Carpenter Makes Five Figures a Month in Just Two Years Off an Idea from Pinterest - with James Smith

How does someone with no carpentry skills build a furniture company that does five to six figures a month in only two years?

James Smith is the co-founder of James and James, a company that makes custom, handcrafted furniture for homes and businesses. In 2011 James was unemployed and couldn’t find a job so he bought a $40 skill saw, some stain and wood and built a coffee table in his garage. He sold it online and soon more orders started coming in. Two years later his company has 20 employees and is generating 5-6 figures a month in revenue.

This interview is what this podcast is all about. James needed to pay his bills, did his research, validated his ideas and it has paid off.

In This Interview You'll Learn...

  • 2:40  how James got the idea to build furniture
  • 6:40  how he used YouTube to learn how to build his first tables
  • 8:08  when it's the right time to quit your day job
  • 14:05  how James knows exactly what his customers are looking for
  • 17:36  why the "about us" page is so important to James' marketing strategy
  • 20:36  how they find people on the path to find their product.

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Show Notes

Podcast transcript:

Andy: Welcome everyone to another episode of Starting
from Nothing, the Foundation Podcast. Today I have with me James
Smith.James is the co-founder of James & James, a company that
makes custom handcrafted furniture for homes and businesses. In
2011, James is unemployed and couldn’t find a job so he bought a
$40 skill saw, some stain and wood and built a coffee table in his
garage. He sold it online and soon more orders started coming in.
Two years later, his company has 20 employees and is generating
between five figures a month and sometimes over six figures a
month in revenue, just in a couple of years.
I think what’s really cool about this is … how we get James in the
show is Chris, the producer here, his mother-in-law bought a piece
of furniture and he went to pick it up and met James, got to see the
furniture and was just kind of blown away by the operation. James,
I’m stoked to have you man. Thanks for coming on the show.
James: Yeah, Andy. Thanks for having me. It’s a
pleasure to be on.
Andy: Oh, man. Tell us about how you got started in your
business.
James: Yeah, absolutely.
It’s a fun story and we hear from customers all the time that read it
on our website. They love it and they love supporting our business
just because of … there’s a lot of corporations out there that get
started because they have lots of investors and tons of money and so
it’s kind of a fun story but we … Basically, found myself in a
situation where I didn’t have a job and I think a lot of people can
relate with that especially over the last couple of years.
Andy: Yeah.
James: I was job hunting and connections weren’t coming
through and just didn’t really know what I was going to do or how I
was going to make ends meet. Around that time Pinterest starting to
come to extreme popularity that summer …
Andy: When was this?
James: It was summer of 2011; summer/early fall. So, I
started looking around there and just seeing what people were
pinning and what items are popular for the home. I started noticing a
lot of people were pinning very simplistic furniture that was made
from solid wood. Kind of seeing a reverse trend back from like
really complicated furniture that has all these different fancy
features and stuff like that, so people wanting just simplistic solid
furniture.
But the other thing that I noticed as I started looking through it is a
lot of the people that were pinning were really just daydreaming.
Because a lot of that furniture from craftsman, it would cost
thousands and thousands of dollars for a table or for this, for that
and so started just seeing.
There’s a real hole here in the market place for someone to come
along and build something, by hand, from solid wood and be able to
sell it for a competitive price. From there, I started thinking, “Okay,
what if I started with something small,” and a coffee table seemed to
make sense. And so did some pricing out and figuring it was going
to cost this much in wood. I’ll have to buy a saw and some sand
paper and different things like that. Figured after about one or two
of them, I could probably breakeven and then start making money
on additional coffee tables.
So I built a coffee table, I put it on Facebook, online. That first one
didn’t actually sell for a couple of months – I think it was a month
or two, that actual coffee table fold. From that, people saw it and
were like, “Hey, I love what you’re doing. I love the style. I love
that you’re building it by hand. Can you do a bench? Can you do
some in-tables? And then eventually, can you do a dining room
table?” I needed the money so, of course, I wasn’t going to say no to
anything. I just … “Of course, I can do that.” And then you get
online and you try to figure out how you’re going to do it because
you got to do it.
