Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Call Your Better Business Bureau

Just after coming to Iwakuni late in the summer of 2011, an ad caught my attention to give pen turning a try. I had no idea where it would lead me.
"'It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,' he used to say. 'You step onto the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.'" (Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings)

Now it's led me to be a 'business' owner. I use the word loosely. Turning pens is for me a hobby, albeit one I have a passion for, but certainly not something on which I could feed four mouths. But I do find myself doing all the things real business owners do: interacting with customers, calculating overhead and prices, marketing and advertising, yada, yada, yada -- in other words, a lot of things that aren't fun.

Don't get me wrong, I love doing this. And getting feedback from people I've never met (because, let's face it, my mom pretty much HAS to like my pens) who rave about the beauty of something I've made is very rewarding. But at times I wonder how my feet led me here. I guess it started in the wood shop, envying the work of my mentors until hearing those magic words, "Hey, that looks pretty good. You mind if I try to sell it for you?"
That was Adam, whose mother sold his pens by word of mouth to friends, neighbors and acquaintances. The double-whammy was when I saw Adam the following day. He'd sold the pen about half an hour after he left the wood shop, stopping at the bowling alley on the way home. He showed his pens to someone there and they saw mine among them and bought it on the spot. Cha-ching, I was bitten.

Ever since I've been perfecting my craft, trying to make every pen better than the last one. Never mind that with every sale I spend three times the amount I made on  more pen kits and wood. Getting back to zero feels good enough for me.

I want to know! What hobby or project of yours has snow-balled into something bigger than expected?


  1. Well, yours is an American story indeed...albeit one that is not yet fully written. I do not have a business or a hobby that has yet flourished into one, but I do have other friends who started in their mom's garage with a motorcycle baffle template and now have their own, two-stall, motorcycle shop and sell modified motorcycle baffles for several models as well as provide other services. Just recently they have started making their own old-school looking motorcycles and I think they will soon take OFF! It is a personal pleasure for me to see them grow. They are good guys and deserve to do well. I hope to also see you grow like they did.

  2. Wouldn't that be great? Wouldn't it be awesome to strut into a client's office with a case of $1000 pens for him to choose from? To be referred by word of mouth because of the quality of my work. Ah, perchance to dream!