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From the archives: Two-shop vision showed determination and guts

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This is one of the rare instances when we’ve profiled a shop twice. My feature on Michael Humphries Woodworking, called “A man, a plan, an expansion,” was published in the December 2003 issue.

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Humphries was operating two shops and building a new gallery space. We might have done half of the interview in my car as we visited all three locations.

I remember thinking that two shops will never work, but Humphries was determined. He had structured the two shops to complete a given job independently.

“The [Northfield, Mass.] shop gets the projects that don’t require my constant attention,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they’re easier, but they don’t get all the interference that we get here.

“I set up projects as completely as I can, then I send it [to Northfield]. If it’s open-ended at all, I’ll manage it [in Warwick, Mass.]. But ideally we like to get everything up and running and I give it to a project manager.”

Humphries built the old Warwick shop in 1985 for a crew of six. The business grew to a high of 22 employees, so obviously more space was necessary. Humphries was also thinking about the future when he expanded into the Northfield shop.

“We’ve outgrown our [Warwick] shop and couldn’t add on, since it’s surrounded by state forest,” Humphries said. “There’s also the thought that the business would become a large white elephant when I retire. I don’t know if I ever will because I enjoy this so much, but I want it to be able to go on without me and in order to do that I had to get it off my property and into a more viable area.”

The first feature also has one of my favorite quotes on a business philosophy:

“I find it extremely challenging and I watch the money fairly closely, but the money only becomes the bottom line when it’s a matter of whether you’re going to stay in business or not. If it’s a matter of making a ton of money or making enough to get by, it’s more important to make sure everyone’s enjoying work and the people who are getting our work are enjoying it. That sounds kind of corny, but I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’m still having a good time. It’s a better game to watch if you’re rooting for the underdog.”

The entire feature is available online at Simply search for “Humphries.” 

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue.

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