I really just started from there. Just building a few simple pieces and
people loving what I was doing. A couple of weeks after that, a
good friend from college – another James joined me. We started
building together in the garage and it really just took off from there.
Andy: How did you know to go to Pinterest?
James: You know, I think … before … Some of the jobs that
I had before were in digital marketing and so I was always staying
on sites like Mashable and Engadget and kind of just seeing what
was popular out there. To think through those sites they were kind
of saying Pinterest has these many million visitors and it’s gaining
this much attraction. Really, just out of curiosity for what the site
was doing different than other sites out there.
Andy: What were you doing before you did this?
James: I was working for interactive ad agency working on
websites and advertising campaigns for a lot of large companies like
Tyson and Walmart. A lot that make client service site, working
with the client, figuring out what digital need they had whether it
was mobile or social or a web platform and then working with a
team of designers and developers to produce that.
Andy: Have you ever tried starting the business before?
James: I wouldn’t say starting a business. When I graduated
from college back in 2009, I had a hard time finding my first job and
so for about nine to ten months after graduation I did freelance
video work. I filmed weddings and just a little corporate videos and
stuff like that to make ends meet but it was … it was just me and my
camera so I wouldn’t necessarily call it a business. As far as
freelance goes and just having the comfort to just kind of go out
there and try to find work and do whatever it takes, that was
something that I was familiar with. But as far as the operations of a
business, that was all new and foreign.
Andy: Did you know this was going to work?
James: No, I didn’t. I actually … that first night building that
first coffee table, I had almost zero carpentry experience before
coming into all that. I didn’t realize it at the time but the circular
hand saw that I bought for 40 bucks wasn’t … didn’t have a large
enough blade to cut through a piece of 4x4 which is what you use
for the legs of the coffee table.
Andy: Yeah.
James: So I had to cut it halfway through, turn it over and
then cut it halfway through. But I had to keep it perfectly straight
otherwise the leg wouldn’t be level. I didn’t have sawhorses; I
didn’t have clamps or any of the awesome things that we’re able to
have now as a growing business. And so I was trying to cut that,
cutting pieces and nothing was working. I think I’ve been at it for
five or six hours in the garage. And I just blown a 150 bucks or
whatever on wood and saw material and I literally, literally thought
to myself, “This is the stupidest idea I have ever had. This is not
going to work.” I was like, this is just wasted money. But I was like,
you know, I’m going to finish it and … got it finished quite out there
and I’m glad I did because things just kind of grew from there.
Andy: So no carpentry experience at all. Like before
(crosstalk) …
James: Yeah. It’s amazing what you can learn on Google,
right. Just looking around and figuring things out and talking to
people that know what they’re doing.
That’s the great thing about it though. In order to produce something
like furniture by hand in the US, it really has to be simplistic
designs. It can’t be complicated stuff to do because complicated
stuff to do takes more time so that means you’ve got more man
hours in each piece and the price of your piece is no longer going to
be competitive. And so, it really was just a perfect match. Not
having that experience actually works for my advantage because the
designs were so simplistic that the man hours that went into them
could be paid for by charging a reasonable price for the furniture. A
better price than what the furniture companies charge.
Andy: James, this is so amazing. Why didn’t you just keep
searching for a job? I feel like most people would just keep
searching or, like … I’m just blown away that this is what you
decided to do and followed through with it.
James: Sure. To be completely honest, after about a month or
so of doing this, I did get another job. One of the job things came
through. I accepted a job and did this. A large part of the reason why
the business has been successful is because the early year, the first
year of the business, we didn’t have to pull a salary from the
business. We were able to pull money from it as the business had it.
But the great thing is I had another job during that time period so a
lot of it was getting off my job at 5:00, coming and working until
2:00 in the morning and then doing it all over again.
Andy: Wow.
James: That really helped because a lot of people … One of
the things I always discourage people from doing is quitting their
job and going and to start something new.
Andy: Yeah.
