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Crafting Dreams: The Story of Lee Hoffmeier, Woodworking Hobbyist turned Business Artisan

Lee Hoffmeier is a Fort Wayne Indiana entrepreneur. He created a woodworking business through people that are looking for custom pieces of furniture.
Fort Wayne Industrial Revolution : Owner Lee Hoffmeier

In a world where mass-produced furniture dominates the market, some artisans defy convention and embrace the art of custom furniture making. These individuals have a greater understanding of woodworking techniques and an excellent eye for design that allows them to create beautifully crafted pieces that blend traditional craftsmanship with modern aesthetics. Many start these projects out of a need for a piece of furniture that doesn't exist elsewhere, so they use their imagination and raw materials to create the items themselves. Some only commit to completing a few pieces for their homes, and others choose to use their unique abilities and turn their custom furniture making into a business, creating pieces for clients nationwide. This holds true for Fort Wayne entrepreneur Lee Hoffmeier, owner of Fort Wayne Industrial Revolution. When he described what his business is today, he said,

"I started out working with black iron pipe. I had an apartment that had black iron pipe shelving and concrete countertops, so to keep the theme, I added additional shelves with a similar black iron pipe, and then I made a black iron pipe coffee table, end table, and lamp. I liked doing that and challenging myself, and the more I got into it, it started moving to more of a modern style. Over time, I kept growing and growing to the point I was making 30-foot tables and working with multiple restaurants at a time. What it is today isn't what it was intended to be. It wasn't supposed to be a business; it was just a purpose to fulfill my free time and challenge myself, but now I'm sought after. I've had the opportunity to work with celebrities and many people across the country."

Lee Hoffmeier grew up roughly 15 miles south of Fort Wayne in Ossian, Indiana. When we started talking about his childhood, Lee explained that the way he grew up was really unique. He spoke about how his grandfather started a private airport on farmland, and when they decided to sell the property, Lee's parents bought it. So he grew up in an environment surrounded by airplanes, not only by those who chose to land at their airport, but because his grandpa, uncle, and dad were all pilots as well, so their family flew all the time.

Fort Wayne Industrial Revolution creates custom pieces of furniture with hand picked pieces of wood that are then beautifully finished with rivers of epoxy

Outside of the airport, his father owned his own company. Lee said,

"Growing up, my dad also was a business owner; he built custom homes, so we grew up working with him. We knew all about how to use tools; we knew how to work with fractions and decimals way before other kids learned any of that stuff. My childhood was much different than my friends. We would work all day and then come home, and because of the airport, we would have obligations there, like mowing the 13 acres of grass on the runways. We were always busy."

We asked Lee if the airport was still in his family today, and he said the land and airport are still on their property, but after 9/11, Fort Wayne Airport was expanding its airspace to the point that it was interfering with their ability to run their airport. He said that between the airspace restrictions, flying expenses, and increase in fuel prices, they decided to shut it down. After Hoffmeier graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Air Force and left for basic training. In 2002, he moved to Fort Wayne to go to IPFW and has been a resident of the area ever since.

We asked Lee if he ever thought he would own a company, and he said,

"I don't recall. I always wanted to be a pilot, but I never thought of things being this way. I just stumbled across this by pure accident. I couldn't find the things I wanted online, so I decided to make it myself, and it just kept growing."

He went on to say that the way the business was formed was really due to the influx in income he was receiving from all the people coming to him to make them a piece of furniture for their home or business. He wanted to ensure he was doing everything properly since this was initially intended to be a hobby. Still, it quickly became a custom furniture building for other people business.

We asked Hoffmeier what the most significant challenges were at the beginning of Fort Wayne Industrial Revolution, and he said,

"One was space because I was doing it out of my apartment. In the beginning, I wasn't just doing tables; I was doing industrial-style lamps where I would take some big metal fans from the 50s and rewire them and do clusters inside the cage with long bulbs, and it would look like a fan blade. I've taken old airplane RC parts and taken the propeller out, put a different light cluster in there with long light bulbs, and it would look like a propeller. So that was all in my apartment. Now we have a house, and I wanted to make a dining room table for us, so I had this space in my garage that I used. Once I did the whole Hoppy Gnome restaurant, that turned into a space nightmare. I also did a 30-foot table, and that was a nightmare. Sometimes, you need a brick-and-mortar place, but I use my three-car garage, and thankfully, my wife is really understanding. At one point, tools were also an issue because I didn't have all the right stuff, but as you grow in a business, you're working to invest in the business, and then once you get all the investing in or paid off, you can start making a good income."

Woodworking is not for everyone, but when it comes to masters at this craft, finding excellent wood sources is essential to their project.

He went on to say that it's also been challenging to find good sources for materials. He's experienced many contacts who say they have a quality piece of lumber, but it turns out it's not as good as described. Lee is an expert in his field and only wants to provide his clients with the best, so ensuring he has good sources is essential.

