Durham | Tyler Singleton | www.furnishthis.bargains
Honestly, I’m surprised by the growth I’ve seen. Starting out, my goal was $10,000 a month. I’ve quadrupled that.
ABOUT FURNISH THIS Furnish This is about filling in the blanks. Furnish this apartment or this bungalow or wherever you live. They sell brand-new furniture from mostly North Carolina brand names. They’re last-year’s models, showroom samples and the occasional scratch and dent piece. Because the furniture is bought in bulk, it can be sold at 70%-90% off the retail price. Tyler takes care in choosing only pieces that he would put in his own home – pieces full of life and built to last.
WHAT’S YOUR STARTUP STORY? Honestly, it was a stroke of luck. I was in school for a master’s degree in Sports Marketing and I wasn’t happy at all. I had a friend, though, who was starting a gold and diamond mining operation down in Guyana, South America. So, I called him up one day and told him, “I’m dropping out of school and coming to work for you.” I moved down about a month later and stayed for three and a half years as a Supply Chain Manager. By March of 2014, I was ready to make a change. There were a lot of things I missed about the US, like stop signs and craft beer. I heard about a position with a company called Move Loot, based out of San Francisco, and I interviewed with them via Skype. The problem was that I was looking to move back to North Carolina, so I laid out a business plan to open a branch in the Triangle. It’s the perfect location for them because we have 100,000 students, which is their target market. But they claimed they just weren’t ready to expand yet. Well, I figured I already have this whole business plan laid out, so why not do it myself? Then, they opened a branch here seven months later.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE? Marketing. I’ve heard marketing described as throwing money at the wall to see what sticks, and it seems pretty accurate, but that’s tough for a small business starting out. Spending $400 every month on just one marketing item is a big deal. Another marketing challenge is dealing with the funny little aversions people have to certain words. Our name, for example, was originally Furnish This – Discount Furniture, but it turns out that people have a bad connotation with the word “discount.” Now, I’m in the process of changing everything over to Furnish This – Fine Home Furnishings.
HOW DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE SBTD? I was searching online and stumbled upon the SBTDC’s website, and I got really excited reading through the services available. The website is fantastic with resources for finding funding options and starting a business. I was able to download an outline for a business plan, which felt kind of like cheating because I just had to fill in my own information. Then, I met with Pieter Swanepoel and Whitney Hildebran. They sat down and walked me through my financials and marketing strategies to get this going. Since Pieter is a very successful businessman himself, he gives insightful feedback when I need someone to bounce my ideas off of. It was awesome to hear both Whitney and Pieter say, ”Yeah, I think you have something here; I think this is going to work.” That takes a big weight off your shoulders.
SO, HOW WAS YOUR FIRST YEAR AND A HALF IN BUSINESS? Honestly, I’m surprised by the growth I’ve seen. Starting out, my goal was $10,000 a month. I’ve quadrupled that. The first year we did around $150,000 and this year we’re on track to hit $480,000. Within seven months I doubled the square footage of the store. Then, in three months I outgrew that. Now, I have a tractor trailer out back that’s packed full and I’ve outgrown that. I’m working full time. I have about three consistent part-timers and two or three on a contract basis; plus a couple interns.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT RUNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS? There’s a running joke between me and my family – they always ask, “Are you sure you can take off today?” and I always say, “Let me ask the boss.” It’s nice to work for yourself. But, what I really love is paying for a piece of furniture and bringing it to my store, then watching it sell for a profit. It’s exciting.
This story was originally published in the SBTDC 2015-2016 Annual Report. View the entire report here.
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The thing about the SBTDC is that I’m never actively looking for these opportunities, but my counselor comes to me and says, “what do you need now?” and offers these students, or interns, or a workshop, or whatever will help us at that moment. We’ve seen a 20% increase in sales and the addition of seven employees. The biggest benchmark, however, was getting to a point where Calibration Solutions was big enough and attractive enough to buy.
Our annual revenue has grown a minimum of 10%. In the last year we have placed 35 to 40 employees with federal contracts that we received with the help of the SBTDC and we placed approximately 2000 employees throughout the Southeast. We have a total of three federal contracts, one of which is expanding and those probably generate three-quarters of a million annually.