Virginia Wallen is a wife, a mother of three, and a woodworker. She achieved what she has never imagined she would — turning her carpentry hobby into a business. The entrepreneur isn’t just succeeding in her new career, she’s tearing down stereotypes and building a new role model.
It happens for a reason
Wallen, who grew up helping out on her family's farm, developed all the skills required by a professional woodworker early on.
“It wasn’t so much as a passion — growing up doing woodworking - as much as a requirement: help mend a fence or work on the farm or do things like that,” she recalls. “When given a choice in high school between home economics and woodshop class I picked woodshop and welding. But the passion happened a lot later when the HGTV [TV channel for home improvement] came out.”
Still, carpentry wasn’t her first career choice. Wallen worked for 11 years with an IT company.
“I was pretty certain that that was my career path for the rest of my life,” she says. “So when I got laid off I was devastated. I just never expected that I would ever be laid off. I was applying for jobs everywhere but because I'm so type A. I can’t sit around and do nothing. And, I was driving my husband crazy.”
Inspired by her dogs, Penny and Chloe, Wallen returned to her hobby... and made a crate for them. Then, she posted the pictures on line.
“That week I had five people reached out to me asking if I would build them one,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting that feedback. But I took it as divine intervention, maybe I need to change. I told my husband I was going to start building dog kennels.”
That surprised her husband, Kevin Wallen, who works in IT and also enjoys carpentry as hobby.
“I thought she was crazy,” he admits. “But after the first one was well-received, it was great. It was like 'OK, this is going to take off.'”
And it did. But that wouldn’t have been possible without her husband’s help.
“I took over Mr. Mom,” he explains. “I kind of stepped in and had to be more hands on with kids and more hands on with the school stuff and dinners and things like that because her work was focused on building the business. So it was a big change, but being married that’s what you got to do. You got to step up every now and then.”
Wallen is thankful for her husband’s support.
“Kevin can also help pick up that slack when I need it,” she says. “He can come down here when I need help building and he can help me do that. If I need help putting kids to bed because I’m here building until eleven o’clock at night, he can do that too.”
That gave Wallen the time she needed to build her brand, Ginny Bins. Her products are made of recycled wood and have a warm, vintage look. She markets them on-line.
On line at the right time
Around the same time Wallen started her business, psychologist Heather Abbott was in the process of starting a day care center, Little Oaks Montessori Academy. She went online searching for furniture.
“I didn’t want to get the standard, just ordered off the Internet pieces, I wanted something very customized that looked like it would go into a home,” she says. “I saw Ginny Bins, Virginia woodwork business. I liked it. I contacted her.
Abbott says Wallen understood what she wanted, from the whimsical to the practical.
“One of the things that I really was looking for is a book shelf that looks like a tree,” Abbott says. “She’s like, 'you know I’ve never made anything like this, but I’m going to give it a shot.' She did it and it happens to be one of the children’s favorite pieces in the school. She made boards with little clips. A table for the staff kitchen. The angle of the room was weird and she had to make it small enough to fit in. She did Dutch doors on all the classrooms so we wouldn’t have to shut the doors, we don’t have to close it all completely. ”
Abbott loves each of these items and the message of unlimited possibilities behind them. “It’s to teach our teachers, our students, our families that pass by, so they know that Virginia made those pieces and they can say this is a stereotype that we’re breaking.”
Woodworker Virginia Wallen doesn’t like stereotypes and believes it’s time for women to ignore them and just do what they want.
That’s what she’s doing. And that’s how she’s found her passion, woodworking- the work she has fun doing every day.