Brent McGregor, Rocky Mountain Timber Products, Sisters, Oregon: A Style All His Own

from the Western Juniper Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 1, Summer 1997.

Brent McGregor is well-known among rustic furniture makers in Eastern Oregon with a style all his own. He has been featured in several nationally-distributed rustic furniture books and a slew of articles in magazines such as Architectural Digest, Town and Country, Log Home Living, and Log Home Guide, not to mention numerous newspaper articles and two television profiles.

Besides his natural form furniture, Brent is becoming increasingly well-known for his "architectural wood sculptures", such as columns and staircases. The largest wood architectural element in Bend, a huge old white oak in the middle of the Spotted Mule Saddlery and Western Wear store, is a recent example......all 8+ tons of it!

Brent and his partner Kara Mickaelson, work together in all phases of his business, from design to delivery.

The following is excerpted from a talk Brent McGregor gave at the recent Western Juniper Forum '97 in Bend, during a session on marketing:

Background

I'm a rustic wood worker and I want to start out by saying that I haven't met anyone who has gotten rich working with juniper! There's alot of work involved with juniper, but I think that the attraction many feel for the wood is because it has character: Wrinkles, convolutions, bark seams and twists, and beautiful color bands and grain patterns. These are all positive and workable elements for a furniture builder such as myself.

I came to Central Oregon back in 1984, wanting in the worst way to work with juniper, but I didn't know how to go about it. I had spent time in Alaska, logged and built log homes in Wyoming, but I always seemed attracted to the crooked trees instead of the straight ones.

I started out in Oregon by taking on a contract with BLM. I had the rights for one year to all the juniper I could use from a 500-acre project. I only managed to find 200 trees solid enough to mill with my mobile dimension saw, and then I couldn't figure out what to do with the stuff. I still have piles of the lumber lying around. It was at that time that I started to look at ways I could make a living out of the forked limbs and crosscut sections.

I finished my BLM contract, bought five acres near Sisters, built a shop, and was even more determined to become a furniture builder. In 1986 I built my first log bed from lodgepole pine. A neighbor saw it and wanted one, and then another neighbor saw one and wanted one too.

When I started out, I not only didn't know anyone else in Central Oregon working with twisted and burled limbs and logs, I didn't know anyone anywhere doing this type of work. I had to learn almost everything myself: Places where I could harvest the wood, how to debark and dry it, what tools worked best, how to sandblast and sand it, what type of finish to use, and what sort of joinery worked best. I made some disasters which I still have hanging in my shop, but I learned from those mistakes.

What Have I Tried to Market My Furniture?

There is no one right way to market a product. Marketing tactics are going to be as different as the personalities of the people who make the product. I know one furniture builder who doesn't want to meet his clientele, so he sells everything through galleries. Some open retail outlets and seem to do fine. I know others who put thousands of miles on the road for the show circuit.

When I was first getting started, I called Log Home Guide Magazine about placing an ad. After hearing what I did, they asked me to write a story about my new business and send in a few photos. I happened to tell this to the editor of our local paper, who I was talking to about an ad. He knocked-out an article for me in less than an hour, along with photos. The story was published and what do you know, a check came in the mail from a doctor in Wisconsin who wanted a log bed like the photo in the magazine. This blew me away...I sold something to someone I never spoke with before and that lived far away!

I love what I do. There are days I walk into the shop and never want to come out. As time went on, I got up my nerve and took in a glasstop juniper table to a local gallery. That was a good move, because several local residents saw it and ordered one. But I knew I probably couldn't sell enough of this unique furniture locally to make a living. So I put together a brochure with the help of my brother, who is a talented graphic artist.

It seemed to me people treated me differently once I had a brochure. People felt more confident that my business was for real. I mailed my brochures to everyone I could think of, throughout the country. Dan Mack, a noted furniture builder in New York City, saw one and included me in a book he was writing. That book and mention in others led to more exposure.

I took out a small advertisement in Log Home Magazine, which landed me my first really big job - several pieces of furniture for a modern day camp near the Adirondacks in New York. And from an article on rustic furniture in Town and Country Magazine, where I didn't even rate a photo, I sold two 20-foot Ryder Van loads for an amazing log home in Park City, Utah.

I like to deliver my own furniture and have traveled cross-country in all kinds of weather to do it. Luckily I have a partner like Kara who will go with me. I like to meet the people who buy my furniture and see where it is going. I have stayed in touch with some of my clients and have formed long-lasting friendships with some of them.

About 80% of my sales are done in my shop and show room I constructed for my furniture. I find for me that my own "two cents worth" goes a long ways to making a sale. I'm not afraid to offer ideas. I'm fortunate that most people now search me out instead of me going out and finding them. It's a thrill to have someone fly thousands of miles in their Lear jet, so we can meet and talk about what kind of furniture they want. I can only guess that all the things I have previously tried have contributed to this situation.

I have tried other things to sell my products. Most seemed to have helped my business, but not all. I once did a video to show the whole process, from harvesting the wood to a trip through my showroom. It will always bring back great memories, but didn't seem to help sales.

Last year, Kara and I put a lot of time in on a booth for a log home show. We won "best of show" for our booth and attracted a lot of attention. This year I'm trying the Internet. I'm in the second month of my home page and just got my first inquiry last week from a motel being constructed in Barrow, Alaska. Only time will tell if this will work, but I'm willing to try it out for awhile.

The Future

I'm now working on an incredible home in Washington. It has over 11,000 square feet, 400 tons of river rock, and beautiful log work. The more juniper I put into the house, the more they want. Thirteen years ago I could have never imagined that I would be working on a project like this. Now I can't wait to see what the next 10 years will bring.

Contact Information: Brent McGregor, Rocky Mountain Timber Products, P.O. Box 1477, Sisters, OR. 97759; Phone 541/549-1322.