With the exposure generated from HGTV’s Fixer Upper, many Central Texas sub-contractors and business owners have become household names throughout much of the country, none perhaps more so than Clint and Kelly Harp of Harp Design Co.
CNB’s Bryan Fonville recently sat down for a Q&A with Chip and Joanna’s favorite carpenter, where they discussed the upcoming premiere of the Harps’ new show on DIY Network, the origins of Clint’s love of carpentry, and how life has changed for them these last few years.
Have you always been pretty handy? At what age did you realize that you really enjoyed creating things with your hands?
Yes, I’ve always been very handy and have also always loved just trying to figure different stuff out that I didn’t know how to do before. My mom has things that I was making at around the age of five or six years old, so it was pretty early. My grand-dad has always built, so I had always seen him doing stuff. I have always loved models and as soon as I got into high school I couldn’t wait to do shop class.
What is it about making things with your hands that gives you joy?
There is something inside some people that they just love to have a list and check things off that list. They can’t explain it, but it’s just what they love to do. It’s the same for me—it feels so good to make something from nothing. I can’t explain it.
While you’ve enjoyed making things since you were a child, you haven’t always been a full-time carpenter. What are some of the things you did before you started Harp Design?
I’ve done so many different things: area director for a kid’s ministry, janitor at a church, junior high youth minister, handyman, project manager at a licensing firm, missionary overseas, director of operations at a licensing firm and a salesman.
You left what many people would consider to be a pretty comfortable situation. What was it that finally made you take the leap to start your own business?
I was completely miserable because I wasn’t waking up and going for my dream. I realized the money was never going to make me happy. To be truly me, I had to go for my dream and live a life of adventure. So, I stepped down and we started Harp Design Co. out of my garage with the hope of one day turning it into a trusted company for furniture and home goods.
Starting your own business can sometimes be a little overwhelming. Is there anything you did early on that, if you could go back in time, you’d now do differently?
I’m not just saying this because I know Joe Nesbitt will see this, but really and truly, I would have had my financials more buttoned-up from the get-go. It seems silly to have your stuff in QuickBooks and an accountant and all that jazz when you’re only making $10,000 in a year, like we were in the first year. But if I had, I would have been more prepared for the various challenges along the way as my business grew.
What advice would you give to others who are thinking about starting their own business? What lessons have you learned?
First and foremost, be nice. Be someone that those you work with will trust and respect. Your integrity is the most important thing about you. That’s what I was told years ago by someone who meant a lot to me, and I try to live up to that every day. Secondly, don’t be afraid to start small, but as you grow, make sure the decisions you’re making are moving your company forward in a consistent direction. For example, if you are good at plumbing, don’t try to install windows, too. If you build tables, don’t try to build chairs. Stick with what you know and work on getting better at the things you’re good at.
How has life changed for you as a result of Fixer Upper?
Drastically. Let’s put it this way: it’s not typical for a guy to start a furniture business out of his garage and within three years be known nationally as a recognized and trusted carpenter. Trust me, I’m not that good. Being featured on the number one show on a network as big as HGTV is like throwing kerosene on a fire, and what it does is it makes it so that essentially I’m not trying to figure out how to start a small business—I’m trying as a small business to stay on the bull for eight seconds. In other words, it’s the reason why we are where we are today. It’s not that we wouldn’t have succeeded as a business, we just wouldn’t have succeeded in this way this quickly.
Part of your job involves being on television, whether it’s on Fixer Upper or hosting your own show on the DIY Network. Have you always been comfortable in front of the camera? Or, has that been a skill you’ve had to develop?
I’ve always been comfortable performing in front of people. Singing was a big part of my childhood, and I come from a long line of extroverted personalities. From my mom’s side of the family I got the woodworking genes. And, from my dad’s side, I got the love of being in front of people. The camera is a little different, though. I have always been pretty comfortable [in front of the camera], but it takes time to get used to knowing that the camera is rolling—you’re just trying to get better and better each time you do it.
With the upcoming premiere of Wood Work, it seems that your business has really taken off. Sometimes, that kind of rapid growth can be difficult to manage. What has helped you manage that growth?
First thing I tried to do was surround myself with smart, creative, hardworking people. Whether that be people I sit down and have lunch with or people I hired at Harp Design Co. to work alongside me. Mainly, I realized that I can’t do it all, and I’m only good at what I’m good at. The more I hand over responsibilities to the people who are good at them, the more we can grow.
I was watching TV the other night, and I saw you in a commercial for Citizen watches. How did that come about?
That was the craziest thing. I got a call from my agent one day saying that Citizen wanted to launch a campaign featuring someone who was just an average guy but who people would recognize. So, they picked me, and I couldn’t have been more shocked. It’s been a blast over the last year hearing feedback from people who have seen the commercials or the print ads.
*in 30 yrs* “kids, my pic was in TimesSquare” …”grandad we know. take ur back pills & drink ur egg nog, game’s almost on.” @citizenwatchus pic.twitter.com/f3s4JA8wWV
— Clint Harp (@clintonharp) November 26, 2016
Last question. Joe Nesbitt and I occasionally put together funny YouTube videos. Do you think there’s any chance that HGTV might want to produce a show about bankers? Maybe you could put in a good word for us?
Ha! I think a show about Joe Nesbitt and Central National Bank would be hilarious. If I ever get to pitch an “office-like” idea to a network, I’ll definitely do my best.
Clint and Kelly Harp’s show, Wood Work, premieres Wednesday, May 9th at 10 p.m. EST / 9 p.m. CST on DIY Network.