By Patsy Brumfield
BOONEVILLE – Phillip Bennett, self-styled “The Woodwork Man,” is gaining a reputation for top-notch furniture, thanks to the Internet and local word of mouth.
You’ll find his busy shop and rugged display room in an old feed store on Booneville’s south side.
Saws and lathes hum. Polished surfaces dry.
If you want it, Bennett and his young, creative crew stand ready to make it.
“My first customer, after we got onto the Internet, was a woman from New York,” the chatty 49-year-old Bennett recalls. “I just barely had the shop set up and she said she’d seen a picture of a table, it was black with a pedestal base. She wanted one.”
Bennett said he was excited by the quick interest and he asked how she’d found him all the way in Northeast Mississippi.
“She said she just googled ‘black pedestal tables’ and there we were,” he said, still with surprise in his voice after years of making this and that from a home workshop.
Looking around the showroom, you’ll see pedestal-based tables, substantial candlesticks and long table tops awaiting supports, which sometimes are sleek metal frames made by a welder out from Booneville.
You’ll see photos of other furniture – large and small – made at the busy shop.
Eager to try
Bennett said the business mushroomed as people near and far discovered his willingness to recreate just about any sort of furniture – huge kitchen islands, beds, end tables, coffee tables, dining room tables with benches and more.
Ten feet long, 10 inches long. Send him a photo and he’ll give it a go.
Many pieces he delivers himself. Others go via the nearby FedEx distribution center in easily assembled pieces.
“One lady in New Jersey is making gourmet salt and we made her two kitchen islands, on casters, and a rolling shelf,” he said.
Another woman ordered a 40-inch high, 40-inch long sofa-style table for her hallway so her large dog could lie underneath it.
Perhaps Bennett’s biggest piece so far is a 10-foot long draw-leaf dining table bound for a couple in Texas.
“We get all kinds,” he said with a laugh.
Bennett’s woodworking skills began with a cheap drill and some wooden slats, which became a small end table. It’s still in use at home.
He’s known throughout the area as a go-to guy for home redecorating projects and franchise store refurbishing.
“My wife, Kristy, says she remembers when I would say, ‘I would build that if I had the right tools,’” Bennett said.
He realized his furniture-making business had become a necessity after he’d rehabbed something from every franchise business in the region.
“I worked myself out of work,” he said.
The Woodwork Man shop began to take off in fall 2010 when he learned about the Internet sales site Etsy and sold pedestal-style candlesticks for $40 a set.
“It was winter and we were broke and Kristy wanted to go back to school,” Bennett said. “I was the only person in our family who wasn’t in school.”
He recalled he took photos of two tables he’d made and posted them for sale on the Internet.
By June 2011, Bennett said he’d built sales into the thousands of dollars, orders were taking too long and he realized he needed help.
When son Jordan, 21, came into the shop to work after school, Bennett said they discovered he “was a natural” at just about any of it.
“I’d show him something a couple of times, and he had it.”
Son Jessie, 23, joined them once, didn’t like it, then reconsidered later with a healthy respect for the potentially dangerous equipment.
“You’d better be afraid of this machinery – that’s a good thing,” Jessie said.
Bennett had his own mishap with a saw while working for a big-box supply store. A Tupelo surgeon managed to reattach the end of the middle finger on his left hand.
“Now, I’m a real carpenter,” Bennett joked.
On any weekday, the rustic shop buzzes with action on big saws and a lathe operated by Jordan and Jessie.
Working with them is Stewart Whitt, who’s become the paint and finishing specialist.
All three of the young men started out as auto mechanics.
Jessie’s the wood turner and Jordan is the logistics man, who also gets involved with the wood work.
“We all can do a lot of things,” Jordan said.
Stewart admitted he had always wanted to build things.
The men discovered that as they specialize, it helps orders move along more quickly. Average delivery time is 12 weeks.
“A lot of times, at the end of the day,” Bennett said, “I’ll think, this really isn’t a hobby any more.”
They get moral support from Bennett’s at-home kids Jonah, 18, and Kathy, 15.
Through the years, wife Kristy helped with many other projects, but now she’s finished nursing school and works in critical care with the local hospital.
Back at the shop, Bennett and his young assistants work steadily on different orders, which have reached a record number this summer.
“It’s word of mouth, a lot of repeat business and a lot of local business,” he said.
Among them are specialty furniture pieces for the expansive new home of Casey and Amanda Lott, its exterior gleaming with white-painted bricks just across Second Street.
Bennett said he’s deleted email and purchasing applications from his cellphone and takes orders only from the shop so he isn’t distracted at home.
He said he believes his business fills a niche that customers have been searching for – solid wood, hand-made, economical furniture.
“Some people just like buying things that are built in our own country,” he added.
The Internet makes it a small world, and he’s filling a large order for a new all-South products store planned in New Orleans.
“We’re Build-A-Bear, except we’re furniture,” Bennett said. “We also put our hearts into our pieces.”