Talking Shop: Mike Mahorney of Woodzwayz
Ryan Summerlin March 4, 2014
Mark Mahorney, Owner, WoodZwayz, woodcarving, rustic furnishings and fine art made with fire and ferocity. Kremmling on the town square, 111 Park Ave.
How long have you been in business? 8 years, 2.5 at the current location
How did you get started in this business? I had a tree removal service in Summit County for a short time then transitioned to carving beetle-killed lodgepole pine trees into sculptures. My father and my grandfathers were wood carvers and wood workers.
Business mission statement: To never have a mission statement. It’s not good to put a box around creativity.
Challenges to the mission: People wanting me to conform to their ideals.
How do you cope with Grand County’s seasonal surges? I travel to a variety of events, chainsaw carving competitions, art festivals, holiday bazaars, and place products in the resort towns.
What do you think is the biggest business barrier in Grand County? On my end of the county, it’s other businesses. Among other business owners there’s strong anti-new business sentiment and a lot of childish bullying. They don’t want to share the pie and they don’t believe new businesses can grow the pie. Since I am a nearly 100 percent tourist-oriented business, this is a distraction, annoyance and drain on my business. They couldn’t be more wrong, virtually every penny I earn is money that would not have otherwise come into Kremmling. And I redistribute a lot of my earnings locally. I love what I do and I’m very good at it. I am very optimistic about the future of business in Kremmling, but it is hard not to let all the negativity drag me down. Trying to be a successful artist, I have to promote myself, the downside of that is putting myself out there in front of everyone makes me an easy target.
What do you think is your biggest business barrier on a state and/or national level? Negative impacts on tourism. I really feel it when we have floods and forest fires. It seems potential tourists think the whole state of Colorado is under water or up in smoke, pun intended. At the state level, more could be done marketing-wise to let potential tourists know that we’re open for business. With the floods on the other side of the Divide last year, hardly anyone came up to see the leaves change and that was my busiest season the previous two falls.
What can government here do to help? Educate existing businesses about what art and artisans have done for small rural mountain towns. Pass through towns like Salida, Buena Vista, Basalt, Frisco, Paonia, Minturn, to name a few, all which have greatly benefited from attracting artists, artisans and tourism.
How does your business give back to the community? By being a tourist stop and destination. I have people go out of their way to come to my shop when they are visiting Colorado because someone else visiting told them about it. I stop many tourists and people traveling to Steamboat Springs. These are people that would have otherwise just passed Kremmling by. When they spend money at my shop, it is not taking money away from another local business, it is adding to the overall revenues of the town. When I spend some of that money in other local shops, such as the hardware stores, it is the same as if a tourist stopped in their store and bought something. It is money they would not have otherwise earned. Likewise, even when I go outside of Kremmling to sell products, I am coming back and spending money in Kremmling, so the town is getting the tax revenues that way too. Kremmling would greatly benefit from having more artisans in the community making their wares here, whether they are selling them here or not. The economy of a community depends on what it produces and exports. Kremmling’s main exports are beef, recreation, hunting, some mining, and lastly gas and food as a good stopping off point en route to Steamboat Springs. Exporting more arts and crafts could be a significant additional source of revenue for the town.
Give examples of how you are environmentally responsible. I exclusively utilize salvaged timber, rough lumber, and the waste by-products of other businesses that use timber.
How do you support other local businesses? All I can do is be the best I can at what I do, and if other businesses benefit indirectly, then that is good for the community. It’s not good for me or the town to martyr myself by only selling my products in my Kremmling shop. Suffering through the seasonal swings means I’m spending less in local businesses. It is my intention to sell products in Kremmling and other locations, which will enable me to create jobs and employ several people in the community, who will also spend profits outside of Kremmling in the town. Other small-businesses in Kremmling need to begin to understand this, or they will gradually be replaced by new businesses that do.
