Young entrepreneur turns clients on to custom pens
With a click, Ramsay Short turns on the shop light. Adjusting himself behind the workbench in his garage, the 11-year-old locks a narrow, rectangular block of wood into the lathe and flicks a switch to bring the machine growling to life. Ramsay selects a utensil and applies the metal tip against the surface of the spinning woodblock. Shavings erupt like sparks from a flint.
“It’s just fun, it’s relaxing,” he says of his work here, creating hand-turned wooden pens and other items for his business, Ramsay’s Woodshop, in Russellville. “Whenever I’m [working] I don’t think about anything else. You don’t have to really, really concentrate on it, but you just kind of do it. I just love working with my hands, saying, ‘I made this.’”
Out here in the family garage, he and his father Wilson Short, a professor at Arkansas Tech University, turn out dozens of pens in a variety of shapes and finishes, as well as salt and pepper shakers and wine stoppers, custom-engraved with corporate clients’ logos or the names of newlyweds. The business launched in August of last year and since then has found its way into three local stores as well as sold products through its website.
Along the way Ramsay, a sixth grader, has ruined more than a couple of woodblocks – called blanks – and learned a lot about the nature of business, from designing a product to sales and marketing his brand. His first lesson was one of startup capital.
“I got $100 from my great-grandad for straight A’s on my report card and I bought half of the lathe,” Ramsay said. “[Dad] bought the other half. And I spent my other $50 on blanks and stuff to make them.”
“People started seeing them and it just kind of took off,” Wilson Short said. “We had two businesses in town, and we have three now, who wanted us to put a display in. Then we were invited to the downtown art walk.”
Ramsay turns the creations by eye and swears he doesn’t have a stock shape to follow when he sits down at the lathe. Occasionally, a client will ask for something specific, more often pertaining to wood species and finish. The rest is up to him.
“We just kind of do it. We kind of think how’s it going to feel whenever we write with it,” Ramsay said.
Ramsay has also learned about supply chain management as he and his dad constantly scour the area for reclaimed wood that can be had for free. One acquaintance had a tree topple over in her yard, another friend had a pile of cedar he was going to burn. Some customers supply wood that came from a former homeplace or that holds similar sentimental value.
Thus far, he’s worked in red cedar, cherry, oak, pecan and Bethlehem olive wood, with cedar being his favorite.
“It’s just the prettiest and it’s either red or it’s white,” he said. “You can’t really say for sure what it’s going to look like because you can cut it right down the middle and it will be all red or all white. It just looks awesome and it smells good.”
To date, he’s sold about 100 pens and business is picking up on the stoppers and salt and pepper sets. The business has taken hold to the point that the family has invested in a CNC engraving machine that allows for customizing the finished product.
It’s also allowed Ramsay to realize a goal he’s had since he came up with the business idea, that being donated a portion of every pen sold to River Valley Food for Kids, a charity of which Wilson is president.
Ramsay said he and his dad keep their eye out for things to add to the product line, but for now his goals are simple.
“I hope to keep making pens, donate more money and love every bit of it,” he said.