Barry and Melissa Miller are the founders of Rose Boulevard Custom Furniture Design, a company based in Tallahassee, Florida, that makes custom high-end furniture and décor features for residential and commercial customers. The two handle all of the functions of the business – from marketing to sales to building the products – and have managed to grow more than 300 percent in just one year. The Millers attribute their success to strong faith and hard work.
Why did you start your business?
We were house parents at the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes for four years, which meant we had eight foster children along with our own two children. Most people don’t stay in the job that long, so we were looking for different avenues of change in order to leave and give our two biological children some more attention. We prayed about change.
Barry had always dabbled in woodworking as his hobby. A man offered to hand us his woodworking business because he was ready to retire. So, we left our jobs with the little bit of savings we had. As soon as we left, he said, “Never mind, I’m not retiring.” So, it was a little bit scary at first. We actually look back and thank God for it now, because had he not offered us the business, we wouldn’t have had the push to just jump from where we were to start something so big and new.
Barry built a few pieces and we had a professional photographer take pictures. You know, to “fake it till you make it.” We were trying to look the part. We went door to door to designers and contractors and anyone we could to find someone who would believe in us and give us a chance. Praise God, some did, even though we didn’t have a lot of experience. We have a few interior designers who use us regularly, and we’re starting now to get into commercial building.
How did you get the funds to get going?
We used our savings to start the business. We’re trying to build it slow, so we don’t get into a lot of debt.
Have you heard of business credit?
Yes. Several months ago we worked with Kabbage to get a line of credit. We don’t use it that often, because we’re trying to do this as debt-free as we can.
Managing the Business
What’s most challenging about running your business?
That it’s just the two of us. A lot of times, when people meet us, they think there’s a huge company behind us. I’m (Melissa) doing all the marketing and Barry’s doing all the building.
How do you finance your business to manage cash flow or growth?
We use our line of credit to get some flexibility around our cash flow. There are certain times when we hit lows between jobs or when jobs take a little longer. We use the line of credit at those times to keep everything running.
Do you use trade credit from your vendors or suppliers?
We pay upfront for materials. For all of our residential jobs, we require a 50 percent deposit upfront and the other half when we deliver. We use the deposit to cover the materials for the project. For commercial jobs, because we’re usually working as a subcontractor, they expect us to carry all the cost until the end of the project.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in your first year?
We had to learn some of the issues that go into building custom furniture. You always have particular customers, and every piece of wood has a different grain pattern. There was a large slab table we did once. When it was pretty much completed, the customer came out to look at it. She didn’t like the way the top looked. We had to scrap the top and start over on that. Now, we have the customers more engaged in the process. We check with them and make sure they like how it’s going, and we make them sign off on different aspects to be sure we’re on the same page.
We’re learning the ins and outs of the commercial business. If you ever get into commercial, make sure you have friends you can confide in to learn the ins and outs and all the loopholes there are in the payment process.
Also, we had to learn to not devalue ourselves. We’ve had to make sure we are charging not just what we feel we’re worth, but what we want to live on. At first, since we didn’t have a lot of experience, we weren’t charging enough or making enough money. It was stressful and frustrating. We started to evaluate our prices. We got them up a good bit, and actually had a lot more business coming in. Of course, you need to grow your reputation a little bit before you can charge too much, but the more we charged, the better the quality of customers we started to engage with. We’re starting to delve into a whole new crowd of people who are easier to work with because money’s not such an issue for them. They’re not as nit-picky, they’re just excited about the art.
What’s the smartest thing you did in your first year?
We had professional pictures from the get-go. From the beginning, we researched the companies we wanted to look like – Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, West Elm – and thought about how we could set up our products to look like those companies so we would meet the same customers. Since then, we’ve taught ourselves how to take pictures and gotten better lenses to save money. Whatever your product is, make sure it looks like a high-end product, even if it’s the first thing you’re putting out there.
What’s the most rewarding thing about owning a business?
We get to create our own schedules. Even though we probably put in well over 40 hours in the working week, we can still juggle that to where we’re working when our kids are in bed, so we get more family time. There’s more flexibility in our schedules and it feels freer. It feels nice to work hard on something and see the results from that hard work, because our business is growing.
We get to determine how our customers are treated. We get to determine everyone’s experience with us. There’s no in-between with that. We get to make sure everyone is loved on and taken care of the way we would want to be taken care of.
What does the future look like for your business?
We are trying to become the premier name for customer furniture in the Tallahassee area. We want to grow organically through networking and word of mouth by really engaging with our customers. We want to hire people on so we can get bigger. We want to mill our own wood and pick up the equipment for that. Immediately, we’re trying to pick up more commercial contracts. We have a few in the works right now.
What advice do you have for someone starting a business?
From a personal standpoint, pray about it. We know it’s our personal view, but we believe God helped us a lot.
Know that it’s not going to be easy. You have to be willing to sacrifice. You have to be willing to fall down and get back up – a lot. You have to surround yourself with people who will encourage you and believe in you and push you forward, not pull you back. Surround yourself with a good group, with people who you want to be like.