James: Start something new. Try to get it to where it’s going
to be able to support you and then jump onto it. Because you’re
going to be such a less of a financial burden and you can take the
money that the business is making and put it back into the business
to grow it even faster and get tools that are going to make your job
easier and able to produce different products. And so that was a
really big key to success too. And then, of course, after eight months
or so being back at that new job, I quit and went full time in the
business because it was ready for it at that point..
Andy: Why did you keep doing the business? Have you
always want to have your own business? Or …
James: I’ve always … yeah. I’ve always really enjoyed doing
entrepreneurial things. In high school you’d find me filming the
junior high graduation or the high school graduation and selling
DVDs to moms. So I was always trying to do one thing or another to
make money or building a website for somebody. I’ve always
enjoyed it. It’s a blast. If you talk to any entrepreneur … we love it.
We love what we do. We’re crazy.
Andy: Yeah.
James: You have long hours. You probably get paid way less
than anywhere else but it’s just a blast. The excitement, you can’t
get that anywhere else.
Andy: It’s really cool knowing that you were doing digital
marketing and now you’re making furniture. Like something … new
to your hands that is to me feels so much more complex than just
playing in the digital world.
James: Yeah. And the great thing is, you know that digital
experience, working with some of the top brands in the US on
Facebook campaigns and web strategies and stuff like that, that has
been so huge to growing our business because … even though we
have a showroom here in Arkansas next to our shop where people
can come and see pieces, the vast majority of our customers find us
online. And so our online presence and our online social activities
are so key for us growing because we are, in every sense of the
word, an e-commerce business.
Andy: Tell me some of the things that have translated.
Because when I think of doing marketing for big brands like Tyson,
how does that apply to a little e-commerce store that’s just getting
started?
James: Yeah. Great question. I think a lot of it is just
understanding the best practices of how those communities work. If
you don’t have that experience managing a Facebook page for a
company, there’s a lot of mistakes you could make. A lot of what
you see in younger companies getting start off with social media is
that they tend to be overeager on social media and that turns away
customers. I think having that big brand confidence, even when
you’re a small company, but yet still being accessible and more like
a face and less of a corporation is really awesome.
I think more so, it comes in best practices in the websites. So
looking at things like … Every single page, what are we trying to
get the end user to do on this page? And of course for us, it’s buy
furniture. Everything that we do on that page is geared towards
guiding that customer and providing them with the information that
they need and the confidence they need to make that purchase. How
you’re laying out web pages and what pictures you’re putting first
and then how you’re formatting the wording in the copy that appears
there, all that stuff when you’ve got hundreds of people hitting your
website every day, one small change can dramatically change your
conversion rate and it impacts yourselves.
Andy: Totally. Totally. Take me to the time when you sold
your first piece of furniture. Who bought it and how did they find it?
James: Yeah. Great question. I was still working in the
garage. I’m renting a house with three other guys at the time. This
lady called and she said we’re looking at your furniture online; we
love your style … which I thought was hilarious because I just had
one coffee table at bay. I don’t think I had much of a style. She’s
like, “Can we come over? Can we look around?” I was like, “Sure.”
They came over – her and her mom. She’s probably in her mid-30s
or whatever and her mom was a little older than that. They came
over, walked into the garage and they just got so excited about the
fact that it was being built from there and they could see the wood.
They’re like, “Well, can you do this dimension and this dimension?
We’re really looking for this height.” Again, I needed the money so
I was like, “Of course. Of course I can.” They were just so excited.
I think that got me really excited to see … that was kind of the first
sample of that because even today we had a delivery last last
weekend. Our customers gets so excited and so passionate about our
brand because it’s so different from what anybody else is doing. Just
to see that from the very first person that came in the garage, to even
customers now, just having that excitement, that’s something that
we try in every way possible to bottle into … to have on our website
and on our Facebook page.
Andy: I find it really disconnected from the business or like
tired or in a funk. That’s what always brings me out of it is getting
reconnected with the passion and excitement of the customers.
James: Absolutely. Yeah. If you walk into our shop right
now, we’ve got these billboards on either work side of the shop that
have all these comments that we’ve gotten back from customers.
Andy: Cool.
