As the saying goes, "Necessity is the mother of invention", Sons of Sawdust is a perfect example of the power of this quote. We needed a farm table but couldn't afford one, so I built one myself. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what was going to happen next. I didn't do any market research, I didn't come up with a business plan, I just saw an opportunity and jumped on it, and that decision to leap into the unknown has changed our lives forever! We honestly didn’t sit down and decide to start a business. Our business was birthed from a place of brokenness and desperation. After a series of unfortunate events, where we had lost everything and were near homelessness, the idea for our business was conceived. Shayna, my wife, had been wanting an outdoor farm table, but we couldn't afford buy one. Since I am pretty good at building things I decided that I would build a farm table using some of my late grandfathers old tools. Not too long after that my brother Ben called me to let me know that he had injured his knee in a construction accident and wasn't going to be able to work his construction job for a few months while he was recovering. He was at his wits end, not sure how he was going to survive without being able to work. I had the idea that we could possibly build farm tables and sell them on Craigslist to help him make ends meet until he could get back on his feet again. So I took a photo of the newly built farm table, put it on Craigslist, just to see if there would be any interest, and the next day I had three people contact me wanting to purchase the table. I knew that I was onto something! From there the orders started rolling in the business was born.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
The most difficult part of starting our business was the fear that we wouldn’t have enough customers to keep the momentum going. We didn’t do any market research, and we didn’t analyze the furniture industry to see what was trending. We honestly didn’t know if we would be able to sell enough furniture make it to the end of each month. But deep down inside, we knew that we were on the right path. We knew that we were passionate about being creative and we knew that we wanted to carry on the incredible legacy of our grandfather. That was enough for us to overlook the fears of “starting a business” and focus on what we were passionate about. So, with a positive mental attitude, we leapt into the unknown. We hushed our fears and we started believing, that if we poured our passion into our business, people would start showing up to purchase our custom handcrafted furniture; and they did!
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits?
How did you handle it?
We have been very fortunate that our family has supported us every step of the way. Our father recently retired and he now works with us part time. Our older brother is a successful entrepreneur and his insight and guidance has been critical in helping us to grow the business and keep things on track. Our Grandmother could not be more excited about the fact that we are using the wood working skills that our late Grandfather taught us as kids, to carry on his legacy, and to keep his memories alive.
What would you do differently in hindsight?
Our business has grown exponentially since we started 3 1/2 years ago. We started Sons of sawdust in our tiny garage, now we have a three locations, a 6,000 sq. ft. building where we store our reclaimed wood supply, we have a 6,000 sq. ft. building where our workshop is located and we have a 2,000 sq. ft. showroom. We have 10 employees. We've been featured on HGTV and DIY networks and are in current talks with a production company that wants to produce a reality TV show based around our business. We've grown our Instagram following to over 140k followers and life seems to be moving at the speed of light! Our business has grown SO FAST! If I could go back in time I would sit down and make a clear plan for the growth of Sons of Sawdust. Most of our growth has been reactionary, rather than well planned out, which has been costly at times. If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there, and not having a clear vision and plan in place from the beginning has caused us to get off track at times.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
Our story is our greatest asset. We are very open and honest about the hardships that we faced prior to Sons of Sawdust being birthed. We're not ashamed of the fact that we were on food stamps, facing homelessness, before we started this business. Our struggles are part of our history and the fact that we have not only been able to overcome our struggle to provide for our needs, but now we have people working for us and we're able to provide an opportunity for them to have their needs met in a meaningful way, that is the American Dream. Our passion is to inspire people through our authentic story. We are very vulnerable and share our story publicly so that we can hopefully reach people who might be going through hard times. I think that in a world that tends to be very superficial, people are looking for something that is real, something that has a soul, and the story of how we have been able to overcome poverty, is one that resonates with our followers, and has influenced our success the most.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
I wish that I would have realize the sacrifices that it takes to own a business. When you work for someone else, as soon as the work day is over, you’re off. When you own your own business, you’re never off. One of the guys that works for me asked me a question once. He asked,”What’s the most days that you’ve ever worked consecutively?” I paused for a minute to think about this question and then I replied, “I work everyday, I can’t remember the last time that I had a day off.” As a business owner, I get text messages while eating dinner with my family, I get phone calls when reading bedtime stories to my kids, and I get emails while laying in bed at the end of the day. Time, which is our most valuable resource, is the greatest sacrifice that I have made for our business. The struggle is real, but it’s one that comes with the territory when you decide to be an entrepreneur.
What advice would you give to an upcoming young and old entrepreneur locally and internationally?
Keep it simple and stay out of debt. Our older brother is a wise businessman and he encouraged us to bootstrap out business. Fortunately he had a barn on his property that he let us use as our first wood shop once we moved out of the garage. We also had a lot of our grandfather’s old tools, so we didn’t have to take out a huge loan to get the business off the ground. We actually started our business with a $900 loan from our older brother, which helped us to purchase our first load of reclaimed wood, and that was it. We were able to pay him back within a few months. Not having the weight of a massive loan over your head takes a huge load off of your shoulders. As we have grown, we have started taking on debt to fund our growth, but I sure do miss those first few years when we were debt free. Taking on too much debt too soon could be the worst thing you can do. Being lean and debt free forces you to make better decisions with every penny that you spend in the early days and forces you to be creative, and that creative energy is what helped us to stay focused and driven and ultimately was a critical component of the success of Sons of Sawdust from the very beginning!