James “Kiwi” Ferris of Edensaw Woods is heading to Washington, D.C., in May to be honored as the 2016 Washington State Small Business Person of the Year during National Small Business Week.
“I'm representing everyone who works for me. I couldn't have done it without them, my family, customers, suppliers, nonprofits,” Ferris said Monday, sitting in his office just outside Port Townsend.
Asked what one thing he attributed to his success, Ferris said, “I guess we really put the customer first and make sure we supply superior products.”
A business from every state as well as several districts and territories, for a total of 54, have been selected to participate in the event May 1-2 in Washington, D.C., where a national winner is to be announced.
Ferris hopes he and his wife, Auman Vansandt, might return in May with that national honor.
“Well, there are 54 [nominees] and someone has to win it,” he smiled.
Ferris started Edensaw Woods more than 30 years ago with Charlie Moore in Port Townsend, using a “few sticks of wood and a couple of tarps.”
He said all the two had was $4,000 to $5,000 and an idea.
The two bought a truck load of mahogany from a supplier in Mississippi with a pledge to pay him back in 90 days. And they did.
Today, the business encompasses 80,000 square feet of warehouse space and nearly 50 employees in two locations: Port Townsend and Tacoma.
“Edensaw Woods has created a national and international reputation for providing wood products, with a business model based on relationships with suppliers and customers,” Ferris said, who has traveled the world looking for wood.
NOMINATED BY BANKER
Ben Crowl of First Sound Bank nominated Ferris for the honor.
“Nominating Kiwi was easy, because he was able to successfully lead his company through the great recession while still being an incredible steward to his employees and community,” Crowl said in a press release. “From his work with Sound Experience to the Edensaw Community Cancer Foundation, we could not think of anyone more deserving. We feel fortunate to have known him for many years and we’re proud to be his bank.”
Ferris said he had to fill out an extensive questionnaire about his business for the nomination.
FROM NEW ZEALAND
A native of New Zealand, Ferris is best known as “Kiwi.” He arrived in Port Townsend 35 years ago and graduated from the first-ever class of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, now located in Port Hadlock. He set out to work on building and repairing boats.
A few years later, as he was finishing building a 47-foot schooner, he met Charlie Moore, who also had graduated from the boat school. In 1984, the two founded Edensaw Woods.
Ferris notes that Edensaw was one of the first worldwide members of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) more than 20 years ago and has helped to set an industry standard for other companies by leading the way.
In 2007, Moore and Ferris formed the Edensaw Community Cancer Foundation (ECCF) and since then, $250,000 has been raised and given directly to members of the community who are fighting cancer.
Moore died on March 11, 2013 after a battle with cancer.
For the past nine years, Ferris also has served on the board of directors of Sound Experience, an educational and sailing nonprofit that teaches sailing, science and life lessons to youths and adults aboard the Adventuress, a 110-foot schooner launched in 1913.
The Great Recession did impact the wood business and for a time, Ferris had to lay off employees, shrinking from 53 to 28 employees. He now has about 45 employees.
“We're not back to the same amount of sales,” Ferris said of the impact the recession had on his business.
But Ferris also said if someone has a good idea for a business, “Go for it. If you wait around to get money, it will never get done,” he said.
These days, Ferris said there are opportunities such as GoFundMe and other campaigns that were not available 30 years ago when he was looking to start.
Ferris only recently settled with the estate of his former business partner so now he owns Edensaw outright.
Edensaw has had many long-time employees; in the last few years a few have died, leading Ferris to think about the future.
Looking forward, Ferris said it might be time to start thinking about succession planning. His son, Buster, is currently working there.
For now, the business is small and successful and Ferris seems happy to have a little limelight shed on all that he and others have built.
VALUE OF SMALL
“As we mark 71 consecutive months of job growth in the United States, we know that this achievement is only possible due to the hard work and perseverance of entrepreneurs like you,” Maria Contreras-Sweet of the U.S. Small Business Administration wrote in a March 10 letter to Ferris.
“America's small business owners sacrifice and struggle each day to build their businesses. It is only fitting that, during National Small Business Week, we celebrate your contributions to our nation and recommit ourselves to empowering the entrepreneurs and small business owners who help drive America's economy.”
(The first version of this story appeared March 17 on ptleader.com.)