Dusty Dude Woodworks Co-Owner Carolyn Verikas spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager about launching a startup and getting involved in the small business community.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. Did you always plan to own a business?
CAROLYN VERIKAS: I’ll start with my husband. Eric started going to college and quickly realized that it wasn’t for him. He left and joined the hospitality world. He lived in Boston and Florida for a while, then moved back to Connecticut.
As far as my story goes, I got a degree in Public Relations and a degree in Event Management and Tourism from Champlain College. I can say that I never saw myself owning a business.
I love marketing, I love talking to people, and I love being involved in the community. Those are the three things I really learned when I was in school. After college, I stayed in Vermont for four years before selling my property and moving back to Connecticut in 2016.
When Eric and I met, I was still in the marketing world and he had become an architectural woodworker. Our worlds didn’t really align. At the dinner table, I was talking numbers, data, and graphics and he was talking about working with his hands and building all these amazing things for customers.
One night, he showed me the cornhole sets he’d been making and a lightbulb went off. I said: I bet I could market these and we could do this together.
We spent the entire summer of 2017 brainstorming at dog parks, on hikes and at breweries. We knew we wanted the business to be named after our dog, Oreo, who is the Dusty Dude. We’ve always called him “Dude” and since he enjoys rolling around in the sawdust in the shop, “Dusty Dude” just kind of rolled off the tongue. We launched our side hustle in the fall of 2017 with a cornhole set, some cutting boards, coasters, and other small items.
NAN: When did you transition to a full-time business and how did you decide to make that leap?
CARE: In 2020 we were at the height of the pandemic. Eric had been sent home on furlough for a month or two, and I was working remotely. He realized how much he loved building things in our garage shop and wanted to see if there was a way he could do that full time.
I was still working full time, but I was doing all of our marketing too. We decided to really make a big push on social media and it happened. It’s kind of like someone flipped a switch. I remember he looked at me and said, “I think we can do this.”
We had a lot of conversations and crunched a lot of numbers and found that if I continued to work full time he could start the business essentially on his own.
In fall 2020 we formed the LLC. We quickly outgrew the garage, which is about 250 square feet and we needed to find a larger space. We moved the shop to where we are now, which is 1,500 square feet. Since then, the business has continued to grow. We started getting big orders and orders for larger pieces like tables, custom closets, kitchen islands, and mudrooms.
NAN: You have a marketing background, how were you using that to market the business?
CARE: A lot of grassroots. I was boots on the ground. I used a lot of social media and we rely on word of mouth and referrals. We spent about six months doing some paid advertising, which we found didn’t work for our market. From that we learned that people looking for custom furniture or custom pieces prefer to hear from their friends or coworkers who have worked with us in the past.
NAN: Let’s talk about your involvement with the business community.
CARE: We’ve been a part of the Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce for a little over a year. I’m the president of Professional Young Visionaries of Tomorrow (PYVOT), which is the young professional group associated with the chamber. I also sit on the economic development committee through the chamber with the city.
We do everything we can to support other small businesses within the city, including working with people like Erika Stirk from Bakery on Maple, April Tibbetts from Family Roots Product Market, and Eddie Garces from Café Real to promote their businesses and raise awareness.
Being involved in the city and with the chamber particularly has really elevated our business. We gain a lot from the afterhours networking events they host or the city sharing social media posts announcing the collaborations we’re doing.
Sometimes the city will share out initiatives we’re involved in, for example, on Valentine’s Day we had a very successful collaboration with Family Roots and Bakery on Maple offering a dessert charcuterie board. Erika provided the sweets, April provided the fruits, and Dusty Dude built heart-shaped charcuterie boards. Right now, Dusty Dude Woodworks is collaborating with five other small businesses for a Mother’s Day promo. Everyone has been so supportive.
NAN: What are your biggest challenges as a small business owner?
CARE: Because we’re a self-funded business—we don’t have any loans or grants—our biggest challenge is waiting to become a bankable business. We’re still considered unbankable at this point, which makes it difficult to get loans and funding from outside sources to continue our growth path.
In tandem with that, our lead times are about six months, which is normal in our field, but we’d like to shorten those lead times, which would require hiring.
NAN: What’s next?
CARE: We’re opening our retail space Thursday, May 19. I’m very excited. With that growth, we’d ideally love to be hiring a full-time shop person in the next year or so. We have a couple of big things coming up, too. In addition to opening our first retail space, we’ll also begin offering makers classes this summer and we’ll be launching monthly makers boxes beginning in June. And ideally, we’d like to have a little lumber yard, which is something Bristol doesn’t have yet.
NAN: Any advice for others who are noodling around with the idea of starting their own business?
CARE: Just do it—but be thoughtful about how you do it. We find it helpful to brain dump. We carry a notebook or use a phone to record thoughts when we go to the dog park or take a hike, when we’re in our element and talking about things, because that’s when your best ideas are going to come.
But if you have a business idea, my advice is definitely just do it. If you feel it in your soul, you can absolutely make it happen.