By Outer Banks Voice on July 28, 2021
Walking around barefoot outside of his Kitty Hawk home, Kenny Jones makes his way through his garage-turned-studio full of colorful, wooden birdhouses made from recycled materials.
The 64-year-old retired car mechanic, originally from Norfolk, sought a job working at Lowe’s, but, when that plan fell through about a decade ago, Jones looked into building something he had seen at a plant shop in Maryland –– rustic birdhouses made with metal roofs.
“I made about ten birdhouses, and I went over to the Manteo market, and one morning, I sold all ten and I said, ‘Wow.’” Over a decade later, Jones managed to turn his fun hobby into a nearly full-time job.
“I’m working kind of harder than I have ever worked,” said Jones, who clocks in close to a 40-hour week and sells approximately 350 birdhouses per year. He sells his custom birdhouses, which he dubbed as “Bird Shacks,” at seasonal shows and events across the Outer Banks —including the Avon Farmers’ Market and Manteo’s Downtown Market.
Although Jones can make a birdhouse within 25 minutes, finding the necessary recycled materials entails a much longer, more difficult process.
Driving up to Maryland to collect metal, searching local shores for washed-up wood and even going dumpster diving during his bike rides, Jones has dedicated much of his time to repurposing materials to use for birdhouses.
“I’ve been chased out of barns [and] properties with people with shotguns just asking me what I’m doing on the property, and I said, ‘I’m trying to find the owner.’ And next thing you know, we have become friends for years,” Jones said.
But Jones’s work is not a one-person job. With help from his longtime partner, Barbara Wiggs, the couple works together to collect and cut recycled materials “He’ll be taking down a barn, and he’s throwing the metal overboard, and I’m sitting there cutting up pieces or putting them in the truck,” said Wiggs, who also handles the birdhouse sales.
Jones usually has about 100 birdhouses in stock, but he struggles to keep up with the high number of sales, much of which he attributes to the coronavirus pandemic. “People are buying left and right,” Jones said. “The markets are crazy.”
With an influx of visitors arriving to the Outer Banks in the summer, about three quarters of Jones’s sales come from tourists.
“If you take the tourists away, the place slows down,” Jones said. “I could not do this in other areas.”
Jones refuses to put his birdhouses up for sale in any other place besides Manteo’s White Doe Inn. He expressed his satisfaction with the size and scope of his business –– one that does not engage in any social media or online promotions.
“I have people call me that I met two, three years ago [who] bought a birdhouse,” Jones said. “They live in Kentucky, even Canada. They call me up and say, ‘We’re coming to the Outer Banks next week. We want to get a hold of you and buy a birdhouse.’”
And having a social media-free business model means that apart from markets or shows, customers can only find Jones through word-of-mouth and can get in contact with him via telephone.
“He doesn’t want to lose the thrill,” Wiggs added.