Red Dog Wood Works owner gets national exposure following chance encounter with Vivian Howard
Bill Hier, owner of Red Dog Wood Works, is in the business of highlighting imperfections. He creates practical wooden items like custom-sized boxes and vases. But even the simplest pieces feature elegant lines and an attention to detail that elevate them beyond the everyday.
Hier’s Summerfield workshop is stocked with raw materials from all around the world, from oak and ash to purpleheart, bloodwood, and African zebrawood. He has a knack for finding the weaknesses in his raw materials and turning them into strengths. He’ll often build a project to showcase a knot or inclusion in the wood that most crafters would hide. He uses only clear varnish, so the natural character of the wood takes center stage.
“This is the type of work I find the most beautiful,” said Hier, gesturing to the cutting boards stacked on his workstation. He often uses eight or more species of hardwood in a single board for eye-popping contrast.
The quality of Hier’s work speaks to his carpentry experience, but until recently, Hier’s passion for woodworking was confined to hobby projects and occasional odd jobs. It took change of circumstances for him to consider woodworking as a career.
2016 was a tumultuous year for many, and Hier was no exception. He underwent wrist and spinal surgeries that made the heavy lifting required for his home repair business untenable. Meanwhile Hier’s wife, Greta, followed her job from their home state of Pennsylvania to North Carolina. Hier organized the sale of their old house and the move to the new one.
From that whirlwind of activity, Red Dog Wood Works was born. Hier spent the past 25 years doing carpentry projects for himself and friends, gathering equipment along the way. He never thought of expanding his hobby into a business until it became clear that his previous career couldn’t travel with him to North Carolina.
“The team I worked with, they weren’t moving with me. I couldn’t start a two decade business overnight,” said Hier. “So I said, ‘I’ve always loved wood work. Now I’m going to make it happen.’”
Hier designed a workshop beside his new house in Summerfield to serve as the business’ base of operations. The name Red Dog was inspired by the Hier’s dog and unofficial business mascot, Watson. Hier had the skills and the setup, but he still faced challenges as Red Dog Wood Works took its place among the Triad’s many new independent businesses. Chief among his struggles was getting noticed in the digital age.
“The internet marketing aspect is definitely the most difficult,” Hier explained. “My last business was service oriented. But this is selling a product, so the internet is key.”
Fortunately, Hier found his new state was home to a thriving support network for small businesses.
He took classes from Greensboro’s “Lady Bizness,” Chisa D. Pennix-Brown, to get his marketing presence off the ground. The Creative Exchange provided social media services. Membership at The Forge Makerspace gave him access to the laser cutter that made Red Dog’s precision cut coasters and Christmas ornaments possible.
Hier cites the nonprofit small business advocacy group Triad Local First as among the most helpful influences on his business. Through them, he made contacts that secured him consignment deals with local vendors. His work is now carried by All Pets Considered, Hudson’s Hill, Dolce Dimora, and Irving Park Art & Frame.
The holidays also brought Hier a gift in the form of a celebrity client. Vivian Howard, chef, and Peabody Award winning co-creator of the PBS show A Chef’s Life, was signing copies of her new book at Scuppernong Books when Hier happened by. He was carrying samples of his work around downtown to drum up business from local bar and restaurant owners when he spotted the Chef’s Life food truck across the street.
“My wife loves Vivian Howard. She watches her show all the time and if she’s watching, I’m watching,” said Hier.
As it turned out, the truck was only serving people who had pre-registered for the packed book signing. Disappointed, Hier snapped a photo to send his wife, and went on his way.
“An hour later, I’m talking to someone in one of the other bars and my phone goes off,” said Hier. “It’s my wife, saying she would really love a signed copy of the book!”
Hier rushed back to Scuppernong to find that the crowd was gone, along with all of Howard’s books. But after he explained his situation, a sympathetic manager let him purchase the display copy.
When Hier brought the book to Howard for one last signature, he was still carrying an armload of wood work samples. His unusual gear sparked a conversation with Howard, who was looking for a local crafter to make gift boxes to ship products from her online store. Hier has built Howard’s shipping products ever since.
Howard’s fans might be more interested in their delivery of savory sauces than the packaging, but the Red Dog Wood Works logo is still featured on every box sent out. Hier says the exposure has already led to a bump in sales, as well as more commissions from Howard for items like a cookbook holder and a hostess stand for her Kinston restaurants.
Like the products it creates, Red Dog Wood Works isn’t flawless. But that makes it all the more interesting. Hier plans to expand in the coming year, and he’s glad to be in an area that encourages that growth.
“There’s a lot of support for do-it-yourself work and entrepreneurs in Greensboro,” Hier said. “That’s the great thing.”