For Victoria residents Mike and Cindy Leas, the journey to creating their own woodworking craft business has been a long, winding road filled with debt, stolen cars, floods and hard work.
The couple has been in business full time since December, but gained national attention through the DIY Hero competition, in which over 10,000 do-it-yourself crafters participated to win $25,000 and a feature in Make Magazine. The couple would finish in the top 250.
However, the path to get there goes back to when they were first married and lived around the Austin area, when, during their honeymoon, their car was stolen, still emblazoned with “just married” stickers, Mike Leas said.
That would start a series of unfortunate events — including a second car being stolen — that would drive up their debt and force the couple to rely on making things they need, like furniture, shelves and other items, to save money. At one point their debt was as high as $100,000.
Mike Leas said he hated shop class when he was younger, but his wife asked him to build things for one of their children’s birthdays so they could spend money on party supplies.
The unfortunate events would be compounded in Kyle in 2015 when, during the Memorial Day Floods in Central Texas, their rental house and their car would become flooded, Mike Leas said.
“We literally had to swim out of the house,” he said.
Unfortunately, since they lived near a creek that would frequently flood, no insurance company would provide flood insurance, he said.
So after picking up what they could recover and move it into a storage unit near the Kyle Flea Market and sell what they could to recoup what they lost financially, they said.
The rent on the storage unit had gone up, so being next to the flea market was convenient and allowed them to sell what had survived and much the art Cindy Leas had created over the years, she said.
Here, Mike Leas’ woodworking talents and Cindy Leas’ art skills would be put to use. The market would be come the base of their business, called MikCin Creations, where they would make thing to sell, including weathered wood pictures.
At first, they were doing it without permission as the open-air flea market was only open on weekends and then the manager of the market noticed them and gave them permission to use a wood shop there, he said.
This would lead to requests from customers for specialty items, leading to the first origin of MikCin Creations.
However, they would have to leave Central Texas due to the cost of living and eventually landed in Victoria after a cousin offered Mike a job, they said.
While that job didn’t work out, they gained opportunities to sell their wares at market days around the region, while Mike picked up jobs at Formosa Plastics and H-E-B.
It was particularly difficult at times, as the couple’s work schedules kept them apart for much of the day. Cindy Leas and their children were busy during the day and Mike Leas worked at night, she said.
However, after years of pinching pennies and paying off their debts, their money grew to a point where they could finally commit to focusing solely on their craft business full time, Cindy Leas said.
Initially, they were going to start at the beginning of this year, but they wanted to take advantage of the holiday shopping season, she said.
“We wanted to show our children that even if this was something we failed, at least we tried and that’s what’s important,” Cindy Leas said.
At the beginning of the year, Mike Leas, who manages the business’ social media, saw a notice for the DIY Hero contest and entered. One of the tactics the couple used to pay off their debt is whenever there was a prize giveaway from an account with only a few followers, they would enter, as the odds of winning were higher compared with those having a higher number of follower, he said.
When they entered the contest, they didn’t think much of it, but once they made the cut they started campaigning to get people to vote for them. They reached the top 250 but fell out in a round that cut the field down to the final 32. It’s unclear where the Leas finished in that round, as DIY Hero didn’t disclose where they finished overall when compared with the group they were in.
The greatest thing about the experience was they saw so many people who they never even met vote for them, Mike Leas said.
While the contest hasn’t resulted in an increase in business yet, that fact they got so far was humbling, he said.
Now you can find them back to the grind, with Mike Leas putting the wood craft projects together through their open garage while Cindy works in the house filled with various item they made as she designs their next items for their next market day.
“We couldn’t do it without each other,” Mike Leas said. “Cindy is the brains behind MikCin and I just kind help make it happen. Whatever she asks.”