Meet the Cartel: Greg Klassen
Welcome back to our new interview series Meet the Cartel, a spotlight on Big Cartel shop owners. For today’s installment, say hello to Greg Klassen, a woodworker from the Pacific Northwest.
How did you get into woodworking?
I stumbled into woodworking when I was in college getting a theology degree. During a year off from college to earn some tuition money, I took a job as the garbage man at a wood door factory. My job was to dispose of wood waste. Some of it was just too pretty and because it was free I took it home and made furniture for my newlywed wife and I. My hobby turned to a passion and a calling. From humble beginnings I developed my skills, started my business and now send my original design furniture and art all around the world! I’ve been on the covers of international magazines, featured in the Wall Street Journal, shown my work at the Smithsonian, received commissions from foreign royalty and most importantly do it all in a studio that is frequented by my lovely wife and our 3 homeschooled kids. It’s an awesome life!!
Why did you choose Big Cartel?
Big Cartel allowed me to get started with little to no investment. It’s the ultimate gateway to online sales for an artist wanting to make their work available to their fans.
Tell us about your most popular item in your shop
My RIVER® tables and RIVER® wall-hangings. Each of my pieces is made from live edge hardwoods and hand-cut blue glass. They’re handmade and completely one-of-a-kind.
And what’s your favorite item in your shop?
My new “Archipelago” wall-hangings. I keep thinking about keeping them for myself.
Why did you choose your current theme for your shop?
My theme feels like the best aesthetic fit for showcasing my work. It’s clean and simple.
Check out the Luna theme for your own Big Cartel shop.
Which Big Cartel feature could you not live without?
The app. It allows me to do business anywhere.
What does a regular workday look like for you?
We live on a couple acres in the Pacific Northwest with farms all around us and our home is a 108 year old farmhouse. I built my modern barn studio a short walk across our yard. I start my day having breakfast with my family before heading to the studio to check emails and then get started on commissions or speculative work in my woodshop. Sometimes we take a mid-morning family fika break (fika is a coffee break tradition we picked up when I was studying furniture design in Sweden), work some more, then lunch, a trip to the coffee shop in the afternoon (to get me off our property for a bit) and then I usually work till 5:30 and call it a day. My days are spent primarily designing, thinking, and woodworking.
Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by our travels. Several weeks a year we drive around the western USA in our 30’ motorhome. During the pandemic we renamed it the Quarantine Machine, and just recently we returned from 2 weeks of driving 3,400 miles from the Pacfic Northwest to the Southwest and back. We visited National Parks and other rugged natural places, camping in beautiful settings along the way. We discovered gushing waterfalls, rugged rivers, meandering creeks, and epic vistas to fill me up with lots of new inspiration.
What’s a moment in your career, or life in general, that you’re proud of?
I am really proud of being able to provide for my wife and 3 kids with my art. Being a one-man studio, creating original designs is incredibly difficult. There have been many struggles and years of poverty, but I’m at a place now where I’ve found my artistic voice, established myself, and have crafted the life I dreamed up for my family. I’m really proud of that, but even more so I am humbled by it because I know it’s not just a result of my hard work but a gift I’ve been given - one that many hardworking artists don’t get the chance to experience.
What was the most unexpected challenge you have encountered while running your own business? How did you overcome that challenge?
The most unexpected challenge I’ve faced is having my work widely imitated. I spent many years grinding away as a starving artist, traveling all around the country trying to sell my original designs. Through hard work I developed a body of work and then one day suddenly everyone was seeing it. My work had been published a few times, but it wasn’t until RIVER COLLECTION went viral in July 2014 that everything changed. Within a few months I began seeing imitations and it’s snowballed to the point that my designs have become one of the biggest woodworking trends ever. It’s really crazy.
How do you like to unwind after a particularly busy day?
Quiet evenings with my wife after the kids are in bed.
Any advice for someone thinking about opening up their own shop?
Professional quality photos are key. Your work can be amazing in person, but if it doesn’t translate through the photos you’re using, then your shop sales aren’t going to reach their full potential. If you can get great shots of your work on your own, perfect. But if you can’t, hire a professional to create your images. And if you’re not in love with the pro’s photos, try another pro and keep searching until you find someone who makes your work look amazing. Great product photos are invaluable.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
Maybe designing and building treehouses? I built one for my kids and had the best time doing it! This summer I’m adding a 150’ zipline :)
Twizzlers or Red Vines?
Twizzlers, but only the Canadian ones (they taste way better!)
Give us three recommendations… for anything!
- Read “Purple Cow” by Seth Godin - lots of wisdom on standing out from the packed crowd.
- Listen to the “How I Built This” podcast for inspiration from entrepreneurs. It’s so encouraging to hear how other entrepreneurs have struggled and persevered.
- If you’re a brand new business, you should know about SCORE. It’s a national organization of retired executives who will meet with you and give you free business mentorship.
And a bonus- If you’re an artist or entrepreneur, you got started in this because of your love for what you do. We are the lucky ones! Don’t forget why you started - it probably wasn’t for the money, but rather the passion. Stay true to your original intentions.