2024 IMPACT 307 Fremont County Start-Up Challenge Winner: Jim LaVine

    “We’re tickled to death, and we want to make it work best we can. This is our neighbor’s money, so we’re going to make them proud.”Jim LaVine – Burly Boy’s Rustics

    The idea of a concealed gun safe in your home is not necessarily new, but one local craftsman would like to make sure it’s stylish.

    “There’s a lot of different companies that build hideaway gun safes,” says Jim LaVine, “but none in my kind of style.”

    LaVine has been building redwood and driftwood furniture for 45 years. While most hideaway gun cabinets are either a conventional or colonial-style piece of furniture, Burly Boy’s Rustics feature high-end aspects: natural live edges, thicker pieces of redwood, river table tops.

    When he saw the IMPACT 307 Start-Up Challenge being advertised, he thought it was the perfect opportunity to combine his personal style with a hidden gun safe idea he’d been carrying around in his head for years.

    “I knew a young man that was telling me about a gun safe he built while in Rawlins prison, at the prison wood shop. It was a dresser with a gun cabinet in the back. The idea has always fascinated me,” LaVine told County 10.

    h/t Vince Tropea, County 10

    While looking at the types of things he normally builds, he narrowed down what sort of piece to enter into the Start-Up Challenge by how challenging it would be to make. A dresser wasn’t something he usually does, and so he selected that just to see if it would even work out.

    “We didn’t really have the tools to do it. For example, we don’t have a dovetail machine, so in order for it to look really high end and professional and cool, we subbed some of the work out.”

    LaVine ended up subcontracting detail work to local Mennonite craftsmen that usually build kitchen cabinetry, in order to perfect the dresser’s drawers. Things like knobs, dovetail joints, and drawers that opened smoothly were essential to get right.

    “Pictures don’t really do it justice,” LaVine explains. The roll-out firearm rack with a self-closing, fingerprint lock mechanism; the cushioning to make sure firearms are stored securely. “Most of the challenge is in the detail work. It’s got to have a super cool look.”

    LaVine and his assistant, high school student Jerimiah Wehr, took two months to create the prototype dresser. Several weeks were spent just finding the right type of wood, cut to the thickness they needed for the natural burl look.

    The end result was a success, and was demonstrated on final pitch night. LaVine estimates a dresser like this one could cost $3800, so his marketing plans are for affluent clients in areas like Jackson, Sheridan, and Cody looking for a custom build.

    h/t Vince Tropea, County 10

    His proposal for grant funding is to buy the tools needed to make the same (or similar) sorts of concealed gun safe furniture: a wide belt sander, dovetail machine, and long throw radial arm saw. After that, it’s finding somewhere new to set up shop, as all the new equipment will crowd him out of his current space.

    “Once you get a shop set up, things go much easier,” says LaVine. “Once it takes off, we’re going to try marketing in surrounding states. Most of the furniture companies I’ve talked to are more than happy to take our furniture as soon as it’s built.”

    But for LaVine, the biggest risk for a start-up is taking too many orders they’re not equipped to fulfill. He’s looking at hiring at least five employees next year, based on how quickly he and Jerimiah can build the next set of dressers themselves, once they have their own equipment.

    “It’s just a matter of time, but it should all fall in line. We’re tickled to death, and we want to make it work best we can. This is our neighbor’s money, so we’re going to make them proud.”

    The big picture beyond building up a new business is to help train the next generation of craftsmen. LaVine has been working with Wind River Job Corps about instructing carpentry students, and hopes some day the sort of equipment he’s requesting now can be placed in the school to train people directly in this sort of finish work.

    He’s looking forward to continuing his partnership with IMPACT 307.

    “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity. Three businesses just got grants, and that’s just going to help Fremont County’s economy,” LaVine says. “At the end of three years, if everything goes right for us, we’ll have created 11 new jobs.”

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