Mike Hurt wouldn’t be moving his business into a new building in Du Quoin if sales wouldn’t have taken off.
Sales wouldn’t have taken off if his wife, Tayler, never suggested listing a few items on Etsy, a website where people sell their vintage and handmade items.
Tayler wouldn’t have suggested Etsy if the items he had made did not gain the attention of friends and neighbors who wanted him to build some for them.
The Hurts’ friends never would have even seen the items if Mike wasn’t admittedly being cheap — choosing to build furniture himself for the newlyweds’ own new home.
There wouldn’t have been a new home if the Hurts' first home wasn’t destroyed by a freak tornado that struck near Pinckneyville on Dec. 23, 2015.
And through all of that, a new business was born: Sassafras Woodworking.
“It’s a pretty crazy story, how we got started,” Mike Hurt said. “Now it is what we do full time. We actually tell everybody that the tornado turned out to be a blessing.”
Hurt admits that he wasn’t much of a woodworker before deciding to try his hand at building furniture for the couple’s new post-tornado home in Du Quoin.
“It was not until the tornado that I actually got into the building of furniture and stuff. I started doing a lot of reading, watching how-to videos and practicing different things,” he said. “I basically taught myself how to do it and it has just been progressing forward from that point.”
“Progressing” means posting some pictures of his creations on Facebook to rave reviews from the couple’s online friends, leading to selling some online. Well, actually selling a lot online — everything from chairs, tables and cabinets to signs, shelves and vanities.
“Tayler told me about Etsy and once we put things on there, people were just going crazy for it. Now we average about 400 sales a year and we’ve shipped to different states,” he said.
Things grew so much that Tayler was able to leave her insurance agency job and Mike his at the Mount Vernon Walgreen’s distribution facility about a year after starting what was then a side business. He adds that one of the great things about Sassafras Woodworking is that the couple gets to work together every day.
“I do most of the building and she handles everything else,” he said.
“Everything else” includes preparing to move the business from their home to a new facility in a former Salvation Army building in Du Quoin. Hurt says the new location not only will provide more room for a woodshop but will also include a retail area.
“We’re hoping to have the storefront open about mid-year,” he said, explaining that shoppers will be able to buy already-finished items or get ideas for their own custom furniture.
Hurt says he never expected to be in the woodworking business or that it would go as well as it has.
“Honestly, the biggest surprise for us is just how quickly it grew,” he said. “Once we got going, we had a goal for the first year of doing 100 orders. We did that in just six months. From there it just got bigger and bigger.”
He says bathroom vanities have been especially popular over the last year.
“We probably did upward of 100 vanities last year alone,” he said, adding that each vanity takes about 20 hours to construct.
And, he says, he enjoys every minute of it.
“I love doing this every day. It’s almost like not even working,” he said.
All because people liked Facebook posts of homemade furniture built by a guy trying to save some money after his home was destroyed by a Christmastime tornado.