The last several months have been many things, but none of it could be described as calm and uneventful. As many of you may know, and many more may not, I stopped working for Smokers’ Haven in March. While I certainly learned a lot during my tenure there and am grateful for all the opportunities provided to me I can honestly say the outcome will be beneficial in the long run, although uncertainty and stress in the short term has been near crippling. Coupled with the new “deeming regulation” released by the FDA in May, I have undertaken prayerful consideration and sought much counsel concerning the direction I want to take my pipe making career, and life in general. That is the purpose of this newsletter, to let my faithful subscribers know what has occurred since our last correspondence and discuss my future plans.
After finding myself unemployed and without a workshop there were several things I knew. First, no matter what it took, I was going to make pipes. I still had the obligation and honor of making the Greater Kansas City Pipe Collector’s Club Pipe of the Year and several commissions (some of which are still on the list to finish). Second, I needed a way to make some income. Staying involved in the pipe community was my first preference, but I knew it wasn’t necessarily the most lucrative occupation, no matter how rewarding the work. I decided to start applying for jobs related to my previous work experience and education.
The first priority was to finish the GCKPC Club Pipes. I spent about a week in Indianapolis hosted by the most gracious Nate King and Michael Linder at Briar Lab. Thanks to them, I was able to do most of the machine work necessary to finish the project. When I returned home with a box full of bowls and stem blanks I purchased what I needed to finish the project in my garage. I’m pleased to say that I completed the pipes in a timely fashion and they were well received by the club.
Meanwhile, with job prospects looking rather limited, I began kicking around the idea of going into the pipe business full time. This is something I had often considered in the past, but a few concerns kept me away. First, the income level of a full time pipe maker is pretty meager, especially if you are not a well-known name in the industry. Second, a career making pipes will wear you down over time. Joints weaken, eyesight wains, and you are exposed to dust and certain chemicals that can be damaging if not treated with the proper respect. I’ve always wanted to retire with enough vigor and money to do what I wanted in the autumn of my life. Pipe making isn’t necessarily the most conducive to this goal.
It was at this juncture that another former Smokers’ Haven employee, Scott Townsend, and I started kicking around the idea of starting our own ecommerce platform built around the selling of pipes, estate pipes, pipe accessories, and pipe tobacco. Starting a business always entails risk, but this idea had, not only unlimited earning potential (I’ve got no illusions of being a millionaire pipe baron), kept me involved with the community I’ve come to know and love over the past six years, and allowed me to continue making pipes. Even if he or I found more suitable and lucrative employment opportunities, an ecommerce website marketing pipes is a job we could conceivable do part time. It was soon settled, and we began laying the groundwork for a business together.
As is my tradition, in June I also entered the GKCPC Carving Contest. This would not have been possible without the help of hobbyist pipe maker Todd Harris who graciously allowed me to use his workshop to finish the contest pipe. I was not expecting much from my entry, as it had been made with unfamiliar tools and finished in my garage and basement, albeit I did everything I could conceivably think of to make the best pipe I could. Imagine my surprise and excitement when the results were in and I had, for the third year in a row, placed in the carver’s contest. I am deeply honored to be included again, and after considerable obstacles were thrown in my way, overcoming them was certainly a good feeling.
In June and July, I managed to cobble together much of what I needed to run a successful pipe maker’s workshop. This includes a sophisticated sandblasting setup, and a metal lathe which, with the help of my father and several friends I managed to transport from Texas to my home here in Ohio. My brother was instrumental in helping me refurbish the lathe and do some electrical work around the house. I can’t say how thankful I am to those who helped me with this setup, including my wife who has been better to me than I deserve with her unconditional love and encouragement. Soon I’ll be able to make Jones pipes unhindered and better than ever.
Nearly 30 job applications later and hundreds of man-hours spent on setting up our business, I’m pleased to say that we are ready to launch our online business. I could regale you with the difficulties and challenges of starting your own business let alone one in the tobacco industry, but I’ll save that for another time. Suffice it to say, Scott and I are pleased to announce the launch of “Blue Room Briars.” I sincerely hope you’ll take the time to browse and if compelled by a particularly handsome pipe, make a purchase.
So what is the future of Jones pipes? The “Sword of Damocles” hanging over the industry’s head, courtesy of the FDA is still a concern. Until the industry figures out exactly what this entails, I intend to continue to produce fine smoking English classic inspired pipes for the community. Until I’m told I can’t I see no reason to stop. Perhaps it turns out that the sword we’re so concerned about turns out to be a dulled butter knife.
From this point on, all new Jones pipes will be listed on www.blueroombriars.com. I will continue to send newsletters, update the gallery sections, and answer all correspondence from www.jonespipes.com. Please let me know what you think about the new website. We’re always looking for ways to improve not only the appearance and usability, but customer service as well. Thank you all for the well wishes and shows of support I’ve received in this challenging time.