John L, from Dutchess County, New York, asks, “Is your woodshop self-sustaining (I'm a repeat patron), or do you support its ongoing existence due to your love of the craft and to support your employees?”
John, thank you very kindly for your excellent question.
When I first started Offerman Woodshop over twenty years ago, I employed a couple of friends only sporadically, when I needed an extra set of hands. My dear friend Marty McClendon, aka “Martin McClintercourse”, was instrumental in setting up the shop with me, as were the teachers we remotely enjoyed, mainly via Fine Woodworking Magazine and Jim Tolpin’s Table Saw Magic.
I was living with, and soon married to, a very successful and legendary actress named Megan, which meant that despite my work ethic and a history of earning my living with sweat and elbow grease, I was pretty spoiled. My shop rent never really depended on my shop income, which as any woodworker could tell you, has always been an incredible luxury. I’ve never had to shit out plywood kitchen cabinets, or millwork, on a budget or a deadline.
After several years of solo matriculation in joinery techniques, finishing, boat-building, and general wood knowledge, the unexpected happened: at age 38, I got my big break as an actor, when I was cast as Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation. I could tell pretty quickly that things would be changing around the shop, because my plum new job would require me to be, well, at it. For most of the working week. If I wanted to keep the doors open at Offerman Woodshop, I’d need some help.
My first hire was a diminutive but powerful woman named Lee, who led the shop for ten years. I never saw anybody outwork her, and I could write a long paean to her heroic qualities, but as far as answering your questions goes, John, suffice it to say that, leaning upon her business savvy and talent and people skills, we were able to assemble a team of workers and working systems in the shop.
We didn’t break even for the first few years, but we didn’t miss by much, and I happily covered the spread. Our story can be gleaned more substantially in a book we all made together at the shop, titled Good Clean Fun. It’s a really whimsical “how-to” woodworking book that’s also a family-style memoir of the shop, even including recipes from our cookouts.
By tweaking our web sales versus our custom commissions, we have continued to evolve the crew and the shop’s working life, eventually tipping over to making a profit. We’ve also weathered the pandemic successfully (so far) under the steady hand of Lee’s replacement, a rockstar woodworker named Sarah. We currently pay the gang between $20 and $30/hr, with some modest benefits, a health insurance stipend, plus sick days and vacation days.
It’s on ongoing experiment to see how well we can compensate our team while still remaining (barely) in the black. The brains who continue to maintain and steer this funny vessel of a shop that we have built together are 98% responsible for its health, or maybe 99%, so you can imagine how grateful I am to them. They keep all of the t’s dotted and the eyes crossed, so that I might go to Scotland for a few weeks and look at cows. Or just go out of town at all, on tour or for acting jobs. They are the parents and I am most certainly the baby of Offerman Woodshop.
I’d be an absolute butthole, or even more of one, if I ever lost sight of the fact that our healthy shop is not the product of my woodworking talent or my business acumen or even my incredible cheekbones. Instead, it was borne of my passion for woodworking, combined with my nascent woodshop, the whole scramble liberally slathered in the good fortune of my showbiz jobs. But the real driver has been the incredible women who have run the shop with such leadership, along with the team members that have accompanied and supported them. Together, they deserve all the credit for our continuing heartbeat.
We are also very grateful to be involved with WouldWorks, “An LA-based social enterprise that trains and employs people experiencing homelessness in the craft of woodworking.” This was also the brainchild of smart and generous people who are also not named Nick Offerman. The program dovetails so comfortably that we now have full-time employees who came through the WouldWorks program. It’s a fecund breeding ground over here for woodworking and camaraderie. Thanks to the patronage of folks like yourself, John L, this weird little garden in a corner of Los Angeles is well-watered and even more well-weeded, with a modest but wholesome yearly harvest of happy and healthy woodworkers.
Thursdays are free, and so is some of the weekend stuff, but to get it all, you’ll have to pony up some serious cheddar, as the young cheese-mongers say, I assume? Or share. Or don’t. Please have a nice day in any case.