The strength of being small - In the shop

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“I think in the beginning I kind of resisted marketing, later did it begrudgingly, and now embrace it and enjoy the creative challenge that it represents. As I’ve said a thousand times, you can make the most beautiful furniture in the world, but if you can’t sell it, you won’t be in business next year to do it again.”

Last August, Huston celebrated his 20th year in business with a customer appreciation evening featuring specialty Maine cheeses and beer. About 100 people attended. Huston shared some of his early marketing materials, which were spread out on the shop’s benches.

“It was really great to go back and see the progression of how we’ve evolved and grown. Interestingly, many of the people who came only knew of us here in Kennebunkport and were intrigued to learn about our first eight years in Poland Spring. Our relationships had started as strictly business — they had paid us to make their furniture. But over the years it had become much more and they had come back to help us celebrate. There were several people who said they felt we impacted their lives every single day when they wake up and see our furniture. It was very gratifying.”

Huston markets in a variety of ways, including a showroom, catalog, Web site and a handful of shows each year, including the Fine Furnishings and Fine Craft Show in Providence, R.I. In slow times, Huston pushes himself to keep the marketing going, making that extra follow-up call or visiting one more architect. The shop currently has a two-month backlog. Huston has a full-time sales manager, Kate Mastrangelo, who pursues new leads, nurtures relationships with existing customers, meets and greets in the showroom, and helps develop the design of Huston’s ads and literature.

In the shop
Huston hired his first employee in 1990 on a part-time basis. He now has four full-time furniture makers, including shop supervisor Mike Minervini, Charlie Glover, Ethan Verner, and Huston’s son, Saer.

The shop subcontracts its finishing and upholstery work. Non-local deliveries are made by Sure Express, based in Portland, Maine. “Not only does Sure Express handle the furniture with great skill and care, but their professionalism is very important to us,” says Huston. “Since many of our customers are at a distance, sometimes the delivery is the first ‘in-person’ contact the customer will have with Huston and Company, so it is extremely important the delivery people represent us well.”

The showroom, adjacent to the workshop, offers an ever-changing display of furniture and a selection of rugs and home accessories from other designers that complement Huston’s work.

“Kennebunkport is unique because it is a tourist destination, as well as the summer home of former President George H.W. Bush. As a result, the area attracts a high percentage of out-of-state visitors, which has been good for Huston.”

Because the business is located a short distance from the downtown shops of Kennebunkport, there is no walk-in traffic, but visitors know about the business through Huston literature in local bed-and-breakfasts, hotels and restaurants, as well as advertisements in local and regional publications. Huston is also on the board of the local Chamber of Commerce.

Huston has a bright, open shop with equipment that is easy to change and reset, to accommodate the custom nature of most projects. Machinery includes a 36" Cemco wide belt sander, three Delta Unisaws, a 12" Tecare jointer, a Safety Speed Cut panel saw, and a Delta 8" horizontal edge sander. Recent additions include a 20" Powermatic planer with spiral head and an 18" Jet band saw.

Huston’s lumber suppliers include Holt and Bugby in Tewksbury, Mass.; Highland Lumber in Brentwood, N.H.; and Keiver-Willard Lumber Corp. in Newburyport, Mass. Because many clients prefer cherry, Huston typically inventories about 3,000 bf. Other species are ordered on an as-needed basis.