Oh, Susanna Part II

This post is a continuation of the previous.  If you have not that one, you may want to begin with it, and then read this.  

Not only is Susanna a study in contrasts.  So are the two of us.  We are the living embodiment of the expression “opposites attract.”  Other than our devotion to our faith, each other, to our son, and our dogs, we have nothing in common.  Susanna is fastidious, with never a hair out of place.  Her wardrobe is carefully selected each day from a closet where her clothes are arranged by color.  I am a slob, and as long as I am comfortable, I could not care less how I look.   

Susanna is very organized, neat, and works from a list.  I am like the Peanuts character Pig Pen.  If you walked into our office you would immediately know which desk belongs to me.  You could stand at the end of our very long  driveway and pick out my car from hers. I never put anything back, and you can tell where I have been by the trail I leave.   

We hate each other’s favorite television shows.  Selecting a video is a disaster.  We usually compromise by telling Michael to pick something.  We dislike the music the other one likes.  We don’t like the same art.  I like high style Federal, she likes country Queen Anne.  We can never decide on a restaurant. I love ethnic foods with lots of flavor and spice.   She likes her food bland.  

Susanna has common sense and knows what makes the world go round.  I read lots of books and think deep thoughts.  She can see the solution to any problem with amazing clarity.  I confuse myself by always looking for the deeper meaning.  She cuts to the chase.  I ponder.  Susanna is impetuous.  I am plodding.  We often say that if the decisions were all up to Susanna, we would crash into a wall at 100 miles and hour.  If the decisions were all up to me, we would grow moss.   

Somehow it all works.  She drags me behind her, screaming and with my heels dug in. However, I slow her down so we move at just the right speed.  In spite of our differences, we have a deep respect for each other and have high regard for the others’ abilities.  Ultimately, Susanna is the strategist who sees the big picture and knows where we need to go.    I am the tactician who finds the ways to make her plans happen.   We are together 24-7, and both love it.  

This is the Susanna who so valuable to me.  Through The Windsor Institute the same Susanna has been equally valuable to woodworking, and to scores of individual woodworkers.  One of The Institute’s goals has been to reestablish Windsor chairmaking as a healthy,  living,  breathing craft.  Our desired outcome is a lot of people out there making chairs for their own enjoyment.  However, it is equally important for the craft’s long term well-being that there be a lot of people out there making chairs for a living.  We want them to make a good living, not suffer and starve for their craft.  This means they have to be able to put food on their family’s table and roof over their heads.  

This is where Susanna comes in.  I teach people how to make chairs.  She teaches them how to sell chairs and how to run a successful business.  She approaches this with her velvet gloved, iron fist.  Over the years Susanna has made time to sit down with scores of people who are thinking of going pro.   She starts the process by asking some very hard questions like, “What will you do about health insurance? Does your spouse support this? What do you have for a work shop and showroom?”   This is the iron fist.   By being tough, she is doing several things.  First, by exploring these questions she is getting the would-be professional to open up to her.   Like the people Susanna meets every day around town, the interviewee begins to talk honestly and frankly.  She needs this if she is going to provide good counsel.  Second, by asking these questions she can tell whether or not the person is being realistic, or just dreaming.  Third, if the person is only dreaming, his own answers often bring him to the conclusion that going pro is not a good choice.   

If the interview does not terminate itself after the first stage, Susanna puts on the velvet glove and out comes all the compassion and generosity that she spreads around Hampton every day.    She first lays out a business plan tailored to the chairmaker’s personal circumstances.  She covers all the subjects and skills one needs to run a business.  Then, she works out a marketing strategy.  This is the all important skill.  It does not matter how good a chairmaker you are.  If you cannot sell your chairs, you will not be in business long. 

 Unless the would-be professional is a dreamer,  Susanna’s  sessions are seldom less than 90 minutes. The information and advice she gives is straight forward and practical.  This is part of The Institute’s culture that I wrote about in an earlier post.  I can tell you from knowing these chairmakers very well myself;   the amount of success they achieve when they go pro is directly proportional to how carefully they follow Susanna’s advice.  

Woodworking benefits vicariously from Susanna because of The Windsor Institute’s reputation and its culture of being practical.  We have an influence. However, Susanna also benefits our craft more directly by writing magazine articles and doing presentations for woodworking groups.  In England, she counseled a very unusual group of English chairmakers who actually wanted to make a living, rather than worship trees.  I know a woodworking teacher who plays a DVD of one of Susanna’s presentations for his students who are thinking about making woodworking a career.   So, I am not exaggerating when I say that Susanna’s contribution to woodworking, while quiet, has been significant.  For the large number of individual woodworkers she has helped, it has been crucial.  She is directly responsible for more successful woodworkers than anyone else I can think of.  

Everyone who has studied here knows my line “I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news.  Which do you want first?”   The bad news is that due to her increased work load and some personal commitments, Susanna can no longer sit down one-on-one with people.  She just does not have the time.  So, please do not ask if she can make just one exception.  It has to be all, or nothing at all.  The good news is — she has decided that from time to time she will share her knowledge in this space.   Marketing information business tips will be part of what appears here.  It will be composed by me and appear under my name, but she will dictate what she wants said.   

Because her knowledge is going out under my name, everyone will credit me.  That is nothing new. Whether she was creating a congressman, a successful chairmaker, or the King of Windsors, Susanna has always been content to be the power behind the throne.  As I always say, I have the best deal in the world.  Susanna does all the work, and I get all the glory.   It takes someone who is pretty self-secure and self- assured to let someone else get all the lime light.  That is another part of Susanna’s personality, but it is also a story for another time.

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