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Tim Damon, and assistant Justin Saxton, with a custom made drum kit. Photo: David Sommerstein
Tim Damon, and assistant Justin Saxton, with a custom made drum kit. Photo: David Sommerstein

Tips for entrepreneurs from a guy who's succeeded twice

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Continuing our occasional series on the North Country's entrepreneurs is this portrait of one man who's become a poster child for small entrepreneurship

Potsdam's Tim Damon built a custom fly rod business into an online storefront success story. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton held him up as a model. The first President Bush bought a Damon rod and invited him to Maine to fish with him.

Now Damon's turning his knack for success to a new business - high end, custom drums for the drummer seeking a perfect sound.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

Local wood is used for most of Damon's drums. Photo: David Sommerstein
Local wood is used for most of Damon's drums. Photo: David Sommerstein
When I stop by to visit Tim Damon, he's setting up a drum kit in the little carriage house workshop behind his home in Potsdam.

He hauled this set down to Binghamton last summer for the Chenango Blues Fest. The drummers of some of the country's blues acts played on these drums, and, he says, that's the best promotion you can buy.

These are some high-end drums: We're talking 3,000 dollars for a set and up, way up. And they look it – the real wood grain glows, the metal gleams, some have mother-of-pearl inlay.

Damon's a chill looking guy – ball cap, grey hair pulled back in a long ponytail, baggy, plaid, Bermuda shorts. And he's a drummer, although he says he never got great at it. "I think I'm a better drummaker than I am a drummer, honestly."

But as a drummer, he knows one thing for sure. "I think drummers tend to be gadget people, and you gotta have the latest and the newest and you gotta keep up with the next guy, the next drummer over."

 

"I know how to fly fish and I know how to drum. So, do something you know."

Five years ago, when Damon's very successful custom fly rod business of 17 years had run its course, he parlayed the insight that drummers care deeply about the quality and sound of their drums, and that they're willing to pay for it, into this new business, Damon Drums.

He says it was an obvious choice.

"I love to make stuff…But I want to make some money at it, too. So, I thought, well what else do I know? I know how to fly fish and I know how to drum. So, do something you know."

Even though Damon knows a lot about drums, he basically had to invent a process and tools to make his drums.

Damon Drums. Photo: David Sommerstein
Damon Drums. Photo: David Sommerstein
He makes them like you'd make a barrel – strips, or staves, of wood pressed together into a circle. In fact, they're called "solid stave drums". He says he's picky about his materials.

"A lot of the hard wood I like to get locally. And I like to use highly figured hardwoods like curly maple or certain kinds of birch. Flamed birch is really, really pretty. Because there's no reason a drum can't look beautiful and sound beautiful."

That wood also puts a unique, local stamp on his product.

 

A niche inside a niche

Damon believes he's one of three people in the world who makes drums this way. He's entered a very small market, what he calls "a niche inside of a niche."

The good thing is there's not much competition, Damon says. But the key to having a successful niche inside of a niche business in the North Country, he says, is reaching customers far away.

"I mean, let's face it. It's a depressed economy up here. We don't have any population centers close by, so you really have to sell mail order, online. You have to have other venues of selling."

Entrepreneurs and economic developers across the North Country have long recognized this fact. Hillary Clinton announced the launch of an online sales training program when she visited Clarkson as a senator almost a decade ago.

Those efforts to train entrepreneurs continue. The St. Lawrence County Arts Council has spearheaded a micro-enterprise grant program for arts-related businesses. Tim Damon was awarded one. Former arts council director Hillary Oakes says the North Country economy gets a boost from people like Damon.

"It's really nice to see artists think of themselves as business people and to value their own work and to understand how important it is that they can make a living at their work."

Damon says he's been making and selling drums all winter, even though he still hasn't had a proper grand opening for his business.

"I'm really comfortable that we're producing a really high quality unique product – how everything's coming out and how they're sounding and getting input from other musicians."

Damon keeps his toe in the local music scene, too. He's got a rock band named Crunchenstein. He says it's a blast, and of course, "I've got the best looking, best sounding drum set of any of the bands around, I'll tell you that!"

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