Three years ago, former marketer James Smith turned his cubicle into an office with a lot more sawdust on the floor.
Smith was in between jobs in 2011 after spending a few years managing social media and web design for corporate giants like Walmart at a local ad agency. He was unemployed, looking for a new career path when he stumbled upon a model on Pinterest who led him down a path he never thought he would take.
While browsing the site for trends, ideas and inspiration, he noticed that people were exceptionally excited about the simple, handcrafted wooden furniture.
âI realized that people really like a very simple look, something that isn’t too complicated,â he said.
Smith, who had no training as a carpenter and hadn’t really built much before, bought a circular saw and built a coffee table.
What he didn’t know at the time was that he was also laying the groundwork for what would become a very successful furniture company called James + James.
Build a business by hand
Smith posted his creation online, but it didn’t sell out immediately.
In fact, he was on Craigslist for a month before he finally found a home. But the simple style in which it was built sparked a great interest in other home furnishing products.
âPeople started calling and asking if I could build things like dining tables and headboards,â Smith said. “I had no idea how to do this, but I needed the money to eat, so I said ‘Yeah’ and figured it out later.”
Understand it, he did it. Smith’s iconic farm tables have become a bestseller for James + James, but the company also makes benches, shelves and bedroom furniture.
James said that while it was weird to make things up as he went along, the customer feedback was so good it became apparent that he was doing something right.
Satisfied customers have shared photos of their new furniture on social media sites, which has led to more inquiries and orders. It wasn’t long before Smith and his college friend James Eldridge ran a real business in Smith’s garage.
American made (to order)
Smith is long past the garage, and Eldridge sold his stake in the business about a year ago to local investors.
But some of the values ââSmith established at the start of James + James still permeate the business today.
From the start, almost every piece Smith created is personalized in some way or another, which has become a calling card for the company. Building handcrafted furniture from solid wood and not mass-producing the parts in a huge factory somewhere abroad also sets the company apart.
âThe ability to customize controls is a huge trend,â Smith said. âCustomers want to be able to specify the color and size,â he said.
âPeople also want to know where things are coming from. Where is it made? How are the employees treated? Do they receive a living wage? He said: âWe see people who want to support local businesses and places that create jobs instead of billionaires. “
Take root and sprout branches
As a company of just three years, James + James’ rise to success has been astounding.
The business quickly grew into a 10,000 square foot store, office and showroom in Springdale. It has grown to employ around 15 artisans, finishers, delivery drivers, and office / sales workers.
Smith said only about 15% of the company’s business is local and the rest is either delivered or shipped to customers across the country. The company makes monthly deliveries to locations in northeastern California with several stops in between. A map in Smith’s office shows specific spots showing sales to customers in 45 states so far, only North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Hawaii, and Alaska are lacking in James + James products.
âWe always say if someone knows someone in these states, we’ll give them the deal of a lifetime on some furniture,â he joked.
Last year, the company sold more than $ 1 million worth of furniture, a number Smith expects to increase by another 50% in 2014.
An upcoming website redesign should help Smith achieve this. The new site, slated for launch in a few weeks, will allow online ordering, something the company lacked in the past. To date, the website has mainly served as a catalog, displaying products and relying on customers to place orders.
The company is also planning its first retail store, which will open later this summer at 4217 S. Thompson Street, near the Fayetteville-Springdale border.
The new brick and mortar will allow the company to diversify with new products, such as table runners, lighting and decoration.
Smith said if things go well, he could open additional stores in other markets like Dallas. The company has also recently been working on some business projects that could lead to a new growth segment. James + James built all the tables at the new Slim Chickens location on Wedington Drive in Fayetteville. They are also responsible for much of the furnishings for the locker rooms at the new Arkansas Music Pavilion.
When it comes to manufacturing and the company’s headquarters, however, Smith said Northwest Arkansas was the place to be.
âNo matter how many stores we open, we want to keep our controls here,â he said. âWhen you franchise them, it’s really hard to control quality and consistency, and those are obviously very important to us. “
âIn addition, we are centrally located,â he said. âWhen we ship to California, it costs the same as shipping to New York. It really is a great place to be.
Video – The James + James Story