Wood is good for Knoxville business

David Harding is a southern man who has traveled many miles to find his dream.

Raised in Jackson, Tennessee, David headed north in the 1970’s to the University of Pennsylvania where he earned a degree in business administration. Then came Augusta, Georgia, where he trained as a Kmart manager, and Harriman, Tennessee, where he managed his own store. Next for David were stops in Michigan at Kmart’s new Designer Depot division, work at a Florida Kmart, and finally a job selling clothes for a Chicago clothing manufacturer..

Along the way, David discovered what he was good at and liked to do best: buy and sell merchandise, and build relationships.

He also discovered what he didn’t like. Living away from family. Living in apartments. Spending long hours at easy but boring jobs. Having a tough-to-please boss constantly looking over his shoulder.

And he found someone special who shared his interests, ambition, and outgoing nature. His wife, Liz, also had a degree in marketing and experience in sales that complimented David’s own background.

In 2000, when things went soft in the clothing market and David got a pink slip, he finally decided to put to work all that he and Liz had learned – and go into business for themselves. By selling everything they could part with and asking family members for help, they came up with seed money for their dream. But what sort of business should they choose?

Retailing seemed like a natural fit, and David’s dad suggested that he look into a Woodcraft franchise. “After all,” David says, “woodworking was what everyone in my family enjoyed.”

After four months of negotiations and many phone calls and trips to Woodcraft’s headquarters in Parkersburg, West Virginia, the company agreed to let David have the Knoxville market, his first choice.

Though David didn’t know it at the time, that was the easy part. The next step was research – and more research -- on Woodcraft, demographics, traffic patterns, tools, computer software, bank loans, real estate leases, employment laws, taxes, insurance, construction contractors, and potential store locations.

One big source of support for David and Liz through this challenging process was SCORE, who helped them navigate the many details of starting a business. “The SCORE volunteer furnished the forms, Web sites, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers of all the people I needed to contact.”

SCORE also helped the Harding’s find a banking partner. With the patience and persistence of Goleta National Bank’s Maryanne Rogers, they got the additional funding they needed to make their dream come true.
Finally, in 2001, with a lease signed for a location in Suburban Plaza between Barnes & Noble and Toys R’ Us, what David describes as “the wildest ride of our lives” began. “Our dreams, hopes, and lives were on the line.”

They needn’t have worried. The signs were good from the beginning: passersby leaving nose prints on their windows, cars slowing down to see what was going on inside the store, and woodworkers coming by to cheer them on.

And David and Liz knew how to create a pleasant place to work and shop. Candy, cookies, and coffee accompany each product demonstration. Smiling faces and friendly advice are a part of every customer’s visit.

Best of all, they have products people are exited about: wood, and woodworking tools and supplies. Woodcraft sells lumber of all kinds by the foot, in pounds, in blocks, dowels, and even roots.

Tools, specialized and shiny, call out to patrons who have been known to spend hours browsing Woodcraft’s aisles. Though they haven’t yet found a supplier, David and Liz joke about adding “drool buckets” to their aisles and “sawdust patches” to their inventory to get their addicted customers through days away from the store.

Classes on subjects such as woodturning, pen turning, cabinet building, raised panel doors, and sharpening not only attract customers, but keep them coming back to learn new skills.

So far, the enterprise has been a great success. Of 61 Woodcraft stores in the country, the Knoxville store ranks ninth. The Harding’s are so pleased that they have already purchased the rights to a new franchise in Nashville. That store will open next to the Kroger in Cool Springs in September 2003.

Woodcraft is located at 8023 Kingston Pike, in the Suburban Shopping Center. To reach the store, call 865-539-9330. For more information about class schedules, visit the store or www.woodcraft.com.