When looking for products to carry in my shop a lot of times I find beautiful products that lack purpose behind its existence. When I find a product that has both then I'm immediately hooked. I first met Gerald, the maker of American Stonecraft, at the Mill No.5. I knew he made a good product but I didn't know the whole story until I toured his workshop and talked with him about what he does.
BGS: What made you decide to start American Stonecraft? Was there a single "ahaa" moment that turned you down this road?
Gerald: I spent a couple summers working for my grandparents at their masonry yard in Groton, MA selling, organizing and delivering fieldstone and other landscaping materials when I was in High School. From this experience, I learned that these fieldstones came from farms and that aside from building walls on their own property, they would sell the rocks so others could build walls elsewhere. Later in life, the real estate brokerage house I was working for in Dubai sent me to New York for a tradeshow. On the trip I visited relatives and saw fieldstones cut open for use as a building material. That was the "ahaa" moment when I realized they were not just visually iconic to New England, but so much more valuable.
BGS: Why do you feel this work is important/beneficial?
Gerald: This work we are doing is important because we are adding huge value to what was traditionally an obstacle to farming in New England. Instead of a burden, farmers are adding thousands of dollars of income using only a small number of fieldstones. We are also using the freshly tilled stones that are traditionally seen as less desirable in masonry because they are not mossy and weathered like what you would find in a stone wall. We also label the farm provenance of all the goods we make in order to connect us all with the farms where these rocks come from.
BGS: Tell us a little bit about your workshop and what makes it unique?
Gerald: Our workshop is in Lowell, MA, a city known for its large community of artists and its roots as a mill city. We are a team of 9 and we invite (most) everyone's dog to come to hang out with us while we work. I think what is most unique is that from start to finish we take a rough boulder and turn it into something worth hundred of dollars. We ship to stores all over the world.BGS: What is a typical day you?
Gerald: A typical day is that our group meets up at 7:00 AM around the shipping table. We discuss the previous day's work, pull out some favorite pieces, and plan out that day's agenda. From there we head off in our respective directions and thankfully we have a flat hierarchy where we all self-manage our particular workdays. It is fun being the founder because at some point I've done everything we do, but now my responsibility is making everyone else hopefully even better at those things than me! If I'm not helping to fix something that is broken, everyday I try to allocate some time to find better ways to do things or improve ourselves. Desk work or working in the office takes up at least a few hours every day. From there I select the product that fills every order and set it aside for packing. If I am lucky that day I get a chance to do a farm visit to gather new stones. I tend leave for those from mid morning to early afternoon, depending on the distance from Lowell, so I can finish up before dark.
BGS: Could you give cradle to cradle description of your products? I.E- product design to customers homes?
Gerald: We say that from a land that grows rock, comes the story of farmers who battle them. American Stonecraft is a small team of skilled artisans in Lowell, MA that tell the story of rocky farmland and the farmers who battle it with a line of tableware, Food Slabs, Coasters, and Bowlders that celebrate the working farms from where they came.
BGS: Do you have guiding principles when it comes to product quality?
Gerald: Our first measure is commercial; would we buy something. Given our artist budgets, is this particular piece what we would want to collect. We don't make a slab, instead we cut open a rock and polish whats left. Given the natural material of what we start with and the dramatic variation in stones, I am always asking if something is good enough.
BGS: Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?
Gerald: Find a really beautiful story you want to tell and sing it far and wide. Do good for the world and for your community. Love the people you work with and work for. But also consider finding a team you love that is already in progress and join them. There is always room for good help amid a band of artists or engineers or what have you. Even though they are sold that way, entrepreneurship and start-ups aren't sexy, they are scary and risky. A team that already has its project rolling, one that is destined for greatness knows it won't grow and prosper without taking care of its own. Therefore, I'd consider betting that if you join the right team you will be valued and appreciated far more than you will as an entrepreneur.
BGS: Could you tell me a little about you? Who is the person behind American Stonecraft?
Gerald: I'm a stubborn artist who had a dream to make beautiful irony of fieldstones, to support working farmers, and help preserve open space. Before founding this studio in Lowell, MA, I sold a line of building materials in the Northeast, sold real estate in Abu Dhabi, and advised investors on antitrust in Washington DC.