Finding a global market: Jenkins follow their passions to success

November 2011 Posted in Business, People

By Jo Garcia-CobbScotts Mills residents Wanda and Ed Jenkins sell their products to customers in 45 countries.

When Scotts Mills residents Ed and Wanda Jenkins started selling their wooden, handcrafted weaving shuttles, crochet and knitting needles on eBay in 2002, they didn’t foresee that they could one day quit their day jobs and run a successful online business catering to customers worldwide.

“His passion is woodworking, my passion is fiber. So we blended the two. He started making tools for me before we started selling on eBay,” said Wanda, who takes care of the business end of things.

When word spread about the Jenkins’ fine fiber art tools, their hobby began to grow into a viable home-based business that allowed the couple to quit their main jobs and focus on growing Jenkins Woodworking by the end of 2005.

It wasn’t long until fiber craft stores in California and New York, England, Germany, and Australia, as well as individual customers worldwide, became loyal customers. To date, they have sold items to customers in 45 different countries.

Jenkins Woodworking’s current product line includes knitting needles, crochet hooks, hairpin lace looms, and Turkish spindles in different styles and sizes. The spindles are inspired by those used throughout the Mediterranean and Central Asia to spin wool, flax, hemp, cotton and other fibers into thread.

“Being online has opened the world to us,” admitted Ed, who loves to work with his hand-turned lathe and tends to shy away from technology. He thinks of himself as a semi-Luddite who wants nothing to do with computers and cell phones.

Not a techie herself, Wanda took on the challenge of learning how to do business online, as well as personal networking at local trade shows, including the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival in Canby and the Blacksheep Gathering in Eugene.

Jenkins Woodworking
Scotts Mills
503-873-1246
www.jenkinswoodworking.com

It was at one of the trade shows that Ed and Wanda came upon the Turkish spindle that inspired Ed to make one. While at the Northwest Regional Weavers Association annual show some years ago, they met a fellow exhibitor who was lamenting the fact that he could no longer carry Turkish spindles because the man who was making them for him had to move back to Europe. Ed offered to try. “It took me 15 hours to make the first one and it was barely passable,” said Ed.

After getting over the steep learning curve, Ed figured out ways to make Turkish spindles efficiently and started selling them online in 2005. Now, it’s their bestselling product.Spindles made by Jenkins Woodworking.

Two years ago, Jenkins Woodworking had to turn away a big store in New York City that wanted to carry their spindles, as they could not keep up with demand.

“That was not good,” said Ed, who hasn’t found a feasible way to train someone to get to the required skill level. “It took many years for me to get to where I can do this.” Jenkins Woodworking also no longer sells spindles on eBay, and has stopped taking on any new wholesale accounts in order to keep pace with the current demand.

Because making spindles is labor intensive, the only way Ed can do it to make a profit is to work fast and stay hyper-focused, without sacrificing craftsmanship.

“I figured out a way to get quicker, better, and I absolutely love what I do,” Ed said.

“He doesn’t take breaks, except for a one-mile walk. He keeps nuts in his shop and eats only one meal, in the evening,” Wanda said. Further, he guarantees everything he does. “Everything is tested before it’s shipped. If something doesn’t work quite right, Ed is always happy to fix it.”

The spindles come in a variety of hardwoods and in many sizes, with a price range of $44 to $50. Ed has used 80 different kinds of wood from different parts of the world, and still looks for others to try.

Ed and Wanda pointed out that the fiber crafts appeal to both men and women, as shown by the abundance of orders from men, including American soldiers in Afghanistan who spend their spare time spinning wool.

“There are teachers in Sudan who order from us, and children who have saved up their allowance for several months to be able to spin with Ed’s spindles,” Wanda said. Each spindle can be purchased with a Learn to Spin with a Turkish Drop Spindle booklet and an instructional DVD, and is shipped with some complimentary fiber.

Wanda thinks that timing has had a lot to do with their business success: “People are looking for simplicity, continuity, and doing things that our foremothers and forefathers did.”

“Weaving and spinning was a chore in years gone by. It was life and death for people. This was how they made their clothes,” Ed said. “There’s a verse in the Old Testament that says if you took a man’s coat as a guarantee of payment for debt, you were to return it at the end of the day, because that’s probably the only thing he had to keep him warm.”

Many customers have also expressed that they love to spin because it’s relaxing. “People are stressed out and want to do something that’s basic and fundamental, and that’s also productive and relaxing,” Wanda observed.

Wanda also gathered that the current recession has had more people taking up the fiber crafts to occupy them at home due to lack of funds for outside entertainment. Then there are people who don’t mind spending a fortune on fiber craft tools.

“Some people own a hundred spindles. It can be addicting,” Ed said.

Wanda has come a long way from being a non-techie to being a savvy Internet marketer. She’s got Ed on YouTube turning a 2.75 mm knitting needle on his lathe, and herself teaching how to wind on a Turkish spindle, how to start making a hairpin lace, and how to spin wool while exercising on a stationary bike. She also keeps two blogs, the Jenkins Journal (at www.jenkinswoodworking.com) and fiberjoy.wordpress.com that allow customers to keep track, not only of the goings-on with the business, but with the joys and challenges of daily life.

The Jenkins ventured a long way since they quit their regular jobs almost six years ago.

The February 2006 entry in the Jenkins; journal sheds some light on the dream that has kept them going: “I quit work at the Abbey Library in December so I could devote my time and energy into getting caught up with organization and business. I love being home after years of climbing in the car everyday. Both Ed and I are incurable homebodies. This is how we believe work was meant to be . . .”

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