How do you feel about direct competition? Bring it on! To many businesses in Kremmling are convenient capitalists; they are capitalist until it’s inconvenient for them, then they want to say which businesses can and can’t come into the town. And when businesses come in that they think will compete with them, they blame the town. When you are open to new business, some will compete and some will bring in additional revenues Kremmling would not have otherwise received. When you are closed to new business, as Kremmling has been, you get neither and more of the same — small businesses just eeking by.
How do you market yourself? Direct exposure to tourist traffic here and elsewhere. Self promotion via social networks. Also art festivals, craft fairs, and carving events.
What’s the main thing you have you learned in your years in business? Not only is the customer not always right, in fact when it comes to art and commissioned work they are usually wrong. If you let them dictate too much of a project, it will too often go badly. I hate to say it, because I never used to feel this way. But it’s the truth, you have to watch out for your own best interests, or people will take advantage. It’s hard being a business owner, no matter what you do, people are going to get upset with you. When you have a job, you have a boss; when you have a business, every customer thinks they’re your boss. I have learned: “Do what you love and love what you do, as much as possible forget about everything else.”
Where do you go for help when you need it? My family.
Who is your biggest business influence/mentor? I come from a line of carvers and wood workers. Having a degree in economics doesn’t hurt, but I’m mostly winging it and learning from my mistakes through the school of hard knocks and bootstraps. It has not been easy. I’ve put in a lot of hours and all-nighters.
What do you think is the most significant economic driver in Grand County? Without a doubt, recreation and the arts, which are virtually unlimited in capacity. It’s our best and easiest path to economic growth. We have seen some, and could see more growth from timber industries, but long-term I think we are unlikely to see a great deal more.
If you could go back in time and start up your business venture all over again, what would you do differently? Go after funding for working capital instead of stubbornly bootstrapping it. If money is too tight you will find yourself discounting your products too much and taking on customers and jobs you shouldn’t.
What’s the best compliment you received from a client/customer/guest? Being an artist, I receive compliments all the time. It’s hard to think of a specific one. I keep a lot of wood on-hand for making my products, and it helps a lot knowing that my customers don’t think about my business the same way a few other businesses around me do. They have said my shop looks messy, but I know better in that people seeing me making things and seeing the wood that I make things out of is what stops cars.
What do you consider to be your biggest mistake in business? First, not having sufficient funding to outright hire employees and instead trying to work with people on a piece-by-piece basis, which has been extremely costly to my business. In fact it has almost put me out of business. Secondly, consigning inferior products. Everyone seems to think what they make is worth a lot of money and everyone will want to buy it, well let them start their own business then. Third, letting other local business owners be a distraction.
What organization(s) is (are) most useful to business owners? For me, it is the Internet and social media networks. Just in the past few years we’ve seen a shift from people wanting to visit a website to wanting to interact through business social media sites. A traditional website won’t keep you in front of your customers the way social media sites do. They allow people to skim through the information they care most about and that lets small businesses be seen and thought about even if it’s for a brief amount of time.
How much of a role does technology play in your business? Considering that I do a very old-fashioned thing, it is huge. It’s how I know about events to attend, learn from other artisans, and communicate with customers.
What are the technology challenges in your business? Maintaining a significant online presence is very time consuming, but also very important. Eventually, I would like to add a CNC machine for some specific projects, which would enable me to duplicate certain artworks when it makes sense to do so.
What’s the general key to making a customer/client happy? I used to think it was providing more than they asked for, but have learned that too often sets you up to be taken advantage of. Now I find that it’s better to make things and just let someone buy it, instead of working on commission and risking they will be unhappy with your work or demand more of you than you had originally agreed upon.
Is their any certain trend you’ve noticed in consumer habits lately? They want things that are functional, and they want to feel like they are getting a bargain to justify purchases. They are not trying to fill new second homes anymore, so you’ve got to have a unique and affordable product.
What are some tricks such as signs or window displays that you’ve noticed work in attracting customers to your front door? My art sells itself.
If you could give advice to a novice entrepreneur, what would it be? Think longer-term — six months, a year, two-years out.