James: It’s really important to share that with the guys in the
shop too because it’s easy for me when I’m getting the emails or for
our delivery guys to know, but the guys that are in there, building
the furniture and finishing it, they need to see that feedback too to
keep them going and keep them excited. It’s awesome because
opening shipping; we have feedback from all over the country. One
call will be for Maryland, the next call will be from Silicon Valley
and the next will be from Florida. That’s a really, really cool aspect
to see that you’re working on a piece of furniture, you look at the
tag, it’s got the person’s name on it and it tells you what city or state
it’s going to. It’s fun to think about the stuff that your building …
one of the guys in the shop being in homes in so many different
places.
Andy: Yeah. You mentioned … so you’re selling ... mostly
to women are making the purchase.
James: Right.
Andy: In the pre-interview, you mentioned something that
they’re not actually looking for a piece of furniture. What are they
looking for and what’s the difference than just looking for a coffee
table? For me, I just want a coffee table.
James: Great question. You’re spot on. Almost everybody
that calls us, almost everybody that emails us, almost everybody that
comes by, it’s all women that are leading up because they’re ones
that are making the decisions for what’s going into the space and
what not.
Yeah. One of the things that we discovered really early on is that
women … they don’t come in … our customers don’t come in
looking to buy a piece of furniture, they’re looking to come in to
create a space. Through creating that space, they’re looking to fulfill
an image or to convey a feeling in that room. For us, we realized
very early on that it’s not about our furniture; it’s about our furniture
fitting into this concepts and idea that they have for that space and
what they’re trying to do with that space. Some people want a space
that makes somebody walk in and realize how rich they are. Some
people want a space that people will walk in and feel very
welcomed and some people want space. It’s just all these different
goals that everybody has.
I think one of the reasons that we’ve been really successful, if you
go into a lot of furniture manufacturer’s websites or a lot of
furniture company websites, they have their furniture in one of two
settings. It will either be up against a solid background, and so it’s
just highlighting the piece of furniture. You can understand why
they do that.
Andy: Yeah.
James: Or it’s in a room that costs millions and millions of
dollars. The two sides of the spectrum: one side you’ve got, okay,
this is a piece of furniture. It doesn’t show me how it fits in to what I
can create in my space. On the other side, people aren’t stupid,
you’ve got a room that … for almost every American … this room
is completely unattainable. So it’s great, that’s a beautiful piece of
furniture you got in there but I don’t have these huge vaulted
ceilings and my house doesn’t overlook an ocean view.
One of the great things … because our customers are so excited
about our brand, a large percentage of our customers will actually
send us pictures of their tables or of their furniture in the completed
space back to us …
Andy: Oh, cool.
James: … which is unbelievable. I mean, who sends pictures
back to their furniture store?
Andy: Yeah.
James: But our customers, they feel like they get treated well
enough and they feel that’s a relationship that’s what they do and
they send those pictures back to us and so we’re able to upload those
onto our website and our Facebook page. It not only gives our
customers lots of different ideas and inspiration for what they can do
for their space, but it also … it’s something that attainable. They
look at those rooms, “That’s not that much different from my dining
room. I can do that. All she did was she had a trim and she painted
the wall color this way and she got to pull a geometric print and a
cool light fixture. It’s all very attainable.”
So, by having those pictures, it really helps people complete that
vision. A lot of people can have the sense or idea of what they’re
looking for for the room but they don’t actually … they can’t
actually spell it out until they see it. And so they’re looking for
something that matches that. When they come to our site, they see
pictures from Washington D.C. and from California and from Utah
and all these different places. And somebody’s picture that they sent
in is going to be close to what they’re looking for for their space and
they can start from there and see that our furniture does fit into what
they’re trying to create. It’s a great way for us to build tons of
images that, you know, we would have paid hundreds of thousands
of dollars to stage those different photos and stuff but our customers
are kind enough to send those to us and help inspire other
customers.
Andy: How do you build a fan like that? Like someone who
is so excited about the coffee table they just got that they want to
write you a thank you note and send photos. What are you guys
doing and the experience to make them so emotionally attached to
your brand?
