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Raymond man turns hobby into successful business

Raymond man turns hobby into successful business

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West Mill Designs

TABLE: Tom Monroe, owner of West Mill Design Co., marks the location of mortise and tenon joints on red oak boards as he constructs a table in the wood shop at his home near Raymond. (Photo by Gwyneth Roberts, Lincoln Journal Star)

RAYMOND – It started with just one table.

The Monroe family had moved into a new home and wanted something special to put in its dining room. So, Tom Monroe set out to build a table for his family. 

His woodworking skills weren’t professional and everything he knew was self-taught, but he was still pleased with the result.

The 32-year-old posted a photo of his creation on Facebook, and the orders started flowing in. Thus, West Mill Design Co. was born. 

West Mill Design is a local business based near Raymond that creates handmade, custom furniture pieces, specializing in dining room sets.

“It was a hobby and then some people started ordering things, and I just assumed that was all it would be,” Monroe said.

But he couldn’t have been more wrong. West Mill Design has doubled its customer base each year since it opened in 2017. This year alone, Monroe has built more than 150 dining sets.

“It has grown far beyond anything me or my wife would have ever expected,” he said.

The business is a one-man show, and everything is built inside of a climate-controlled barn near his house. Monroe opens the shop, builds each item and sweeps the floor at the end of the day.

The business started with local orders, but since has grown to have a nationwide customer base. Monroe has made sales in 45 states.

West Mill Design made his first out-of-state sale to a family in New York that bought a large dining set in 2018. 

Monroe contracts with small, local companies to deliver his pieces, which arrive on his customers’ doorsteps fully constructed. In certain circumstances, he will even deliver the pieces himself and has driven to Boston, California and Florida this year.

Monroe started selling his work on Etsy and Facebook Marketplace to grow his business outside of Nebraska.

“If you would ask anyone, they would say I’m just a lucky person,” he said. “But I disagree; there’s a lot of hard work that goes into this. It’s all about building that momentum online and constant advertising.”

Monroe, a Wisconsin native who came to Nebraska to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Doane University, wasn’t always able to focus on just West Mill Design.

Until January, he also worked a full-time day job. But since then he’s been able to take on more clients and put all of his efforts into his business.

His wife Becca also owns a business, West Mill Flowers.

“We both run small businesses and are loving being entrepreneurs and building our businesses in Raymond and the Lincoln area,” he said.

And Monroe’s business isn’t limited to dining room sets; he also builds coffee tables, buffets, cutting boards and is starting to build bed frames as well. Many return customers request additional pieces to match their dining room set.

On average, Monroe completes four or five large items a week. Each piece is crafted from real wood and comes out completely unique.

“As you glue the table tops together and put stain on them, different things come out of the wood, and they really come to life,” he said. “I love seeing my pieces go from my shop to seeing photos of them in people’s homes.

“I created that myself, and now you get to make memories around it. That’s the real joy of it all. I saw those pieces of wood just laying against my shop wall.”

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