story and photos by Kim Souza
The past three years have been a blur for James Smith, majority owner and founder of Springdale-based James+James — a furniture manufacturer now dabbling in retail.
He’s taken a garage-based business that began in 2011, a $40 investment, a skill saw, some wood and stain and is now on track to hit $2 million in sales this year, nearly doubling the $1 million made in 2013.
Using social media posts via Facebook and Pinterest James+James has grown its customer base from Northwest Arkansas to 46 states as well as Canada, Mexico and anywhere there is demand and customer willing to pay for the delivery. Smith said he works closely with CaseStack, a third-party logistics firm in Fayetteville to ship the bulky product out to customers.
Smith was beaming with enthusiasm Monday (Aug. 25) as he showed off the new physical retail space in heart of Springdale’s Furniture Row district at 4217 S. Thompson St.
“We really wanted to try this close to home, we have a solid customer base in Northwest Arkansas that will give us really good feedback. This is retail space 101 for us,” Smith told The City Wire at Monday’s VIP Sneak Peak event.
The store opens to the public on Friday (Aug. 29) and is staffed by one one full-time and one part-time worker.
“This is also a play on distribution because if this retail-customized showroom store takes off, we plan to build more because they can serve as distribution points for us in major metro cities where we ship a lot of furniture such as Dallas, Chicago and throughout North Carolina,” Smith said. “If this model works and we replicate these stores we hope to be able to ship loads of furniture orders to certain hubs at one time for common fulfillment dates. The customers in that area would then have the option to pick up at the store. Right now the furniture is delivered to their homes, more challenging logistically. The stores will also allow us to interact in person with our customers, a new experience as we have been almost an exclusive online retailer, outside of a few warehouse sales.”
He declined to say how much the company invested in the 2,000 square feet of retail display space.
“It cost a good bit more than we expected,” Smith added.
Molly Abbey, director of sales and operation at James+James, said she and Smith furnished the retail store with an eclectic mix of lighting, rugs, table runners and other decorative furnishings which they purchased at market.
“We have seen an increase in demand from our customers wanting these somewhat rustic and ‘urban-like’ items that compliment the timeless wood furniture investments handcrafted by James+James,” Abbey said.
The retail store also provides James+James the opportunity to up-sale lighting and home furnishings to go with their custom furniture pieces on a cash and carry basis. She said furnishings purchased online can shipped to the home for free.
CUSTOM AND HANDCRAFTED
Smith spared no expense in weaving technology into the retail showroom. One key feature in the retail store is the customization app where shoppers can personalize their furniture choices using iPads available throughout the store.
“They can also use their smart phone by scanning the QRS code on each furniture piece. This quickly uploads to our site that allows them to see the product, chose stains, adjust sizes, etc.,” Smith said.
Abbey said all the custom furniture pieces— tables, beds and shelving units — are crafted from Arkansas yellow pine milled within about 90 miles of Springdale and shipped to the Springdale manufacturing shop. The company does not do cabinetry or upholstery but works with suppliers for those services when needed.
“We use only virgin wood in our pieces but many times the custom orders call for distressed looks like those found in reclaimed lumber, which our craftsman replicate,” Abbey said.
The most popular item sold is the farm table which range in price from $460 to $1,160 depending on length, from 4 feet to 14 feet.
“A dining room table is far more than a piece of furniture. It is a centerpiece for life. A place where families share memories, strong children are raised, loving couples connect, and laughs are shared,” the company notes on its website.
While the company’s customer base began with the Millennial generation, Abbey said it has expanded to include older generations thanks to social media feeds of satisfied customers who crave custom wood furniture.
CAPITAL AND EXPANSION
Growth and expansion takes capital, but it Smith insists on a pay as you go plan.
“We don’t have outside investors, I use yesterday’s profits to fund today’s expansion efforts that will produce tomorrow’s growth. That’s always been my business model and it has worked for me,” Smith said. “My original partner James Eldridge sold his interest to two silent investors last year who each have a 25% interest in the company.”
Since 2011 the company has grown to 17 employees. All but four are craftsman who make the custom furniture pieces. Abbey said nearly all employees walked in off the street looking for work. The company has expanded its manufacturing site from one unit to four units, now totaling 10,000 square-feet at 460 W. Randall Wobbe Lane in Springdale.
This year the company also purchased a large delivery truck for local and regional deliveries – a step up from renting U-Hauls in the first two full years of business.
Michael Paladino, sotfware developer and founder of Rev Unit in Bentonville, said he’s known Smith since they worked together briefly at Rockfish.
“When I first met him he was making coffee tables in his garage, and it’s been amazing to see the growth in this business and he’s bootstrapped the entire venture. He’s come a long way from having to fix a flat on the U-haul as he delivered furniture pieces himself each weekend. It’s a great story,” Paladino said as he toured the retail store on Monday.