James: Yeah. Great question.
I think a part of it is really just telling our story in our website. If
you go … my guess would be if you go to most company’s websites
and you set what percentage of your visitors visit your About Us
page, it probably will be a pretty small percentage. But for us, our
About Us in our story page is one of our most visited pages in our
website. [Inaudible 00:17:36] story. We tell our story about how we
got started from nothing and how now we’re able to have jobs and
create more and more jobs for people right here in the United States.
We also talk about the quality of our work. A lot of furniture
companies are getting ships from oversees in crates and so they have
to be concerned about the weight and so they don’t use real wood,
certainly not handcrafted. They can’t customize it to fit their space.
If you walk into a furniture store and say, “I like this but can you do
it a half a foot smaller and can you do it in a darker stain and a
lighter paint color?” They’re going to say no way. No way..
Andy: Sorry.
James: Okay, maybe but it’s going to take us 18 months to
get it shipped over, whatever. But for us, it’s like, “Of course, we
can do that.” It doesn’t matter to us how long we’re cutting it or
what paint color we’re putting on it.
People are hearing that story and knowing … I’m supporting a
company that was started from nothing and now creates jobs for
people in the United States. I’m getting a product that’s built from
solid wood and from wood that’s sustainably and responsively
sourced, and being able to do that, that really makes people for
really good and they want to be involved in it and they want to
support that. I think that’s one of the main reasons why people do
reach out to us.
I think there’s also … another side of it is that people send us
pictures and we post them on our Facebook page and they get tons
of likes. Who doesn’t want to have that affirmation of …
Andy: Totally.
James: Here’s my finish dining room. I just spent this much
money on lights and this much money on furniture and this much
money on paint and all that stuff. And I want some [inaudible
00:18:59]. To be honest, we give them an outlet for that too because

Andy: Yeah.
James: Depending on the day, the time and day it’s posted
and whatnot. You get anywhere from 50 to 200 likes on your picture
and people comments on it about how they like it and they want to
know where you got this from and that from. And so it’s a good
sense of community and it also just makes you feel really great.
Andy: Are you guys spending much money on marketing?
Or is it all word of mouth?
James: We spend very little money on marketing. We tried
… especially as we are growing really rapidly at the beginning of
this year, we invested in a lot of marketing to see what would work.
So we tried everything from billboards to banner ads. I mean, you
name it. All kind … radio ads. But nothing had a positive return on
investment for us. And so, really, the only places that we spend
money now are in extremely targeted online ads that find our
customers along the path to purchase. What I mean by that, you put
a billboard out there, sure you’re reaching X hundred thousand
people with that billboard but how many of those people are actively
looking for a piece of furniture?
Andy: Yeah.
James: And of those, how many of them do your designs
appeal to and your price point appeal too. You may have a really
high reach with these traditional forms of advertising but when you
boil it down to who’s actually out there ready and willing to buy
your furniture, it’s a really small number. Versus if you invest in
proper SCO and somebody goes on to Google and searches for
farmhouse solid wood dining room table and bench. Chances are
that they’re actively … People just search for random things.
They’re searching for something because they’re trying to find
something that they want to buy or …
Andy: Yeah.
James: … their need or their space. Sometimes that happens
really early on when they’re months away from purchasing and they
just realize they have that need. And then sometimes it happens
right when they’re sitting there with their wallet open and want to
buy something to fill an instant need.
We found that … even though it’s more expensive to get in front of
those people, they are actively searching for that furniture and ready
to buy, we have a lot higher conversion rate because we’re not
having to filter through all these people that our message is
completely irrelevant for them because they don’t want a dining
room table. They may not even have a dining room.
Andy: Yup. Yup. I’m amazed at how quickly you grew the
business. Like going from nothing to seven figures almost in two
years is ridiculous in any business and you guys are doing it with
physical products that you actually have to ship and build. What was
kind of the growth curve like? Did it start off really slow? At what
point did you really start seeing a kind of grow exponentially month
after month?
