Wilson College of Textiles alumnus Wes Johnson is in the swing of things as founder of Lawson Hammock. The company is poised to have its best year yet, mostly due to the success of its signature product, the Blue Ridge Camping Hammock, a consistently well-rated and thoughtfully designed tent-hammock hybrid popular with outdoor enthusiasts.
The Raleigh native graduated from NC State in 1996 with degrees in both business management and what was then textile and apparel management, and then accepted a position with Burlington Industries.
“I was the supervisor of the spinning, weaving and packing department at their Smithfield, NC, plant,” said Johnson. “It was a very eye-opening, challenging and rewarding experience. It was also very sad as the plant shut down after about a year of working there.” He decided to try the world of commercial real estate, and after years of working as a broker, he was ready for a new challenge. “I moved to the Florida Keys to work with dolphins for a couple of years…I worked all day at the Dolphin Research Center and then bartended at night.”
He loved the work, but found it hard to make ends meet in Florida. So he returned to his hometown and worked in commercial real estate again, this time learning more about the building and development side of the business. He opened an investor-backed residential building and development company, and started Lawson Hammock in 2005 as a side gig.
“When the market crashed and investment dried up, I gravitated towards focusing on Lawson Hammock and jumped in full time about five years ago,” he said.
He fine-tuned the design of his camping hammock, which can be used both suspended and on the ground, ultimately patenting a 4.25-pound, waterproof design with spreader bars and an arch pole system to keep it flat and taut, a net canopy to keep out even the smallest insects, extra storage pockets and a ring for hanging a lantern.
His products are sold at Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Great Outdoor Provision Company, Mast General Store and other retail locations, as well as online.
We asked him to share his experience at the Wilson College of Textiles and some advice for future entrepreneurs:
How did the Wilson College of Textiles prepare you for your professional life?
The Wilson College of Textiles had just opened on Centennial Campus when I was a freshman, so it was an exciting time…My time there and at NC State in general prepared me for my professional life in so many ways. While I wasn’t very good at it at the time, it taught me how to prioritize, how to be resourceful and how to better balance work/life — most of it by trial and error. There was so much going on, so many new experiences, so much to do and so many distractions that I wasn’t prepared for how to juggle all of that; looking back, I was forced to figure out how to accomplish my goals academically…while at the same time experiencing college — having fun, cultivating relationships and having a social life. There are many parallels there with the “real world” in figuring out what structure works best for you in terms of creating that healthy balance, while still accomplishing all you want to both professionally and personally.
What did you learn while designing the Blue Ridge Camping Hammock?
I learned that you’re going to screw up and that’s okay. I’ve made many mistakes along the way…still do. I also learned that it’s okay to ask for help. There have been many times where my ego wouldn’t allow me to ask for help when I failed or didn’t know something, or times I felt my questions would be a burden or an inconvenience. Most of the time, if you’re humble and gracious, people are more than happy to help. Every successful person has had help along the way and they’re typically receptive to giving back, so don’t be afraid to ask or to fail. Lastly…I learned to be resourceful. There is usually a way to figure something out, you just have to be resourceful, creative and put in the effort.
What keeps you excited about your business?
The potential for growth and continually discovering ways to achieve that growth. That could be coming up with new product ideas or stumbling upon a new platform for selling our products. It’s still a thrill to close deals and generate sales, whether that be a single order on our website or landing a new retailer I’ve been targeting for a long time. I also still get excited when I hear from happy customers and receive incredible photos from people enjoying our products in beautiful surroundings. Knowing that we contributed, even in a very small way, to someone experiencing something new or a place they’ll remember and cherish forever is very rewarding and exciting.
Advice for students and/or future entrepreneurs?
This is always a tough question for me because every person, goal and situation is different. It may sound cliché, but follow your heart/passion and trust your instinct. You don’t need to live someone else’s dream — live yours and do it your way, because rarely are things strictly wrong or right, black or white. Figure out what resonates with you and if you feel strongly enough about something or want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen. Just be true to yourself, “do you” and figure things out as you go. Don’t let fear paralyze you, whether that be fear of failure, fear of success, fear of disappointing others or some other fear no matter how large or small. It’s okay to be unsure or scared, or to fail or change your mind along the way. Just take that first step, do it with passion and accept the results with no regrets. It can be liberating.
You and your wife have a two-year-old daughter and are expecting a son in late August. Congratulations! What is next for you, professionally and personally?
Right now, I’m focused on growing the business and on being the best dad and husband I can be. I’m sure I have lots of work to do in all of those departments! Professionally, I don’t know where the road will lead or what path I’ll ultimately choose, but I hope I’m fortunate enough that it involves creative, exciting entrepreneurial endeavors with great people.