Today, Fort Wayne Industrial Revolution offers a variety of custom products, including cutting boards, uniquely designed clever-shaped charcuterie boards, clocks, and a variety of tables. These items include beautiful finishes or rivers of epoxy that come in various colors that pair nicely with whatever color theme you choose. Lee is open to many ideas his clients have, and he enjoys trying new things, but he also knows what his strengths are, so if a project goes beyond his means, he isn't afraid to turn it down. Lee's primary mission is to create beautifully crafted functional pieces of art for his clients and to ensure they get exactly what they're looking for. Lee is in constant communication with them from the day of sketching the design through delivery.

When we went over what the process is for a client who is inquiring about one of his pieces, he said,

"It varies a lot, but in short, when a client contacts me, we talk about their basic needs; for example a table, Okay what's the shape you're looking for, what's the measurements you need, do you have inspiration from something I've done or that you have seen on Etsy? If so, send me pictures so I can work with you better. Most times, people don't know the different types of wood, so through photos, I can see and work with you to get the right type. We talk about all the things, including the legs. It can be overwhelming, but I have a checklist I run through. If the client wants to come with me to my supplier and pick out what they want and pay the supplier directly, that's great. I don't upcharge materials. I want them to be a part of the process and experience."

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After all the materials have been selected, Lee begins the project. He explained that every piece requires a lot of work to get it down to a raw slab. Once the slab is ready, he prepares everything for epoxy if the client chooses to have any epoxy rivers or finishes to their piece. Once the epoxy is poured, he waits ten days for it to cure to the wood completely. Once this step is finished, he can sand everything down, which typically takes several hours, and add the finishing oils to the piece. This final step takes an additional seven days to cure. When all the steps are completed and the piece is ready to be delivered, it takes about a month from the time the item was started through completion.

Although everything Lee creates holds a special place in his heart, his current favorite piece was created for the owners of the ObiCai Restaurant Group. It was a table made out of a beautiful slab of wood from Pennsylvania, and Lee was asked to be as creative as he could be with it. He said that after he posted pictures of the table to his social media account, many doors started opening for his business. He was contacted by a designer in Chicago, a famous heavy metal musician, and several others from the surrounding areas after they saw his work.

Since the conception of Fort Wayne Industrial Revolution, Lee has been steadily growing. He is the only person who works for the business, and he has a full-time job at L3Harris, so there are times he has projects booked months out. He says if there is ever a time he needs an extra hand, his wife is always willing to help. He doesn't have any intentions of hiring anyone into the company, but he has allowed others to come to see what he does and teach them about all the steps that are required in creating custom pieces of furniture.

Lee Hoffmeier has an admiration for all of his pieces. He spends hours of his time ensuring he provides his clients with the best possible piece of custom made furniture.

As for the company's future, he said,

"I like what I do full time, and I don't see myself quitting that, so as for the business, I look at it as something I can retire into and maybe learn new things like cabinetry. I was asked to quote out the Bradley hotel, but space was an issue, so if I could get more space one day, I would like to try new things and keep evolving."

Lee is an excellent example of a person who not only loves what they do full-time but also finds great fulfillment in the freedom and creativity that entrepreneurship offers. While his primary occupation brings him joy and satisfaction, Lee recognizes the unique opportunities of being an entrepreneur. He embraces the chance to explore his passions, pursue innovative ideas, and create a unique business of his own. To finish our conversation, we asked Lee what his advice would be for other entrepreneurs hoping to start their own business, and he said,

"First, follow your instincts and intuitions and have a business plan. It doesn't have to be formal, but you must know your objective. I've always had this objective of, hey, people are asking me to do something; It's my responsibility to give them the best product. Whereas I've met others who I've offered services to let them come watch and learn from me, and they only ask about how much things are. It felt like they just wanted to do it for a dollar, and that's fine; you never want to lose out on anything, but when I'm giving out really solid advice and telling them some mistakes I've made so they don't do the same it's still just about how much can they make. So, I always caution people who are going into an industry like this that you can make great money, but if you are doing it for the wrong reasons and you speed up turnaround times to get to the next project, you're going to fail. This stuff takes time. You have to be patient and accept the process. So for anyone starting out, whatever that may be, just make sure the business model aligns with what your real passions and intentions are."
The Fort Wayne Business Journal had the opportunity to speak with Lee Hoffmeier, owner of Fort Wayne Industrial Revolution about how he grew up and got to where he is today. If you like reading stories of entrepreneurs shaping Fort Wayne Indiana make sure to stay tuned with everything happening at the Fort Wayne Business Journal.

We want to send a huge thank you to Lee Hoffmeier for taking the time to speak with us about his journey through life and entrepreneurship. His story was so fun to learn about, and hearing the passion in his voice as he spoke about the projects he's completed, you can tell he has great admiration for the industry that he is in. If you are in need of some beautifully crafted furniture pieces, contact Fort Wayne Industrial Revolution. Lee will take great care of you and your project. Thank you to Nikeshia with Creative Roots Media for taking all of these photos displayed throughout the article. If you enjoy reading these stories about entrepreneurs shaping Fort Wayne, one business at a time, subscribe to our newsletter so you never miss anything happening here at the Fort Wayne Business Journal.


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