Osage Creek Log Furniture Succeeds By Using Advice From SCORE Mentor
Neil Martin & Carol Dillard met at the University of Arkansas and shared a dream of raising a family on a farm of their own. Graduating with degrees in agriculture, they bought 65 acres and began to put into practice the theories they had learned at college. With the primary income from cattle and a side business of berries, surely that would be a winning formula! Seven years later the dream had faded and the bills continued to mount. They contacted Northwest Arkansas SCORE in 2004, asking for guidance.
Their family had grown with the addition of two boys, Clint and Ben, but their commitment to a self-supporting business only became stronger. During winter months, with outdoor tasks reduced, Neil turned to his woodworking hobby, building shelves, picture frames and mantles from local timber. Everything he built was promptly sold at craft shows, so in 1998 he and Carol made the decision to sell most of the cattle, abandon the berries and commit to building a full range of rustic cedar furniture.
Today you will find Neil busy in his farm buildings, creating one-of-a-kind cedar furniture while Carol hand-finishes every piece. The boys fetch and carry, sweep sawdust and perform their assigned chores, unaware that their parents are building a legacy that they may inherit. The phone rings constantly. “One day we’ll have a salesperson to take these calls,” quips Neil. They have rented a large, bright showroom on the main highway through Harrison, Arkansas where Neil’s sister Tonya helps out with sales. Rustic beds, polished dressers, corner cabinets and decorated floor lamps adorn the facility.
Mike says, “It’s just so chunky and so unique that it must be a winner. The drawers on those huge chests just glide out.”
In addition to their Harrison showroom, the Martins have created their own Web site, produced illustrated sales leaflets and printed promo cards to load into the local attractions racks in nearby tourist towns. They have experimented with radio commercials and Yellow Pages advertising. Neil can joke now that he is still a poor man, but at least he is in control of his business and can see light at the end of the tunnel!
At the first meeting with SCORE Mentors Woody Knight and Mike FitzPatrick, Neil explained that they were working seven days a week, selling everything, but still not showing a profit. “What’s going wrong?” he asked.
The bulk of their orders came through an Internet sales company that paid them wholesale prices, which then added a generous mark-up. Neil & Carol knew they could do a better sales job than simply listing on a Web site, but how to begin? Displays of their furniture would be the most powerful sales method. The smell and feel of fresh cedar captivates in ways that catalog pictures cannot.
But the Martins could not transport bedroom suites, kitchen cabinets, dining tables, chairs and lamps to all the craft fairs. During meetings with SCORE, new ideas were tossed around. Realistic market prices were established. Showroom options were explored and introductions were made to nearby banks, retail outlets and chambers of commerce.