John D’Ambrosio’s life curved in an unexpected direction 33 years ago, when he inherited a workshop full of tools from his father.
“He was a builder and he had a lot of tools,” D’Ambrosio recalled of his father, Vincent. “I had to decide then if the tools would make sawdust or gather dust.”
Two years ago, at the suggestion of his wife, Marilyn, who once ran her own ceramics school, D’Ambrosio turned his hobby into a business — Doc’s Fine Woodcrafts.
The “doc” — for those not in the know — comes from his having a doctorate in college and university administration.
“It was a hobby gone amok,” D’Ambrosio said of a house rapidly filling with weekend creations ranging from cutting boards to fountain pens, from decorative bowls to intricately fashioned plaques, from cuff links to a ball-mark repair tool for golfers.
In between he found time to build a grandfather clock, cabinets to store DVDs and shelves for the kitchen.
The hours in the workshop helped D’Ambrosio unwind from the stresses of leading a chamber of commerce. The problems facing chamber members, the seemingly endless engagements and events demanding his attendance — these faded, he said, while shaping a piece of maple or walnut on the lathe.
“These demand your complete concentration,” D’Ambrosio said of the lathes and saws. “Nothing but accidents happen if you don’t concentrate.”
Q: So what spurred turning this hobby into a business?
Marilyn: Most of what John did we gave away as presents or for silent auctions held by charities. Then, so many people started asking if we sold things, too. They asked if they could order something.
Q: What’s your role in Doc’s Fine Woodcrafts?
Marilyn: I manage the business end. I take care of the orders, maintain the website — docsfinewoodcrafts.com.
Q: As the chamber president, you’re probably better informed than many business owners of the pitfalls to avoid.
John: I don’t know if that made it any easier. We started this business in the absolutely worst economy, and not a single thing we make is a necessity.
John: We’re trying to determine our market niche. From going to shows, we see what sells, what doesn’t, and we can see the price range that people are willing to pay.
Marilyn: You try to get a feel for what people want and will buy. But you never know. You might have been at a show last month and sold very little. You can be at a show next month and sell nearly everything you have.
Q: What have you done to promote the business?
John: The smartest thing Marilyn did was join three chambers — Orange County, Warwick and the Dutchess County Regional Chamber.
Q: Why is that important?
John: We’re trying to develop our corporate business — orders for 100 or more pens, for example. We have a bank that gives the pens as gifts after high-end closings.
Q: Where do you show your work?
John: We go to juried art shows. We’ll be at a juried craft show at Dutchess Community College in November. We were at the Mystic (Conn.) Art Show over Labor Day weekend. Our things are also sold at the Gray Owl Gallery in New Paltz, and Craftsman by Design in Poughkeepsie.
Marilyn: And we’ll be at Applefest in Warwick on Sunday.
Q: What are your expectations for Applefest?
Marilyn: This will be our first time, but it’ll be a big crowd. You still have to wonder: Will it be a buying crowd, or a looking crowd?