James: Yeah. Great question. It definitely grew the first
several months. We get really excited and we had more and more
sales. But I would say it was really the summer of 2012, last
summer, where things really started to take off. Obviously I have a
media mentions and stuff like The Foundation. This stuff is really
helpful to us because it helps get the word out about what we’re
trying to do. We had some really influential bloggers find us and
blog about us. Just different things like that. We did a Facebook
giveaway that ends up being really successful in dredging a lot of
people towards us.
It hasn’t been every month is bigger than the next month.
Surprisingly, a lot of it has been great plateaued growth. Two or
three or four months of consistent sales and then all of a sudden the
next month will be twice as large, they’ll stay that way for a little bit
and then it will be twice as large or whatever the growth factor is.
Which is not the way we would have liked it. It’s difficult if you’re
doubling from month to month or whatnot.
The great thing is going back to just our designs being very
simplistic. I don’t have to go out and find skilled artist and
craftsman that had been doing this for ten, 15 years. I just have to
find really awesome people that love what we’re doing and want to
be a part of it and that’s what we’ve been able to do. The instant we
bring somebody in … sure, there’s some training and stuff like that
but people can start contributing really early on and so that’s helped
us grow our business a lot.
I think having two James’ has been really helpful too. I’m not
having the burden all to myself and we’re growing. And then we
just have a really awesome crew that they know that we’re growing
crazy fast and that really excites them because they know the
opportunities that that’s going to mean for them in the future. And
so they do really crazy stuff with us. Sometimes we [inaudible
00:23:21] 2:00 in the morning …
Andy: Yup.
James: We have a team that loves that. We love that
camaraderie. We’re trying to make it happen often. It does happen.
Everybody just dance together and we get it done.
Andy: Wow, dude.
When you first started did you know … were you just building stuff
that you thought was cool or were you taking orders from people?
How did you know what to build?
James: Yeah. Good question. Definitely it’s what appealed to
me. If I didn’t like it, I didn’t really want to build it. If you look at
the dining room tables we’re building originally and the dining
room tables that we build now, they’re fairly different. [Inaudible
00:24:00] that came was we would have customers come to us and
say, “Hey, I like what you’re doing but have you ever thought about
painting the base black instead of having it stained?” Or, “I love
what you’re doing but have you ever thought about this or that?”
Almost every single one of our product innovations has come from
our customers asking for it.
We’ve grown really intentionally and that we don’t say yes to
everybody. So when people say, “Hey, can you do this? Can you do
that?” We say no a lot because we know what we do well and we
know what our core strings are and that’s helped us stay really
profitable and grow strong. At the same token, if you’ve got three
people in a week ask you to do something and you said no, you’re
like, “Okay. Maybe we need to figure out if we can do this.” Then
you sit down and you look, okay, does this make sense [inaudible
00:24:41]? What do we have to charge to make it happen? And all
that stuff. And then you put it out there.
A lot of times when we introduce new product, we won’t put it on
our website to begin with surprisingly. We’ll just do it as a
Facebook post. We’ll have somebody do a customer order, they’ll
pay for us to do it, we’ll do it and then we’ll stick it on Facebook.
The products that inevitably end up doing well in the long run are
the ones that people will find … They’ll go through our Facebook
pictures, find that table and order it off of our Facebook album. And
so when we’ve got a Facebook post that’s selling several of that
table it’s like, okay, it’s time to promote this one to actually become
a product on our website and we’ll get on our website. But almost
all of our innovation has been driven just from listening to what the
customer wants.
And then also looking at what our existing customer wants but also
… what people are not buying from us because our furniture doesn’t
appeal to them and how do we create a new design that does appeal
to them. We just did that last month with the round table design.
What we heard was that people don’t buy round tables, they only
buy round tables. If you go into the market and you say, “I want to
buy a round table,” there’s a very small chance that you’re going to
say, “Oh okay. I’ll settle for a square table or a rectangle table.”And
so we realize we’re missing from that market research, we’re
missing a lot of … a large section of the customers.
Andy: Yeah.
