A Tale of Two Loves
By Diane Sulg
Mary Kesler and Tom Davin met forty-some years ago in college in California. Tom was an Industrial Design major who dreamed about making furniture or better yet, beautiful boats. Both were smitten with each other, and both were looking for ways to pay their tuition. So together they began making small wood items they could bring to craft fairs.
As their work progressed, they were juried into the American Craft Council Show in San Francisco and they began to wonder if stores would be interested in selling their products. So, they entered the wholesale Beckman Show in Los Angeles, and there they realized the exciting potential of their business endeavor. Henceforth, that business would always be a robust mix of both wholesale and retail sales.
Both Mary and Tom wanted to live near the ocean, but finding property in California was way beyond their budget, Tom who was originally from New England, suggested they explore the East coast. Eventually they landed in a special place, Exeter, Rhode Island. They purchased an eighteenth-century textile mill with hardwood floors and huge windows overlooking the mill pond. Best of all, it was in the “Ocean State” where they could easily enjoy the sea and sailing.
By then, Mary and Tom had named their business Davin & Kesler and set about buying equipment and defining their product line. Their hallmark quickly became meticulously designed wood products that were made with care and precision. Mary’s observation about their meticulous craftsmanship is that while many manufacturers “use a tape measure, we use a micrometer!” Tom became the primary designer and woodworker, and Mary emerged as the marketer and business organizer. They specialize in small wood items for the home, such as sushi platters, letter openers and magnifying glasses. Over the years they added ornaments and jewelry, and their lines have grown extensively. For many retailers, Davin & Kesler is the dependable source for men’s gifts including jewelry, business card holders and decorative boxes.
Along the way Mary and Tom had three children who often helped them, especially at shows. Mary observes that their kids really understood what “earning a living” meant. If they had a good show, it meant new shoes! And Davin & Kesler did a lot of shows – wholesale in Philadelphia and New York, retail and wholesale at ACC shows, many retail fairs, and even the Bryant Park Holiday Show in New York where they sold from a retail kiosk for 65 straight days!
As individuals, they have grown with their business. Over the years, they have learned new skills, especially in the field of technology. They have also weathered business cycles, recessions and most recently, a pandemic. They wonder how changes in the retail world will affect their future, but as Tom says, “I still love what I do!”
If you have a moment, go to davinandkesler.com, and learn more about this special couple and their handcrafted business. I urge you to click on “About the Artists” and watch the short, informative video. That video makes it crystal clear why this story is a “tale of two loves.” For over forty years, Mary and Tom have had a love affair with each other and with the business they created and nurtured. What an exhilarating feeling to build and share a life around a beautiful, handcrafted business!