Paul Downs, cabinetmaker, has risen to fame as a New York Times columnist. With thousands of followers, Downs details the development of his small furniture business and the challenges he has faced along the way.
Now he is publishing a summary of what he has learned, and shared, in Boss Life, an inside look at what it’s like to run a small woodworking business. Downs, whose specialty is conference tables, takes a very practical approach to business management and operational challenges - approaching his business as he does any woodworking project.
Through his refreshing perspective - devoid of received notions and distilling insights likely with a fine grit, Downs provides understandings that have universal implications for understanding how our U.S. economy functions for small businesses.
Hear Paul Downs in person at the 2015 AWFS Fair in Las Vegas on Friday, July 24, 1:00 p.m. FR61: Looking Under the Hood: How One Successful Maker Does Business
Here's a summary of the book from his publisher. It will be available August 1.
When columnist Paul Downs was approached by the New York Times to write for their “You’re the Boss” blog, he had been running his custom furniture business for 24 years strong—or, mostly strong. Now, he embarks on a book length essay that intends to show a portrait of a real business, with a real boss, a real set of employees, and the real challenges they face, in hopes of promoting a better understanding of the behaviors of small business owners.
In 1986, fresh out of college, Downs opened his first and last business, a small company that builds custom furniture. With no idea how to run a business, or how to build custom furniture, Downs spent a year teaching himself the business and in 1987, he hired his first employee. That’s when things got complicated.
As his business began to grow, he had to learn about management, cash flow, taxes, and so much more. Furthermore, globalization and the arrival of the internet made a big impact on the economy, causing him to have to re-evaluate, restructure, and reinvent. Most important, Downs is keenly aware that every small business, no matter the product it makes or the service it provides, starts with people. He writes with tremendous insight about hiring employees, providing motivation to get the best job out of them and incentive to maintain their loyalty and respect, and the difficult decisions he’s made to let some of them go.
His insights into each of his employees provides a window into how people work together in any professional situation, and how each of their identities lends to the strength and success of his business, both in daily output and end-of-year dividends. Downs also looks outward to his dealings with vendors, clients old and new, negotiating contracts and providing each client with exemplary customer service along each step of the way, from first sales pitch to final delivery.
With honesty and conviction, Downs tells the true story behind building and sustaining a successful company in an ever-evolving economy, often airing his own failures and shortcomings to unveil the difficulties that arise from being a boss and a business person. We’ve heard countless stories from employees about their managers; Boss Life seeks to tell the other side of that story.
Paul Downs started making custom furniture in 1986, shortly after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in engineering. Downs has only one line on his résumé but he has a wide variety of skills gained in twenty-four years of running his business. His clients range from individuals and small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, all branches of the military, and foreign governments. Downs lives with his wife and three sons outside of Philadelphia.
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.