Hand to Hammer: The Rise of HammerHead Design and Build

by Lucas Boger

On the outskirts of downtown Winston-Salem, in a building once used by Hanes Brands, Nathan Ruffin, 27, unlocks the door to his new-to-him 4,500-square-foot workspace.

He points to a busted window. “Looks like someone shot a bullet through the window, so that’s welcoming,” he jokes.

But the exposed ceilings decorated with hanging cables, and random pieces of wood that lay scattered across the floor, do nothing to block his vision for the space.

“Over there we’ll have our table saw, and our chop saw is going to go here, and that white wall back there will be storage,” Nathan continues, never skipping a detail. In 2014, Nathan did what many only dream of, he quit the 9-to-5 routine, and started his own business. His dream was to open up his own fabrication shop, which he calls HammerHead Design and Build.

It was during his time in New York City, working backstage in theater and film production, that the idea came to him. “I love being involved with design and production and marketing, but I always determining if that’s true or not, but we have a great platform for having been in business for a little over a year.”

But HammerHead is working to corner a niche market with their clients. “We’re not trying to work in home furnishings, but rather represent companies who do handle home furnishings, so something more along those lines,” Nathan continues, “Any kind of temporary storefront construction to show off a company’s product is perfect for what we’re focusing on [at Hammer- Head].”

“Our first product was an umbrella stand,” Nathan recalls. “But I made it the best damn umbrella stand I could possibly make. I kept emailing this client way too many times about it, but it was the only thing we had going on. I mean, when I got the project, I hadn’t even signed a lease yet.”

At the time, it was just Nathan, but he had a little help. “I’d never met this guy, Larry, before, but I believe he was an angel sent to me, and he told me he couldn’t work, but that he’d sit down and show me though the process of cutting angles, and some other things that I just really didn’t know how to do. And that’s what we did.” Larry chuckled at Nathan’s aspirations, but Nathan has already exceeded them within the past 14 months.

In under a year, Nathan expanded his team to where he currently has about four to five workers at a time, and HammerHead started in a 1,500-square-foot communal space. But that quickly became a problem all small businesses hope to have”” the workload picked up and more space was needed. “We’re at the point where we need everything to be our own.”

“No one thought we’d succeed,” recalls Nathan. “I didn’t even know if we’d succeed, but here we are. I don’t use social media as much as I should, mainly because I’m just terrible at it, but we want our work to speak for itself, and have our clients be blown away with our work, and recommend us to the next person, and that’s been keeping us afloat.” HammerHead’s goal is to have projects completed within a two-week limit, and Nathan knows it wouldn’t be possible without the team he has in place. “I want them to spend time with their families, want them to be there for their kids. In doing that, I know that when they come to work, they’re focused on the task.”

Hands in his pockets, Nathan walks over to one of the two windows in what will eventually become his first office. He looks out at the downtown Winston- Salem skyline in the distance. “It’s nice to finally have windows,” he quips. “I’m hoping this year we’ll actually have heat in the building.” !