For that past few years, Bob Frapples has struggled to make ends meet in his one-man woodworking shop, Warlock's Oarlocks
. This year, though, he is about to market a revolutionary new product: hand crafted wooden false teeth. "Calling it revolutionary is more accurate than you might realize," Bob chuckled, "since I got the idea from studying about George Washington, who reportedly wore wooden false teeth."
To be honest, making wooden teeth is not the first business venture Bob has gnawed on, but he certainly hopes it will amount to his big break. More importantly, he hopes it will be less of a "big break" than his first attempt in the woodworking business, the product that gave his company its distinctive name.
"Early on in my woodworking career," he told me, "I made the decision to always specialize in something no one else was making. That way, the competition would be less extreme, and I'd have a better shot at making it. Initially, that meant solid wood oarlocks for rowboats. Unfortunately, it turns out that solid wood oarlocks break almost immediately along the grain lines. Perhaps that's why no one else was making them."
The unusual company name, Warlock's Oarlocks, came from that first ill-fated venture. "I named the company using the only word I could think of that rhymed with oarlock. Since I already had business cards made up, I kept the name." He did not keep at this downhill quest, though, and soon launched into a new endeavor after donating all the oarlocks he had in inventory to a local "found objects" sculptor. Ironically, the sculptor used them in conjunction with metal oarlocks in a large, free-form piece which, while he was welding some of the metal ones, caught on fire. All the wood oarlocks burned to ashes, leaving nary a trace of Bob's hard work.
Undaunted, he set out to produce his next niche market item; exotic wood toilet paper spindles. "The spindle," Bob explained "is the spring-loaded, two-piece tube that goes through the center of the roll and fits into the recessed holes on either side of the toilet paper holder. Usually, they are cheap chromed metal or plastic. I figured this was one area where you could spend a little bit more and have something very special."
He started turning the units from costly, eye-catching woods like ebony, pink ivorywood, walnut and figured maple. Sad to say, sales simply did not roll out the way he had hoped, and he soon found himself sitting on a lot of wooden tubes. "The problem as I see it," Bob recounted, "was that no one wanted to pay extra for something that was completely hidden. You see, once it is in use, you can't even see the fancy wood grain. I guess I should have thought of that."
Frapples' eclectic woodworking career originally got its start soon after he was laid off from his job as an insemination collector at a local turkey farm. "All the turkeys are artificially inseminated, and my job was to collect semen from the males. It was a terrible job, and I hated it. When I started looking for another job, I realized that I had no other skills. I always enjoyed woodshop in junior high school, so I bought some tools with my severance pay and unemployment compensation, and opened up a shop."
The idea to make wooden false teeth came during an argument with his wife, a dental hygienist. "She was complaining that her job was paying all the bills," Bob recounted, "since none of my prior ventures turned out to be profitable. That's when I came up with the idea of wooden teeth. The strange thing is that even though she works in the dental field, she was against the idea. She kept saying it was stupid, wouldn't work, and was bound to fail, but you know how women are. I feel really upbeat about this, and I'm certain that once people try my wooden teeth, they'll be drooling over them."
How are sales going so far? "Not so good," admitted Bob, but with an optimistic tone in his voice. "However, it takes time to get the word out, and I have only been advertising them for about eight months."
"One of these days, I will probably get old enough to need false teeth," Bob pointed out, "and when I do, I'll make a special pair for myself. Then I can advertise that I'm not just the owner of the company, but a customer too."
The way we see it, that's really saying a mouthful.