Giving Back Through Woodworking – Tis’ The Season

Article - December 13, 2014

heart shaped scroll saw trivet by Feisty Dog WoodcraftsThe holiday season reminds us to give back and help others in need, but Jeff and Linda Morton at Feisty Dog Woodcrafts have made it a point to give back all year round – to our furry friends. With an eye for detail and craftsmanship, they produce excellent work (my favorite is the Greene and Greene inspired pet feeder), and they also support animal rescue while doing it!

I was excited to be able to interview Jeff Morton to get the inside scoop on Feisty Dog Woodcrafts. In the interview, Jeff shared not only his background in woodworking and how Feisty Dog came to be, plus you’ll gain some really great insight into the business of woodworking.  Enjoy!


How did you get started woodworking?
I’ve been around woodworking from a early age.  My brother-in-law was a product design engineer at Black & Decker (was involved with the first VS drill).  Both he and my dad were fairly active.  BIL built furniture and cabinets and dad built more utilitarian things. I learned a lot about workshop safety, how to approach a project and how to enjoy the process.  Woodworking is my “mental floss” to escape the work/life rat race. I enjoy the tactile nature of the craft and the personal satisfaction I receive when a design comes together and delights the customer.

How long have you been selling your woodcrafts?
We’re starting our second year of actively marketing our products. We did ad-hoc projects for friends/family before that, but didn’t actively peruse the venture until fall 2013.

How has selling products affected your woodworking?
Green and Green inspired pet feeder made by Feisty Dog WoodcraftsSadly, quite a bit.  The ability to wander into the shop and make something for fun isn’t in the plan.  It’s now more on a production schedule: mill work -> assembly -> finishing.  Off times, we’re working on promotion, answering communications, coming up with new ideas, etc or acquiring project materials. It’s a little easier to not have a “real job,” to work around, but then the need to produce and sell scratches off the luster pretty soon. a PT job brings some money in while allowing time for the business, but…

Needing to make things that sell impulsively eliminates the ability to make enjoyable things that aren’t as directly sell able.  I want to build a Krenovian-inspired case as well as a “Greene & Greene light” project. Hopefully I will be able to do after the holiday rush.  Health issues have suspended shows for the rest of 2014, but we plan to be on the show circuit in late Q1/15. I also have a commission project in Q1/15 for some built in Stickley-influenced bookcases in a newly-constructed home’s rec room, but those jobs are few and far between.

How did the concept of Feisty Dog Woodcraft come about?The three dogsMy wife Linda and I have been involved in animal rescues for awhile, We’ve adopted three amazing dogs, two of them, Hunter (who is a Mountain Feist dog, a combination of a rat terrier, greyhound and Labrador retriever that has been bred for hunting squirrels since Abe Lincoln’s time – and the basis of our business name) and Daphne (a dachshund/corgi mix), are our “Executive Staff.”

Unfortunately, Trixie,who survived a horrific fire at a dog pound in southern Illinois in 11/2007, had a terminal illness and left us in 2011. Her spirit remains with us. We have volunteered for Fur Keeps Animal Rescue in Barrington Hills, IL and perform pre-adoption site visits and whatever else they need to further their cause.

Woodcrafts by Feisty Dog was created initially as a way for me to avoid becoming a WalMart greeter in my “golden years.”  Based on the marketplace, I knew we could create and market quality handcrafted products for two and four legged friends – with some percentage of earnings donated to animal rescues – another way for us to give back and help.  It could develop and grow to the point when we wander off into retirement, we could take the business with us and keep going.

To increase awareness and contribution, we become affiliated with animal rescues, who encourages their staff, volunteers and clients purchase merchandise from us – with the net profits going directly to their rescue.  We also provide them at least $150 of free merchandise annually for their fundraising activities.  To date, we’ve donated nearly $1,500 in merchandise in 2014 to wonderful groups like PAWS Chicago, Save-A-Pet, etc. as well as our local Fire Department for their annual fundraiser. When someone purchases from us, we ask them if they have a favorite animal rescue.  If they do, it is noted on the receipt as well as our books.  We send check quarterly, and always round up to make it more beneficial.  If the customer doesn’t have a specific rescue,we divide the funds among affiliated rescues.

Unfortunately, economic realities in 2014 “encouraged” us to ramp up the business.  My wife’s job was eliminated in February. Fortunately she found a wonderful job with a great company in July – which she enjoys, and provided us needed healthcare benefits.  My job was eliminated in March.  However, I recently was offered a part time job and might possibly have other options in the near future. But the situation gave us an opportunity to really focus on the business, out of necessity.

What advice do you have for someone who is just starting out or thinking about starting a woodworking business/side business? 
Stop sign graphic that says "Sound Business Advice"First: STOP, take a breath and really think it through.Do your homework – visit local shows and do a little “intel work” – see what’s out there – primarily what’s missing and what’s selling. Check the internet sales sites and do the same “intel work.”  This was easy for me, since I’ve spent the last 34 yrs in marketing research with direct involvement with successful products like Gerber Graduates, America’s Cut pork chops, etc. and revolutionizing the market information/segmentation/analysis process in the home building industry (I also predicted the housing bubble 14 mos in advance, but that’s another story).

Once you’ve done your market analysis, decide IF you have something that is viable, and make sure you can build it right ALL the time – potentially in mass quantities.  To make money, you MUST streamline the process without cutting quality for time/cost savings – which pay you back.  Go with your strengths – especially if they are unique/different to what’s offered.  Don’t try to offer a bunch of things that you aren’t confident in the quality of design and build.  This is definitely a time when less is more.  Promoting your BEST efforts – even if it’s one product – is much better than having a bunch of so-so stuff on the table.

Establish a consistent BRAND identity and stick with it!  all of our are promotional materials – including show banner, booth signage and embroidered polo shirts worn at shows are based, literally on our BRANDing iron logo. (photo attached)  I believe that a consistent brand message   sets you apart from other vendors – that you have it together and MEAN business.  I also think that it might convey an “expensive business” image to those who are motivated by bargains/deals, but if they aren’t your targeted market segment or don’t even stop to see your offerings, who cares!

Start SMALL and grow s-l-o-w.  Go with a basic website at first if you have to with a small, finite number of products you can promote.  PayPal can be your friend, because you can take orders via emails and process payments through PP.   E-commerce vendors can be a slippery slope to an eternal abyss.  Let the business grow to the point where you NEED the larger, fancier site and third-party e-commerce processing.

Pick your shows carefully.  If you have high volume/low price products, craft shows, flea markets, etc might work for you.  Otherwise, target the juried art shows and up-scaled craft shows.  They cost more to participate and require a higher-quality offering, but the ROI is worth the time/cost/trouble, because patrons are more likely to appreciate (read: BUY) your products!

Where can people find out more about you and Feisty Dog Woodcraft?
We’re on Twitter as @feistydogww.  You can find us on Facebook at facebook.com/FeistyDogWoodcrafts.  Our web store is at feistydogww.com and our Etsy store is at etsy.com/shop/FeistyDogWoodcrafts.


I hope that everyone enjoyed learning about Feisty Dog Woodcrafts. You can see more of their work and find out more about the support they provide to animal shelter organizations. Big thank you to Jeff for taking the time to do this interview and share some great tips for anyone interested in selling their work.