The 1,120-square-foot woodworking shop is in the garage next to Roakes’ home in Oxford. Warren lives in Newburgh, outside of Bangor, and commutes to work.
Woodworking and building is in the blood of both Roakes and Warren. Roakes’ father started the family woodworking business in Falmouth in 1954. Roakes moved to Oxford and started initially making wood cutouts of trees and other small items that craftspeople could paint before he moved on to making furniture.
Roakes’ first stool was three legged, but when he realized people would use it to step up to get items from their kitchen cabinets and potentially fall, he designed a sturdier four-legged stool.
The current stool has a tractor-style seat with recessed areas designed for comfortable sitting. It also has a supportive small back and a foot rest.
The stools range from $215 to $270 for a 24-inch high model with a back. The price differs by wood type. Warren makes the stools in cherry, black walnut, mahogany, red oak, white ash and maple.
A similar stool style from Thomas Moser, based in Auburn, costs about $1,000. Warren said that’s because Thomas Moser has branched out beyond Maine and is well known.
For his part, Warren likes to tinker and fix things, and he likes woodworking and building.
“It’s peaceful. I can see the different grains as I work with wood,” he said. “I can see the happiness of the people who buy the stools.”
Warren plans to begin selling beyond fairs in Maine, which are his primary sales vehicle now. He’ll do that by setting up a website for sales and hiring one person to help make the stools, both of which are planned in the next six months.
“I plan to hire someone, but I’m looking at long-range sustainability,” he said, adding that he wants to make sure sales can carry the salary of an employee.
The company currently has $38,000 in sales a year and has a profit margin of just over 40 percent. It makes 220 stools a year.
Warren said his son, who studied financial planning at Husson University, did an internship at the company last year and figured out all the financials before he even bought the business.
Warren bought the business from Roakes for $32,000, including the woodworking equipment.
But he relied on other friends in the military to tell him how to go about getting a loan. They referred him to the local Small Business Development Center. He worked with the center from July until October 2018, when he bought the business.
There are 10 such centers in Maine providing free advice and services for preparing business plans, helping to get funding, preparing three-year business projections and keeping small businesses on a growth path. They are funded by the Small Business Administration, the state of Maine and the University of Southern Maine.
“I didn’t know how to go about getting a loan,” Warren said.
The center has a boilerplate business plan that he and an adviser customized for his business. The adviser said he could try to get a business loan from a bank or a “Wicked Fast” loan through CEI, a nonprofit based in Brunswick.
Warren opted for a “Wicked Fast” microloan of $15,000, which was ready in October when he bought the business.
He paid the rest of the money to Roakes from ongoing business operations. He had already started paying for the equipment two years before he formally purchased the business, so he already has paid it off in his first year of ownership.
Credit: Lori Valigra
And while the seven fairs in Maine he sells at each year are his only sales vehicle now, he would like to venture outside of Maine via the internet.
“My biggest selling point is getting people to sit in the stools at the fairs,” he said. “But I need to create a website where people can order from.” He also wants to start marketing on Facebook and Instagram. He is looking into selling on craft websites, such as Shopify and
Amazon Homemade, as well as to a restaurant supply company.
He already is getting sales from outside the state because tourists from Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and elsewhere attend fairs in Maine. At a fair in Boothbay, 90 percent of his business was from out of state, he said.
“My next challenge as a business is to find shipping that is affordable,” he said. The 20-pound stools are costly to ship, because the charge is by volume and only the backs come off the stools.
“I’ve been talking to a veteran-owned shipper in Florida called FreightCenter that can cut the shipping costs by 40 percent because it ships high volumes,” he said.
Warren, who is vice president of the 210-member United Maine Craftsmen organization in South Portland, said Maine craft sales are still strong. The organization conducts surveys after each fair, and he said members are reporting they made a profit after fairs.
“We sold 14 of the 40 stools we had at the Cross Insurance Arena crafts fair,” he said. That fair ran from Nov. 2-3.
Warren will have the stools at upcoming Maine craft shows in Brewer from Nov. 29-30 and the University of Southern Maine in Portland from Dec. 7-8.