Three years after he founded Austin Hardwoods, a wholesale imported and domestic hardwood lumber business, T. Hinds Wilson is seeing his first profits.
Last year Wilson broke even, grossing approximately $200,000 in mostly wholesale business to area carpenters, renovators and woodworkers. This year Wilson predicts Austin Hardwoods, outside the Beltway in Lorton, Va., will double that, and he hopes to gross $1 million by 1985.
His success is all the more remarkable given the current recession and a recent report showing that two-thirds of all businesses with fewer than 20 employes fail within their first four years.
Wilson, who holds a doctorate, wrote his dissertation at the Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond, Va., and taught economics and calculus at Clemson University and Westminster College in Pennsylvania. Carpentry was his hobby before it became his business.
"I have always been a workaholic and I was dissatisfied with the upper limits of teaching," said Wilson, 41, explaining his venture out of the academic world.
"There is more intellectual challenge in academics, but the ante is lot higher in business. Very seldom will you produce the tangible results in academics that you do in business."
Wilson has used his background to adapt to both the theoretical and practical demands of business.
"I think it was his background knowledge in woodworking and his careful financing," said business student Dale Newlin of Wilson's success. Newlin did a case study of Austin Hardwoods for a course on small business at Golden Gate University's extension program at Ft. Myer. "He didn't panic or over extend himself financially. His knowledge of economics helped."
During business hours Wilson's 9,000 square-foot warehouse hums with the high-pitched whine of a planer, the machine that smooths the rough-hewned surfaces of the kiln-dried woods.
Lumber is stacked neatly according to type -- andiroba, a mahogany substitute from South America; aromatic cedar; white ash and American black walnut from Appalachia; Indian rosewood; Andaman padauk from Africa's Andaman Islands; teak from Burma -- and industrial-sized bags of wood shavings are piled in corners or scattered among the stacks and machines. Nothing goes to waste -- Wilson sells the shavings to customers who use them in their horse stables or gardens.
Wilson chose the Lorton site after he studied the market demands for wholesale hardwood here, and says the rent for industrial space is about half of that inside the Beltway. He says his nearest competitors are in Pennsylvania and north of Baltimore.
Taking small steps to upgrade his services despite his steady successes, Wilson has financed carefully. He waited until this March when GMAC lowered its finance rates to buy a flatbed truck necessary to deliver his largest orders. He plans to buy a small computer soon to expedite his accounting and inventory control.
He also hopes to build his own warehouse and is now eyeing a parcel of land near his present location.
And he maintains a minimal advertising budget because he says the local hardwood wholesale market doesn't require more.
"He needs to build up his advertising and get Austin Hardwoods out front," remarks Golden Gate University management professor Charles Toftoy, who fears the firm's low profile will hurt Wilson's operations in the long run.
"That is the most important feature in small business, and he should start providing something for the community. Maybe a workshop on cabinet building and home repair for small businessmen and contractors."
Though most of his sales are in domestic hardwoods -- to craftsmen like one man who fashions burial urns out of maple -- Wilson takes special orders for more exotic imported woods. And he devotes his Saturday mornings to retail customers, remembering the days when he was an amateur woodworker looking for advice.
On a typical Saturday, Wilson and one of his three employes offer wood advice and free coffee to weekend carpenters. His comfortable, Texas manners win him friends and customers.
Wilson is confident that both the wholesale and the retail ends of his business will continue to grow, whether or not the economy recovers quickly.
"Considering the economy is going to hell in a handbasket," he said, "we've had pretty good luck. But then again we work hard, too."