James: Our current round table design wasn’t selling so we
did go out and we’re very intentional about finding a design and
coming up with the design that would work well. We’ve put that out
there now. It’s starting to sell. Growing our existing customer base
but also figuring out how to reach people that are not interested in
our furniture so that we can grow via them instead of just upgrading
a customer from one piece of furniture to another.
Andy: Dude, I’m blown. I love how … you’re pretty much
taking lean startup principles and applying it to the furniture
business. One thing we talk about a lot in the Foundation is never
build anything before you have a sale and so …
James: Yeah.
Andy: You do a custom order for somebody who orders it,
buys it, pays for it and then post it online and see if people actually
want it. It’s just brilliant.
James: Absolutely, yeah. We definitely thought that model a
lot. Why would you go out and kind of stick your neck out there and
hope that something does well. When you’ve got a bunch of people
on Facebook that are telling you exactly what they want.
Andy: Yeah.
James: People will tell us, we’ll post the picture out there or
something that what come up within the shop and we’ll get very few
likes on it and somebody will be like, “Oh, well, that looks weird.”
People are brutally honest online. I guess we’re grateful for. We
take that feedback. You’re absolutely right. Don’t just jump out
there and start a business and hope that it’s going to … hope it’s
going to pay enough money to pay your bills. Don’t just throw a
product out there or worse spend thousands of dollars developing a
product. If there is a smaller version or a minimal viable product
that you can put out there beforehand to test the waters. That will
tell you a lot of times what you need to adjust, this way or that way.
It might be completely contrary to what you would have thought
you should have done. Absolute right. No matter what you’re doing.
The digital company or furniture company, I think those principles
stay just as true.
Andy: Yeah. I love hearing it applied to a non-traditional
businesses.
How has your role shifted from two years ago when you bought the
skill saw for the first time and build the first piece of furniture to …
What do you spend most of your time and energy on now?
James: Yeah. Great question. From that first dates and now
my job is so dramatically different.
Andy: Totally. I’m aware of that.
James: My weight is dramatically different too because
[inaudible 00:28:01] much which is unfortunate.
No, we’ve got … I honestly haven’t built a piece of furniture from
the ground up in probably ten months, just because we have such an
awesome team. That was another thing that I would encourage
business owners to do. As soon as you can, as soon as it makes
financial sense separate yourself from day to day of the business so
that you can focus on growing the business and you can focus on
seeing the problems from up above instead of within them and you
can look at … how do we drive this thing forward? How are we
losing money? How can we make ourselves more profitable? That’s
been really awesome with … our growth as really early on, I was
able to bring an awesome team. I’ve got a build sign manager and
finish sign manager that … they take everything from … if I’m not
here things get built and things move along on time. That’s really
enabled us to grow the business even faster.
And so a lot of what I spend my time on nowadays are identifying
what our key problems are as a business because you have a lot of
them, especially when [inaudible 00:28:58] and then figuring out
how to squash those problems and eliminate them and put things in
the place that will make them no longer exist.
Andy: Yeah.
James: A lot of it is just looking for new opportunities. What
are we missing? Where is the market going? And all that stuff.
Another important part of my job is still taking a lot of customer
phone calls and reading a lot of customer emails – even when I
don’t have to. Just to really stay in touch with what our customer is
saying and what they’re experiencing. The time that they contact us,
the time they get their furniture; how can we improve that process
and make it a better experience for them. It’s dramatically different
than being in their building. But I love it. Everyday my job changes
I think but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Andy: What’s like a big problem you guys have overcome
recently? Or a big challenge you guys have dealt with?
James: Great question. We decided in April that in order to
keep growing our business, we needed to open up shipping instead
of just delivering a furniture to customers ourselves. That would
enable us to reach … obviously a lot larger customer base.
I don’t think we realize when we made that decision, how difficult it
was going to be because … You’ve got shipping options like FedEx
and UPS but that’s not really an option when you’re shipping an 8-
foot dining room table to a customer. Their prices just become way
to expensive so you have to look at things like [inaudible 00:30:14]
freight and how do you work with those companies.
