Those who think family and business make for a bad partnership don’t know Ron and Todd Damon. This father/son team, along with Ron’s wife Lee and 15 other employees, provide central Ohio and the surrounding area with woodworking machinery, lumber, supplies and hands-on classes through their business, Wood Werks Supply. The company is celebrating its 20th anniversary this March.
Living near Columbus, I shop at Wood Werks for most of the supplies I use to build projects that go into our magazine. So, I’m a pretty regular customer. But, to tell you the truth, I drive over to Wood Werks even when I’m not on a project deadline just to look around at what’s new. And generally, “new” isn’t hard to find. The 25,000-square-foot retail store is usually bustling with customers inspecting the latest machinery and supplies, pulling boards off the lumber racks, shopping at the in-house Rockler store or possibly watching a live demo in the “Werk Shop” – a fully operational woodworking space. The place is like a clubhouse for woodworkers, and the overall experience tends to keep the parking lot busy.
Of course, this kind of success didn’t happen overnight. Ron and Todd have grown the business slowly and carefully through the years, starting in a 4,800-square-ft. store back in 1989. Recently, Todd filled me in on the history.
“Dad took early retirement from the insurance industry, and he and I started Wood Werks while I was still finishing college. We spent the first year just traveling to regional woodworking shows, building relationships with potential suppliers and getting our names out there. We needed to learn what customers wanted, because up to that point, we were just woodworking hobbyists.”
Actually, woodworking has been passed down through four generations of Damons. Ron is a lifelong woodworker and turner; Todd is an avid boatbuilder and restorer. So their avocational interests gave them some pretty good hunches about customer expectations from the get-go. And, the business climate in central Ohio was receptive for a new woodworking supplier to come onto the scene.
“At the time, we didn’t know how good we had it. We really stumbled into an amazing opportunity. There were very few woodworking supply outlets in this area…just a couple ‘mom-and-pop’ shops. For various reasons, they eventually went away. During the first 10 years of our business, there was only one other Delta Machinery dealer in Columbus, and eventually they went out of business, too,” Todd recalls.
Still, it took nearly three years for major tool labels like Delta, General, Powermatic and JET to take the Damons’ new Wood Werks Supply seriously enough to extend them product lines. Lee managed the books, and the family hired only one other part-time employee.
“We didn’t make a lot of money in the early days, and sometimes we went without paychecks so we could put our revenue into reduced margins for customers and other marketing initiatives…We made a concerted effort to be fiercely competitive and keep our inventory low. We had some lumber and a limited supply of stationary machinery. Thankfully, when we opened the doors each day, whadda ya know – people were there waiting! It didn’t take long for our sales to begin to take off and word to spread.”
Eventually, the Damons launched an industrial machinery division and began to distribute Holzer and then SCM Group product lines. It brought more professional woodworkers and woodworking businesses through the front doors, with some customers driving great distances to see the inventory. The secret to that success, according to Todd, was that many other industrial distributors wouldn’t invest the expense or showroom floorspace to have the big panel saws, molding machines and so forth on display. The Damons did, and customers came.
“One year we sold more JET wide-belt sanders in our store than were sold across the entirecountry,” Todd says. That success, along with JET’s lower price points for machinery, eventually helped Wood Werks become one of the nation’s largest JET distributors. But discounted pricing doesn’t necessarily keep woodworkers coming back. Service beyond the sale is a high priority, and Todd says it’s one of the key attributes that sets the Wood Werks “brick-and-mortar” store apart from other on-line tool retailers. Whether it’s a piece or JET equipment or another brand carried by Wood Werks, the company services all of the power tools and machinery it sells with an in-store repair department. Two full-time technicians are on-site, and they regularly travel to other locations to service customers’ industrial equipment.
About 10 years ago, the company had expanded several times to the limits of its initial retail space and was growing in staff size. It was time to make a move to the current location – an expansive space with plenty of room for show floor, offices, a classroom, industrial equipment and in-store lumber and sheet goods inventory. But, the economy wasn’t entirely cooperative. Industrial machine sales began to fall off as the economy slowed, and in turn, defaulted machinery leases were on the rise. “Leasing companies were repossessing machines and reselling them for pennies on the dollar. We couldn’t continue that business to the same level, although we still sell it now at a lesser volume,” reports Todd.
Instead, Wood Werks decided to sell off the remaining industrial equipment in the showroom and fill the space with an expanded lumber inventory. It includes both domestics and exotics in several thicknesses, plus unusual pieces and turning blanks. And, in 2005, Wood Werks partnered with Rockler Companies to launch the first independently owned Rocker store within the Wood Werks facility. Both were milestone events.
“At the time, we were a great tool seller and then an equally strong lumber outlet, but we were still a dismal supplier of finishes and hardware. Rockler changed all of that for us, filling a niche in our product line that we couldn’t satisfy beforehand. Customers that once would only come in every six weeks now seem to visit the store every six days.”
Aside from a broad line of products and after-the-sale service, Wood Werks offers many woodworking classes and turning courses, product demos and semi-annual tool expos. It also serves as a meeting place for local woodworking and woodturning clubs. Artisans such as David Ellsworth, Nick Cook, Bonnie Klein, Alan Lacer, Stuart Batty, Chris Ramsey, Graham Priddle and Johannes Mickelson – to name just a few – have taught seminars at the store. Woodturning expert Betty Scarpino will do a demonstration there in just a few weeks.
Several years ago, Wood Werks also enhanced its website (woodwerks.com) to go beyond what Todd calls “an on-line commercial with a phone number and a map” to a complete on-line store and chat room. For instance, you can log onto “My Werkshop” and upload photos of your shop or your latest project, then blog about it with other woodworkers across the country.
“We wanted to turn our website into the same sort of experience you have walking into the store. We’re trying to build community and share our collective passion for woodworking,” Todd adds.
So, what’s the recipe to 20 years of growth and improvement as a woodworking supplier? Part of it has to do with the fact that every employee at Wood Werks is an active woodworker with a love for the craft. But, of equal importance, Todd circles back to the family connection that started it all.
“I enjoy coming to work each day, and the key to that success, in addition to our great staff, is the partnership with my dad. He’s my ‘checks and balances,’ the voice of reason. I’m the type to get it done and figure the details out later. Either one of us alone would have struggled to grow this business, but together we make a great team,” Todd says.