ‘better or worse, good or evil,’ but just a different approach than what fit for me. Some of my earliest customers came from Moser referrals and Tom and I have maintained a good relationship over the years.”

A custom shop
Huston and Co. produces about 12 commissions per month, or about 150 a year. The company has developed design themes, but custom is the focus.

“The definition of custom is that you’re building something that fits the customer’s needs, both aesthetically and functionally. We have built a wide variety of pieces over the years, but after 35 years of building furniture, I’d like to think there’s something about every piece that comes out of our shop that says, ‘Oh, that’s a Huston piece.’

“In our catalog and on our Web site, we have standard pieces that we build again and again. These standard designs often evolve from custom work. We’ll look at a finished custom piece and say, ‘That’s really nice, but if we made this and this change, it would be really special.’ ”

A ‘standard’ dining table sells for about $2,600, while chairs go for about $700 each. Huston’s most popular piece is a coat tree — more than 1,200 have been sold since 1991.

The company also produces furnishings for corporate and institutional environments, from small law offices to large university libraries. “We’ve done some significant corporate projects for clients in Boston, Philadelphia and Portland, including boardroom tables, reception areas and executive offices,” adds Huston.

Broad clientele
Huston has successfully reached outside of Maine in attracting clients, and attributes some of his marketing skills to what he learned from Moser and Moser’s wife, Mary.

“Even from the earliest years, Tom and Mary were always looking beyond the local market, seeing the entire U.S. as their market. When I started my own business, I found that broad mindset to be very helpful. You have to have a mindset that you’re very good and build furniture that’s desired by high-end people. If you’re just starting off, maybe if you’re a finish carpenter and wanting to step up a level or two, that’s a pretty tough mindset to get to.”

But along with confidence and self-assurance, Huston says you need an understanding that the market is out there and you are responsible to go and find it.