Borowood, which appeared as a popup inside the Statesboro Mall offering custom-made decorative wooden signs and computer-controlled-router carved American flags in the fall of 2020, did not return there this holiday season. But do not mourn for this business and its young entrepreneur.
Earlier this year, Hunter Cornett, who turned 24 this week, pivoted his manufacturing shop at Georgia Southern University’s City Center in downtown Statesboro to mass-produce a different type of product. Borowood has now achieved profitability with $200,000 in gross sales online in 2021 while employing four Georgia Southern students part-time in addition to Cornett, the one full-timer.
“In January and February I just went back to the business to figure out, like, where should we take this now, for the new year,” Cornett recapped last week. “So then we went into just making blank craft shapes. You know, our biggest selling shape is just our circle. Then we do some custom cuts too, but really all we’re doing is selling the blank material to the Etsy crafters so then they can make welcome signs and holiday signs and all that.”
That’s right, Borowood makes circles, literally disks, of wood cut to certain sizes for sale online to individuals and small businesses who in turn make their own one-of-a-kind things. Many buyers apply paint or wood finishes. Some use their vinyl cutters to cut vinyl graphic elements and apply them to the disks.
Thus, in the hands of hobbyists and value-adding craft professionals, Borowood circles become welcome signs, Christmas wreaths, clocks, et cetera. He used the word “Etsy crafter” somewhat generically, since Borowood maintained a presence on Etsy.com earlier this year but for cost reasons has since moved to Shopify as a sales platform. Cornett’s company also uses social media sites Facebook, Instagram, and especially TikTok – where you can find a Borowood video or two – extensively for marketing.
The website, www.borowood.com, shows the various sizes of circles sold as whiteboards and “door hangers” in stacks of differing quantities. It also offers variety packs and some rectangles, but Cornett says the circles accounted for something like 96% or 98% of his 2021 sales volume.
All of this has evolved this year, since his re-evaluation of his business model in January and February, and Borowood, including its very different run in 2020, has only been in existence for a year and a half.
Cornett, who was born in Boca Raton, Florida, and grew up in John’s Creek near Atlanta, came to Statesboro seeking a bachelor’s degree in finance from Georgia Southern’s College of Business. Now in his sixth year in Statesboro, he still doesn’t have that business degree but hasn’t given up on it, and meanwhile, he now has a business to run.
Learning by doing
His father owns and operates a cabinetry contracting business, and Cornett worked with him a few summers. But Cornett’s first independent foray with Borowood was not very successful, since he took a “we can build anything with wood” approach and learned from his mistakes, he said.
“The first product I ever made was a farmhouse table, and it took me six weeks and we actually lost $300 on it,” Cornett said.
“I’m not that skilled of a carpenter, but I knew that,” he added. “Where my strengths come are marketing and branding, so that was my whole point with Borowood was to create a real brand for Statesboro, a brand that could really go nationwide, it could go worldwide – at least that’s a possibility – but keep Statesboro in that brand.”
Some BIG help
In the summer of 2020 he took his plan for Borowood to Georgia Southern’s Business Innovation Group, or BIG, which operates the FabLab, or fabrication laboratory, at the GS City Center on East Main Street. BIG also rents workspace to entrepreneurs, allowing them shared use of equipment.
“Without them, I wouldn’t have known where to even start,” Cornett said. “When I first started Borowood, I started it at my friend’s house in the back of his yard. He had a few tools that I could use and I was just trying to make stuff, but I didn’t have the CNC, and the CNC has been our biggest bread-and-butter tool, the moneymaker for the actual business.”
By CNC, he means a computer numerical controlled router. The one he learned to use is part of the FabLab’s inventory of equipment, which also includes a laser etcher-engraver that Borowood has used with good results. Cornett and his employees also deploy saws and sanders to size and smooth the blank shapes for crafters’ use.
Cornett’s older brother, Paul Abbinante, was also part of Borowood in its 2020 incarnation, but not in 2021. He carried his prior woodworking experience and the CNC skills he developed here to a job doing CNC work for a cabinet manufacturer in southern Florida, Cornett said.
The 2020 season’s popup shop in the Statesboro Mall occupied the former Hallmark store location and was a free opportunity won in a program offered by the mall’s owners. With that and the support offered by BIG, Borowood generated a little over $50,000 in sales even in 2020, “but there was a lot of negative to that, like we really put ourselves in the hole to start,” Cornett said.
‘Just one product’
So, he put to use one of the things he has learned from other entrepreneurs at the innovation center, especially the owners of Recycled Cycles and The Whiskey Grail, the two businesses with which Borowood shares the warehouse area.
“They’ve really showed me how much energy and time you have to put into just one product to make it successful,” Cornett said.
Dr. Dominique Halaby, the Business Innovation Group’s director, observed that Cornett “pivoted during the pandemic” and appears to be succeeding. Interviewed in mid-December, he also described activity during the peak of Borowood’s shipping season before the company took a holiday break.
“We’re really proud of those guys,” Halaby said. “They responded really well, listening to the market, seeing where the demands were, making that kind of pivot and adjusting their business model to do that. So we’re constantly seeing truckloads of stuff going out of the facility, wood coming in.”