Going from craftsman to businessman - Invaluable experience

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TONY MASON
Owner of: Mason Woods
Location: Whately, Mass.
Number of employees: 2
Shop size: 1,500 square feet
About: Situated on 125 acres of prime forestland in central Massachusetts, Mason Woods is a fully functional millwork and dry kiln business with an on-site sawmill.
Quotable: "The truth is we all have a desire to create, I believe we were made that way. I walk through the woods and look at the trees and know I have been given the tools I need and the people to help. I have wonderful clients and great vendors, and treat them both as equally important. What else does a person need?"
But Mason was without a backup plan. He took side work in the construction industry and eventually became self-employed as a carpenter in Providence, R.I.

In 1984, Mason started building a house on his parents' property in Whately. It took three years to finish, but along the way Mason got hooked on woodworking.

"From my years in carpentry I started to see there were a lot of things I could build, starting with doors, because I remember having to buy them for a lot of my jobs."

He officially started Mason Woods as a custom shop. Early jobs were primarily for doors, moldings and floors, which Mason got through carpentry contacts and word of mouth. He also started drying lumber, since his father had set up a kiln on the property.

But the first Mason Woods had a very lean existence. In retrospect, Mason acknowledges that its failure was due to his lack of business skills.

"I did estimates but then looked at the number and said, 'I wouldn't pay that!' I'd knock down the price and, surprise, I was poor," said Mason.

The shop was closed in 1997, but Mason was able to keep the lumber drying part of the business going.

Invaluable experience
The same week that the shop closed, Mason took a position with Architectural Timber and Millwork in Hadley, Mass. He stayed for seven years, rising to the positions of the millwork department manager and production manager.

"This term of employment proved invaluable to our current efforts at Mason Woods," said Mason. "I gained a wealth of knowledge in how to sustain a business, which included how to budget time and do proper job costing estimates, how to determine the hidden costs of a shop hourly rate, [learning] what jobs are more lucrative and those that should not be accepted, and how to manage personnel and deal with clients."