How this Business Owner Capitalized on a Gap in the Outdoor Furnishings Market

How this Business Owner Capitalized on a Gap in the Outdoor Furnishings Market

Source Outdoor is an importer and manufacturer of outdoor furnishings, from wicker and custom aluminum patio furniture to awnings and railings. The company, located in Miami, FL, provides a convenient one-stop-shop for hotels, restaurants and other businesses in need of furnishings for their facilities.

Gerald Shvartsman started the company in 2008 when he noticed a gap in the market while furnishing his own outdoor patio. What started as a four-person business occupying a 12,000-square-foot warehouse now employs 160 and operates out of a 100,000-square-foot facility. In five short years, the company has grown from grossing $1.8 million in 2009 to a projected revenue of $25 million in 2014.

The Start

How did you get started with your business?
I owned a condo with my brother in South Beach. It was time for me to look for something else to do. I went to China, met with a manufacturer and started importing wicker. We started selling it, doing very well, and the business was expanding. My customers had other needs, so instead of sending them to our competitors, I decided to open a manufacturing facility here in Miami where we could be a one-stop shop.

Along the way, we started getting people asking us if we do awnings. I said “Yes, of course!” because I hate saying “no” to money. We found somebody to start subbing out some of the work to, and now we just opened up our own awnings division with somebody who’s been in the business for 30 years. And then we started doing railings, too.

How did you fund your business?
There was no such thing as a small business loan when we started in 2008. In the beginning, I just borrowed money from my family to start the business. I didn’t have a lot of overhead and I was very confident in my ability to sell, since that’s what I do best.

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I had a product that was paid for. I had barely enough money to open a warehouse and barely enough money to paint my showroom. I just went at it 110 percent and didn’t give up. My first month in business, I did $65,000 in sales. Since then, we’ve opened a line of credit.

Running the Business

How did you learn to run your business?
I’ve been in the business world since I was very young. I was 19 and running nightclubs. I’m an avid entrepreneur who’s had many different types of businesses. All those experiences throughout my short history have led up to what I’m doing today. Everything that I’ve learned applies today.

Who was your first customer?
I started by calling every single person I knew in my phone and saying, “Hey, I opened a patio furniture company. Do you need any?” If the answer was “no,” I asked, “Do you know anybody who does? I have really aggressive pricing and really nice stuff.” I would harass people to death until they said, “OK, fine, I’ll buy some stuff. Just leave me alone!”

One of my first retail customers was a store called Patio Casa in the design district in Miami. I had to call 35 times and stop by the store 10 times. Finally, the owner got sick of talking to me and seeing me, so he said, “Fine! Bring me to your warehouse.” I put him in my car and we drove to my warehouse where I showed him what I had. He said, “I’ll take one of these and one of these, just leave me alone and stop calling me!” He became one of my best clients and customers and we still have a personal relationship to this day.

What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
I concentrated on what I was good at and hired for everything else.

What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
One of the most rewarding things is being able to give 150 people work and an opportunity to better themselves and better their lives. I have a lot of people who work for me that started off in one position and ended up in a much higher position because we don’t believe in glass ceilings. People have opportunities here that they will never have anywhere else because there are endless opportunities. What they make of what they are given is the only barrier for them moving up the ladder.

Another thing is travel. Since starting the business, I’ve gotten to go to countries I never dreamed of going to and never would have had the opportunity to visit.

Also, financial freedom. I’m able to live the lifestyle that I was able to in the past while making my own decisions.

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What’s the most challenging thing about running your own business?
It’s 24 x 7 x 365. I’m available to my customers 24 x 7, and my phone rings a lot. It’s hard to be always on. Part of owning a business is caring about your customers. When they call you, you have to pick up the phone whether it’s good news or bad.

What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most?
I have lots. My brother has been a role model for me. He’s raised me from when I was very young and he’s taught me a lot of things, so I take a lot of my inspiration from him.

I have some other people in my life who are inspirational and/or tutorial who I look up to. If I have questions that I don’t have the answers to, I can pick up the phone and call them and they’ll give me different perspectives.

What I’ve Learned

What do you wish you had known before you had started your business?
I wish I knew we were going to grow as fast as we have. I would have gotten a 200,000-square-foot warehouse instead of 100,000!

What advice do you have for others starting their own business?
Don’t ever quit. You have to work harder than you’ve ever worked for someone else when you’re doing it for yourself. You have to understand what you are good at and relinquish the authority to other people and let them do what they are good at. The biggest problem with many small business owners today is that they want to do everything. Example: They want to micromanage. They want to do the accounting, they want to do the shipping, they want to do the sales. They think they’re saving money. The problem is, they’re not doing what they’re good at. If you’re good as an accountant, hire a salesman to come in and sell your product. If you’re great as a salesman, hire an accountant to count your money and make sure that your bills are paid on time. Do what you’re good at!

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