FARGO — Jake Wilson was simply looking for a hobby.
Searching for a way to shake off the isolation and boredom of COVID, the online marketing specialist decided to head out to his family’s garage and do what his dad and granddad did before him: work with his hands.
He started out building simple items like coat racks. But he ultimately wound up becoming one of the many pandempreneurs whose ventures sprung up and flourished like stubborn wildflowers amid the wasteland of COVID.
Today, Wilson and wife, Melissa Paschke, run
, a dynamic small business which has already outgrown one workshop and is on the verge of surpassing its current 7,000-square-foot home at 3431 4th Ave., S., Fargo. The couple have hired a team of eight craftsmen and customer service representatives to build and sell 40 to 50 dining tables per month, as well as matching benches, bars, desks, shelves and chairs.
Their designs offer a spare, modern aesthetic which fuses seven different varieties of wood and metal. Tabletops range from simple square and rectangular cuts to “live-edge” tables, which capture the natural edge of the wood.
“It’s basically just a slice of the tree,” Wilson says.
The metal legs come in a variety of styles and shapes, such as industrial-style piping, U-legs, hourglass shapes and more delicate hairpin legs. They source their steel and metal from Etsy sellers but have also started working with a local fabricator, All-Around Metal Works, in Moorhead.
“We do a lot of live edge stuff. We do a lot of modern industrial furniture. It’s very sleek, but it’s also industrial at the same time,” Wilson says. “A lot of metal, a lot of raw steel.”
“Minimal. Minimalist,” Paschke adds, sitting across from him in their reception area/showroom as commercial saws buzz away in the adjoining workshop. “It’s a sleek, simple, modern vibe.”
Their prices range from $200 for shelving to $1,400 for a dining room table. Their commercial furniture — like a 16-foot conference table with a “waterfall edge” ( meaning one end of the wood folds down and acts like a leg) — can command up to $13,000.
Their on-trend aesthetic, along with a website which seamlessly handles sales and Wilson’s online marketing know-how, have all helped land their pieces in homes and businesses across the nation. Fargo Woodworks has produced a wooden bar now found in Washington, D.C., butcher block-style benches at a California veterinary hospital and tables at restaurants and coffee houses in places like Ohio, New Jersey and Chicago.
Their little company has also produced all the benches used in Carthartt footwear sections across the country, Wilson says.
Although 95% of their sales hail from outside of the state, the partners proudly promote their Fargo name.
After all, their company is Fargo-based, they hire local employees and they know the importance of a memorable brand.
“Everybody in the country knows where Fargo is, from the TV show,” Wilson says. “Even though most of our sales aren’t local, it gives us the local feel and it gives us recognition nationwide because everyone knows us. Not necessarily where we are, but they’ve heard of it.”
“It’s a good talking point,” Paschke adds. “What’s funny is we’ve never even seen the movie.”
The two are from Rawlins, Wyoming, a community of over 9,000 which is located in the southcentral portion of the state.
They moved to Fargo in 2018 to follow Paschke’s parents, who were pursuing job opportunities here. “We just decided to go with them,” she says.
Wilson had his own marketing company, which involved running social media ads for people selling their products online. But the pandemic gave him lots of down time, so he decided to try some woodworking projects in the garage.
“I’ve always done a little bit of everything, like carpentry and woodworking,” he says. “My dad and grandpa were both into various things, from mechanics to woodworking to carpentry to all those types of things, so I was raised around a lot of it.”
Initially, Wilson says, “we were doing a little bit of everything. Now we have found more of our style.”
They started off selling their wares on Etsy and then
using paid ads on Facebook and Google to drive customers there.
Within five weeks, Wilson knew they needed more space. They relocated to a workshop in Moorhead, but outgrew it within six months. They’ve been at their current space for a year and are now looking for bigger digs.
Although their growth has been rapid, Wilson wasn’t surprised by it. “She never thought it would make it out of the garage,” he says, as the co-owners laugh. “I’m optimistic always … she’s more realistic.”
While their furniture inspiration can come from sources as diverse as popular home designers to Pinterest, many ideas stem from their own customers. “Really, the way this business has gone, is we have never really been caught up,” Wilson says. “We’ve always been working from behind. Almost all of our new products have come from custom requests.”
More often than not, other potential customers will find their site, see something they built for someone else, and then order it — either as is or with a different leg style, wood or stain.
“Almost anything on our website can be any wood, any size, basically,” he says. “Ninety to 95% of our sales are things already on our website and are just a variation of what we already make.”
Their furnishings are available in black walnut, white oak, cherry, maple, alder, ash and hickory. Each are available in an earthy rainbow of finishes.
They try to source wood from local or regional sources as often as possible. Most of their black walnut, for instance, comes from a small sawmill in Wolverton, Minnesota, Paschke says.
Many of the woods are finished in Rubio Monocoat, a type of plant-based, ultra-durable, hardwax oil wood finish with a matte look that retains the natural look and feel of the wood. “That’s the point of that finish. It soaks into the wood instead of sitting on top of it,” Wilson says.
From walnut shelves to white oak countertops
In addition to furnishings, Fargo Woodworks also offers custom wood countertops. Woods like white oak and walnut are naturally water-resistant and food-safe. Customers seem to like them for accent pieces, like a kitchen island, Wilson says.
“We use a finish that is water-resistant,” he adds. “No wood countertop is waterproof, unless you add an epoxy and make them plastic. As long as you put a good finish on it, they hold up pretty well — especially if you maintain them.”
As their business has grown, their job descriptions have shifted. Wilson can no longer do all the hands-on work himself. “I focus a lot more on marketing and behind-the-scenes — the ordering and the relationship-building and those kinds of things like product development and sales,” he says.
Paschke photographs all the products and maintains the website.
They also have “support staff” — namely, their boys: Colt and Chance. Colt likes to push all the buttons on the power drills or to think he is “driving” the forklift, although, at age 2, he obviously is only pretending to do so under careful adult supervision.
Chance, 8, has already learned how cool it is when your parents own a wood shop. Most recently, he built a “time machine,” for which he glued together chunks of wood, painted them gray and added a hand-drawn dial, “so you can put where you want to go,” Paschke says.
But if the Wilson inclination for building kicks in, these two may find themselves in business sooner than they think.
Especially in this household, where it all started as building a few things in the the garage.
“That’s why nothing is a hobby,” Paschke says. “Everything turns into a business.”