Meet the Founder: Q&A With a Small Business Owner
Interview with Nic James, Owner of Beech Tree Woodworks
Learn how this small business owner of a sustainable, hand-crafted custom cabinet and furniture shop is weathering the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tell us a little about your business.
Beech Tree Woodworks is a small custom cabinet shop that specializes in high-quality, eco-friendly casework — as well as some furniture. We are located in Olympia, Washington, and we serve the Greater Puget Sound region and beyond.
How has the COVID-19 situation impacted your business?
COVID has had some predictably negative impacts and some unexpected positive ones. The main positive was that, as our production was shut down for nearly six weeks, our front office “pre-production” work continued, and this allowed for a nice cushion between production and pre-production which we have always struggled with. We also got leaner and didn’t bring back two newer production guys that, as it turns out, weren’t really needed and we bought some big new machines to help fill their void.
Did you apply for a PPP loan? If so, how was the process?
Yes — with the help of my bank and accountant, it was relatively easy. The key here was to have your papers in order. Huge kudos to Heritage Bank and my accountant.
How has the PPP loan helped your business?
The PPP funds allowed for peace of mind and flexibility.
What is the most positive thing you have seen or experienced during this pandemic?
My essential team coming together and getting really streamlined. It kind of forced me to look at my two recent hires and realize that it had been a mistake to even hire them in the first place. Sometimes it’s hard to know what your business does and doesn’t need, and this was an opportunity to really analyze and understand who we are as a company and how we are at our best.
Are you optimistic about the future of small businesses in Olympia? Have you seen a lot of community support?
I don’t know about Olympia specifically, but in general I am optimistic about the Greater Puget Sound region and the client demographic that we serve. As for other businesses, I get that we were super fortunate and many businesses will not be able to endure this disruption. I am very sorry for them. I can’t see how this whole thing won’t have a massive impact on lower-income folks and service industry professionals, among others.
Have you come up with new business strategies to help weather the crisis?
Yes — the things I previously mentioned. In addition, we have doubled down on our commitment to sustainability with the help of the Federal REAP grant, and we are going 100% solar by Q1 of 2021. I believe that we are the greenest woodworks shop in the state of Washington by a long shot, and a commitment to preserving and protecting the environment is at the very core of Beech Tree.
Small businesses have been among the hardest hit by the crisis. Do you feel that major corporations (Home Depot, etc.) are getting more government support than small businesses like Beech Tree?
I don’t know. What I do think is that for all the criticism that the government gets — left or right, state or fed — in general, the response was a Herculean achievement and deserves lots of appreciation and respect. It will no doubt have massive long terms effects, but it had to be done. It was a pretty “one-size-fits-all” approach and there are companies that got help that didn’t need it, and some that needed help and didn’t get it, or get enough. Speed was the critical factor as I understand it here, and thoroughness had to be let go of. I applaud their efforts. As for accountability? That’s another story altogether.
What are you most proud of as a small business owner, and has the crisis made you rethink your core values — or changed your mindset in any way?
This is my life’s work and I am indeed proud of what I’ve built from literally nothing. Building a business is a great teacher of many things. Humility is certainly one of them. How much discomfort and stress can one endure is another. I’ve been crumpled by its girth but I’ve also been elated and propelled by its soaring potential. But whether it’s the burden of its crushing weight or the humble gratitude I feel in my chest, it has the power to level me to my knees. It sure took a while, it wasn’t until I was in my early 30’s, but it’s nice to know that I found my calling.
How can people reach you if they want to get products/services from Beech Tree Woodworks, and have you implemented any COVID safety protocols?
A phone call or email works best. Showroom visits upon scheduled requests. Masking up at all times. Limit our direct contact, etc.
Beech Tree Woodworks is a unique, sustainable woodworking company based out of Olympia, Washington. Started as Beech Tree Building Company in 2001 by Nic James, Beech Tree Woodworks is committed to creating high-quality, hand-crafted, custom-built cabinets, built-ins, and fine furniture.
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