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Simple steps can lead to great opportunities

The Providence Fine Furnishings Show has proven to be a pretty reliable marketing platform for custom furniture makers throughout the Northeast, boosting sales for custom shops and opening doors for those with larger plans.

The 17th annual show, held Nov. 2-4, took place at a new venue as the event shifted to the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center in Pawtucket, R.I. Unlike the Rhode Island Convention Center, where the show was previously held, this historic building had a unique architectural character that served well as a backdrop for the custom items exhibited for sale.

While each of the 52 exhibitors knew the risk of participating in a struggling economy, they still had enough confidence to put in the effort required. Clearly, their positive attitudes separate them from their competitors. For example, Geoffrey Warner of Warner Studios in Stonington, Maine, says the six-hour drive was worth his time as he had more than $13,000 worth of sales recorded two weeks after the show.

The show is also significant in that it played a role in helping launch a certain celebrity woodworker’s television career. That individual is Thomas MacDonald, host of “Rough Cut: Woodworking with Tommy Mac,” which is currently airing its third season on PBS stations across the country.

MacDonald, who lives in Canton, Mass., graduated from Boston’s North Bennet Street School in 2002 and immediately opened his first shop called Thomas J. MacDonald Fine Furniture and Woodworking. A master at reproduction work, he first exhibited pieces at the Providence show in 2006. There, he was discovered by Woodshop News which ran a feature on him in July 2007. MacDonald had an instant taste for stardom and began promoting himself to national media outlets. In 2010, after learning that Norm Abram was retiring as host of “The New Yankee Workshop,” he touted himself as a replacement. He is now realizing his dream.

“After the first two seasons, like anything that’s new, we had a few challenges to deal with because we were coming behind ‘The New Yankee Workshop,’ ” MacDonald says. “But people tell me they really enjoy it. I travel all around the country and it’s nice that people give me positive feedback about the show.”

In our conversation, he emphasized that he had high expectations from Day One and was determined to make the show work, recalling how everything started with a podcast called “Rough Cuts with T Chisel” that was hosted on Bob Vila’s website. Vila is the former host of “This Old House.” This third season has the most diverse project offerings so far.

“I think what we do on TV is a broader spectrum of woodworking, so it’s nice we can demonstrate ball and claw carving, marquetry and inlays, and all different genres, everything from William & Mary to contemporary work and turnings. We try to cast a broad net across the spectrum to involve everybody into the craft. Some of the things I don’t like stylistically, but I feel they’re important to the show.”

It’s been years since he’s returned to the Providence show, but MacDonald’s story serves as a reminder that even the simplest steps can lead to great opportunities.

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue.

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