When you first enter in, you first decide to start shipping, you are
very, very small fish, and we still are, and how you get these huge
freight companies and have these million dollars contracts to even
care about you and to give you good customer service. Along those
same lines, how do you successfully ship a product? At first, many
tables that we shipped all arrived damaged.
Andy: Oh, no.
James: Thousands of miles away in most cases so we had to
go and rebuild the table and ship them a new one and hope that that
one got there okay.
It was a really stressful process. It wasn’t funny because we were
just losing money left and right having to reship these things. But
we knew that it was extremely important that we figure shipping out
because that was so important for the long-term good for our
company so we just viewed all those losses as investments. And in
every case, we made sure we did the right thing, the customer got
their … did get undamaged piece of furniture. As soon as we
possibly could get to them, their experience was good.
And the good thing is, a lot of it we just did by setting proper
expectations with the customers, letting them know, “Hey, we
haven’t shipped very much. You’re going to be one of the early
adapters to this. If it doesn’t go well, don’t worry, we’re going to
take care of you, but we just want to let you know.” When you set
that expectation, some people will be like, “That’s okay. I don’t
want to ship with you,” and other people would be like, “That’s fine.
I want your stuff. Let’s do it. It’s okay if it’s going to be a little bit
of a frustrating situation.” We decide customers that knew the
expectations upfront, they were very accommodating and they knew
we were going to take care of it at the end of the day and we did.
But it took us a long time. It took us several months to figure out
who’s the best partnership with, how do we properly package the
furniture so it gets there okay. I’m happy to report that we’re finally
starting to come out on the other side of that and we’re shipping
successfully left and right and very few things arrived damaged but
it cost a lot of money. It took a lot of energy, a lot of frustration.
Luckily, we’re starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel as far as
the shipping concerns.
Andy: What are your plans for the next 12 months? Where
do you see the business going?
James: Yeah. Yeah. Great question.
We’re looking at new delivery models. We’re trying to figure out
different things with distribution centers. How we can reach more
people in a more efficient manner. If we ship a single table to a
customer, it can cost somewhere over $295 for the freight and for
the packaging. Which isn’t horrible when you’re concerning a
dining room table purchase and our prices are a lot lower than the
competitors. Even with that, our prices are still competitive. But
we’re looking more at how can we delivery more pieces to a
location at one time so that reduces the cost per piece and we can
get that cost down. It’s really figuring out how we reach more
customers and how we reach the customers that we are reaching for
a smaller price per order. I don’t increase our conversion.
We’re also focused very heavily on product innovation. How do we
come out with products that are appealing to people, that our
products don’t appeal too. And then also looking at entirely new
products. Can we partner with someone that’s making chairs or
making this or that, that fits in our brand. With our brand tenants and
sell those things on our website and provide that service for our
customers. We definitely expect within the year for our product
offering to expand substantially and also our customer-reach to
expand in that price for reaching those customers to lower. That’s
really our main goals right now.
Andy: Beautiful, man.
For people listening, where can they either learn more about you or
check you out or if they want to get in touch with you for any
reason, how can they do that?
James: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. The best way to get
[inaudible 00:33:43] we have and see pictures and read our stories
on our website, it’s carpenterjames.com C-A-R-P-E-N-T-ERjames.com.
From there, you can also link to our Facebook page.
We’ve got about, I think, over 16,000 Facebook fans now that are
highly active and posting pictures. So, if you jump over
Facebook.com/carpentryjames and its linked from
carpenterjames.com, you can see that. Of course, you can always
just Google James & James Furniture. That will get you to us as
well.
Andy: Beautiful, man. Thank you so much for coming on.
Anything else before we wrap up?
James: No. I’ll just encourage anybody that is interested in
starting something to go for it. It’s exciting, it’s an adventure but it’s
definitely worth it. I just appreciate the opportunity to come on and
chat with you. It was a blast.
Andy: Dude, thanks man.
James: Yeah, absolutely.
Closing: Thank you for joining us. We’ve taken this interview
and created a custom action guide so you know exactly what action
steps to take to grow your business. Just head over to
thefoundationpodcast.com to download it for free. Thanks for
listening and we’ll see you next week.

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