Meet Ryan Herbstsomer, owner of online art store aimed at men

Autumn Summer Woodcraft is an e-commerce store that sells handmade wood and leather gifts for men from artists in the United States.

FINKSBURG — Carefully turning a wooden pen shaft on a lathe in his woodshop, Ryan Herbstsomer of Autumn Summer Woodcraft fashioned a unique handmade gift for an online customer.

"We are an e-commerce store that sells handmade wood and leather gifts for men from artists in the United States," said Herbstsomer, of Finksburg. His business's name, Autumn Summer, comes from the translation of his German surname.


Herbstsomer is one of five finalists in this year's Carroll Biz Challenge who will compete in the Live Finale next week.

The fourth annual Carroll Biz Challenge showcases Carroll County entrepreneurs in a show for local start-ups — similar to ABC's "Shark Tank" — on Thursday, Nov. 19, at the Carroll Arts Center, according to Carroll County Chamber of Commerce President Mike McMullin. The winner will receive a $5,000 grand prize to apply to their business costs. One finalist will win the $500 People's Choice Award and one of the original 25 applicants will be awarded the $2,000 Downtown Award.


Herbstsomer said he applied for the challenge because he wants to expand his services.

"I'd like to get an engraving machine to create initials and monograms," Herbstsomer said.

Jason Stambaugh, a member of the Biz Challenge's advisory panel, said the finalists were scored on overall creativity, product and service clarity, market potential, competitive landscape, sustainability, strength of the management team, and community contribution.

"It's a fantastic e-commerce business," Stambaugh said of Autumn Summer Woodcraft.


Carroll County Economic Development's Deputy Director Denise Beaver is also a member of the advisory panel.

"This entrepreneur has honed his craft and really understands his target market," she said. "He offers attractive, high-quality crafted products through an easy-to-use platform. And I like that Autumn Summer will feature other local artists and craftsmen."

Herbstsomer said the company began in 2009 as a part-time business called Ryan's Woodturnings. He attended a few craft shows a year with his wares and the business quickly grew. Six months ago, Herbstsomer started a retail website for Autumn Summer Woodcraft, www.handmadeformen.com.

"We strive to solve two problems in our industry," Herbstsomer said. "First, men are difficult to buy gifts for. They want something practical, while the gift giver — usually their wife — wants to give something artistic. Second, the idea of the 'starving artist' really exists. Artists are being taken over by mass-produced products and are being undercut by major companies like Amazon. The craftsmen just want to craft, and we are here so they don't have to think about the business side."

Herbstsomer said he has always been an entrepreneur.

"When I was younger, I had a lemonade stand. The only ones I sold were when I knocked on doors. I charged $5 for lemonade made from my parents' Crystal Light packets," Herbstsomer said. "I allowed customers to borrow cups from our cabinet, and I asked them to put the cups in the mailbox for pickup. It was quite a markup."

While attending Westminster High School, Herbstsomer became very involved with music and the arts.

"I played in a drum circle where they played Native American flutes," he said. "They had all sorts in different keys. I wanted to make my own. My Uncle John had woodworking tools, including a lathe, so I started making flutes and selling them at trade shows."

Because flutes were more personal items, Herbstsomer's uncle encouraged him to create wooden pens, tie clips and cuff links.

"I started selling them on a very small scale. My first sale was in biology class," Herbstsomer said.

Lizzie Bowersox, who assists Herbstsomer with customer service and shipping, said Autumn Summer Woodcraft fills a special need.

"What makes them distinctive is that they're really, truly geared toward men," she said. "I think it's really unique that the items are made by hand and the attention to detail is really extraordinary."

Herbstsomer starts with a piece of wood sourced from Groff and Groff Lumber in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

"The mill is within driving distance of our shop, and we can go to hand select the wood that we use," Herbstsomer said.

To create a pen, he cuts the wood and drills a brass tube on the inside. The pen goes onto the lathe and Herbstsomer sculpts the wood to fit his needs.

"We make about 50 percent of our products, and the other 50 percent are made by craftsmen who share a similar market as well as similar values," Herbstsomer said.

Herbstsomer said his business model is inspired by Dan Harris' book "10 Percent Happier."

"I try to keep that in mind. The products may not change a person's life but maybe a person can be made 10 percent happier by owning one of my products," Herbstsomer said.



Carroll Biz Challenge finalists:

During the week of Nov. 9, the Times will profile each of the finalists for the 2015 Carroll Biz Challenge.

Monday: Andrew Wetten of Carroll County Farm Fresh

Tuesday: Lisa Martin and Clare Hoerl of Create Outside the Box

Wednesday: Ryan Herbstsomer of Autumn Summer Woodcraft

Thursday: Scott Jendrek of Patapsco Distilling Co.

Friday: Chef Jeffrey Perri of the Culinary Academy of the Deaf

If you go:

What: The Carroll Biz Challenge Live Finale

When: 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19

Where: Carroll Arts Center, 91 W. Main St., Westminster

Cost: $25 adults, $10 ages 7-12, free age 6 and younger. Purchase tickets by Nov. 17

More information: carrollbizchallenge.startuplocal.biz