In 1997, Jason Harrelson was living and working out of a one room shop space next to a barber shop in downtown Northfield, MN. He was 22 years old ... at that time he'd finally earned enough tuition to go back to finish his last year of college at St. Olaf after taking a year off to spend time with his family back in Montana. The woodworking business happened accidentally. When he first arrived in Montana he locked himself down in the basement of his parent's house and upon discovering he didn't have a saw to complete one of his first trumpet designs... bought a scroll saw... he was practicing his cuts with intricate designs in wood, which is much softer and easier to cut than brass, and before he ever finished his first trumpet he had several orders for wooden frames, keychains, plaques etc. And College Dreams Woodworking was born.
Once back in Northfield ... He and his shopmate, Pete survived on a diet of little more than waffles... made on a mickey mouse waffle maker.
They did very little that year except eat, sleep and work on building a business.
I still remember the first time Jason told me that story. I thought then, what I think now... that he's a little crazy... in a good way. It's that little bit of crazy that has me sitting here right now. Still. I have known Jason for 14 years. We've been building this business for almost all of those years. Much of the time in the same fashion he and Pete built the woodworking business. By the sweat of our brow... if it's been done at Harrelson Trumpets.... Jason and I have had to do it. Between the two of us we have covered the roles of shipping, receiving, customer service, marketing, merchandising, repair, web design, graphic design, human resources, janitor, electrician, engineer, machinist, trumpet builder, metal finisher, travel agent, photographer, salesman, interpreter, R&D, copywriter, accountant, videographer, sound engineer, I have watched him do so many crazy things to get to this point... that the only thing that surprises me ... is when he does the simple or logical thing. But I have learned after many years of panic... to trust him. Trust that when he says he's going to do something... he finds a way to make it happen... even when it sounds impossible. Especially when it sounds impossible. I think Jason thrives a little on proving he can achieve more than what is believed possible. It is this niche he has carved for himself while immersing himself in a lifelong love... music. You have no idea how many people call or write or stop by and say... "Man... I wish I had your job"... you know what, I'll tell you a little secret... you really do... it's pretty awesome... but it's been a hell of a lot of work... and it still is... Small business is alive and well in America and it still takes a tireless dream or someone who's just crazy enough to keep waking up every morning and go back to it. With little reward. Or, as was the case with our business... no reward at all... for years. When we started out... we were using our paychecks from our other jobs to fund the business. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to strangle Jason for spending money from trumpet lessons or from my job as a store manager... at the hardware store on metal tubing and solder... when our car barely ran. There were so many weeks for years that it felt as if all of our work was for nothing. We would reach what we thought was a plateau just as a machine would break down. We would place an order for tools only for them to be delivered damaged. I remember one month that production stopped because Jason cut his finger really badly. Working from an unheated garage for the first few years all winter in Minnesota made things a little hairy also. But nothing can stop young people with want and determination in their hearts. Nothing. Trust me... I know.
Pictured above are Jason's first two trumpets. The star design is still one of my all time favorites.
I am going to design one like that for myself. I think it's time I have my own Harrelson Trumpet. I've earned it.
5/9/2012 02:14:48 pm
Great blog Jen! If people had any idea how you two struggled through the years and even now they would most likely find it impossible as you said. I'm proud of both of you...the good times and the bad...the dream is starting to blossom.
5/14/2012 01:22:10 am
Very cool to hear some of the background on HT.
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I am the PR, Advertising, Marketing, Web and Social mind at Harrelson Trumpets. When I am not at work- I paint: