September 5, 2017

From Sales Rep to Woodcraft Business Owner

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Jared Cocca was selling medical devices, driving thousands of miles each year for a paycheck and two weeks’ holiday. But earlier this year, the twenty-something Mays Landing resident ditched the steady gig in favor of starting his own woodcraft business.

There were a lot of different reasons that prompted Cocca to make the change. He is relatively recently married and wanted more time with his wife. He is a rock-climbing enthusiast and likes being able to take off on Fridays for trips to upstate New York. And he was finding more satisfaction from making furniture in his spare time.

“I got paid a lot of money to do a very simple job: sell something. I’m not saying I won’t go back to that but the satisfaction that I get from a finished piece and the looks on their faces when I give it to them – that’s unparalleled and it fills me up with a lot more joy than looking at a bonus check,” Cocca said.

Turning a hobby into a business has been tough, though. Cocca said he has been surprised by how much of his time is taken up with administrative tasks such as sourcing wood, designing, or finding a welder, for example. “I didn’t think about the administrative factor,” he said.

His plan is to combine commissions with selling smaller items at pop-up markets and Etsy. South Jersey is a hard market, Cocca said, noting that younger people here are living at home or renting and not buying furniture,  and there is a limited market for higher-end furniture. Most of his commissions so far have been repeat business or the result of referrals. “I’m trying to find a clientele, I’ve obviously found some, but I don’t know how sustainable it is,” he said.

Cocca prides himself on the wood joints in his furniture and he prefers not to use metal in joinery where possible, but for some larger commissions he needs a welder and he said he has been struggling to find someone in the area. “I want to use welders in this area, because I want more money to come into South Jersey,” he said. “I want to do something that’s helping the community.” Cocca sources materials from South Jersey wherever possible – fortunately, the area is rich in cedar, pine, black walnut, oak and other wood. He has also repurposed water-resistant wood from old docks into patio furniture, noting that the area’s former boat-building industry means there are often great ‘ready distressed’ materials around. (Earlier this year Cocca restored an antique wood boat for a family member.)

Figuring out how to reduce costs is a challenge. Cocca said he is thinking about milling his own wood, down the line. This would help him be able to make more furniture at a lower price, he said, although it would mean a significant upfront investment.

You will be able to find some of Cocca’s work (he’s preparing spice racks, chopping boards and other smaller items) at the Linwood Farmers Market when it returns for the fall season on Sept. 16. You can also check out the Burly Woodcraft website for more pictures of his work as well as the company’s Etsy page.

If you are considering starting your own business and looking for advice from those who’ve already done this as well as support from others in the same boat, consider coming to one of our Route 40 Business Bootcamps. The first episode, featuring Allie Nunzi of Grace & Glory Yoga, will be held in Atlantic City at the Carnegie Library Center on Tuesday, Sept 12. Tickets here.

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