Written by Hillari DeSchane
Photos by Stephen Browning and Hillari DeSchane
The crafting room of AR Workshop rocks with laughter. A woman hefts a nail gun with one hand and pushes her cell phone toward co-owner Mike Lawson with the other. “Videotape me!” With a snap—snnapp nails drive into the wood.“Oh, that’s not so intimidating anymore!” she carols.
Shawn Lawson, Lawson’s wife and co-owner of the Turlock business, says this customer’s reaction of trepidation, excitement, and dawning pride at her new-found crafting ability is typical. “People don’t realize how much creativity they have inside.”
Open since June 2019 in Turlock, AR Workshop is the newest iteration of the hands-on DIY crafting workshop. Ideal for both newbies who’ve never crafted before, and experienced home crafters who need a fresh idea for their next project, AR Workshop provides amateur artisans with all the raw materials, accessories and tools they need to create home décor items. Crafters choose from an extensive menu of projects, all of which can be customized to suit each crafter’s home color palette and decorative style, or to create a personalized gift. Birthday, wedding, and baby shower gifts have proven popular, Mike Lawson says, and even the family ‘fur kid’ can receive a customized bed. Shawn, Mike and their staff provide constant help, instruction, and encouragement so each customer leaves with ‘something they can be proud of,’ Mike Lawson affirms.
For those who’ve always envied their ‘crafty’ friends, AR Workshop is the place to discover your inner crafter. But it’s also the place to build a new form of community. Mike and Shawn Lawson say that while they are both life-long hands-on DIYers, they were looking to build more than just home décor when they signed on with the AR Workshops franchise.
Mike, with nearly forty years in some of this region’s leading corporations, and Shawn, a career homemaker and mother to their four now grown children, were looking for a business opportunity that would take them into the next stage of their lives and also create a legacy their children could carry on. ‘We always wanted to open a business, something unique,’ Shawn Lawson says, ‘but couldn’t figure out what, exactly.’ What Shawn calls ‘the resurgence in farmhouse and refinishing furniture’ caught their eye, and matched their skill sets. But as the couple researched different franchises in the field, AR Workshop rose to the top of their list. ‘The more we saw of the business model, the more we knew it was a good fit,’ Mike Lawson says.
Uniquely, AR Workshop encourages their franchisees to support other artisan entrepreneurs. ‘You can partner up with the local community, which other franchises didn’t allow,’ Mike Lawson says. It was that opportunity to craft a community-oriented business personality that appealed to the couple.
Shawn Lawson points to a recent crafting event with Turlock’s Savor Charcuterie. Participants crafted a cheese board decorated to their personal taste, while learning about—and sampling—fine meats and cheeses from authority Amy Navarra. AR Workshop Turlock also sells products by Modesto’s Mobaak Aromatherapy, plus Soy Sisters Candles and Hailey’s Soaps, crafted in Turlock. Mike Lawson says they also bring in local artisans to teach specialty crafts and are always looking for additional partnerships ‘that are a good fit’ for the workshop’s resources and its customers.
Another good fit for AR Workshop Turlock is supporting community causes. They have assisted local animal-rescue organization Kate’s Rescue, and in October 2019 participated in a three-day-long scholarship drive for CSU Stanislaus. And while many crafting workshops such as the popular sip-and-paint model must bar children because of the presence of alcohol, AR Workshop Turlock has family friendly days that are tee-total so crafters of all ages can be welcomed and comfortable.
But the simplest community, Mike Lawson says, is the one that forms around the worktables as strangers hammer, paint, nail or glue their creations. In the relaxed atmosphere, ‘everyone starts conversing with everyone else,’ he describes, ‘and by the end of the evening you’ve made new friends.’ Shawn Lawson smiles widely in agreement. ‘Including the employees,’ Mike concludes. ‘We get to know [the customers] and make friends too.’
Creating a sense of community, one craft project at a time. That’s AR Workshop’s specialty.
For more information: AR Workshop—2911 North Tegner Road, Turlock 95380. To register, visit Arworkshop.com/Turlock or call 209.372.5500 . See more at instagram or facebook @arworkshopturlock