While compiling the article, “Family Ties: Craft businesses pass their torch from generation to generation,” which appears in CHA’s magazine, Craft Industry Today (Fall 2012, Vol. 1, No.3) we were fascinated by the amount of family-owned companies, each with their own unique stories, within our industry. In the upcoming weeks we will be expanding on this article and sharing CHA member stories on our Blog. In the coming weeks we’ll be featuring stories from the following members and more: Hobby Lobby, Dee’s Delights and Beacon Adhesives.
By Mike Hartnett
Michael Barker’s parents started selling jewelry when they were college students in 1970. They went into the dormitories and went door to door. In 1972, they opened a retail store in Northwood, NH, and Michael was born the next year.
One of Michael’s earliest memories was of crawling around on the floor behind the glass display cases, amazed at the shark teeth his parents were selling. When Michael was five, his parents took him to his first craft fair. They sold jewelry and cookies and when the fair ended, they used the proceeds to buy Michael a bicycle.
Momenta’s original name was American Traditional Stencils, which began in 1978 when a customer asked Michael’s parents if they could recreate a brass stencil she owned. They said yes, and then quickly taught themselves about photo-etching, the process by which stencils are created from a sheet of thin metal. Michael’s dad later got a patent on a unique form of photo-etching for making jewelry.
“My entire childhood, I remember working in the family business,” Michael said. “After school and summer vacations were spent packaging stencils and assembling stamps. The stamps were the worst because you had to cut out each piece of rubber by hand, and then glue the rubber to a piece of foam before applying the completed kit to the wood handle.
“But it also taught me at a very young age the value of a dollar,” Michael added.
Like parents, like son: In college Michael started a mail-order company that sold craft supplies. After college he turned the business over to his mother (his parents were divorced by then) and went to law school, vowing never to return to New Hampshire — or the craft industry.
However, during law school, and later business school, Michael continually gave his mother advice on running the company. “I still insisted I wouldn’t return,” Michael remembers, “but I never really let go, either.”
But shortly after 9/11, Michael and his then fiancée decided to return to New Hampshire. He began managing the business with his mother, Judy Joyce, thinking it would be a two- or three-year adventure.
Challenges lay ahead, however. Stenciling had declined, and Michael made a major change: He transformed it into a paper craft and scrapbook company, and renamed it Momenta.
Marriage, two kids, and 11 years later, Michael is still running the company. Judy worked with Michael for about four years, during which time the company’s sales tripled, so she felt the company was in good hands and she could retire and follow her dream: Today Judy is a Peace Corp volunteer in Dominica. Will a third generation eventually take over?
It’s a little early to tell. Michael’s son Max is six and daughter Brea is three, but Max is interested. Michael has already taken Max to a Jo-Ann store, pointed out the Momenta stickers, and explained how they got there.
“I discuss business with him fairly regularly,” Michael said. “He is always very interested and I enjoy discussing it with him, although I leave out the more ‘difficult’ parts of running a company,” Michael added with a smile.