"The night before closing I took the ultimatum, a commitment that would send me down a rabbit hole of unknown. A path even Alice would be weary of. I had been in business for nine years, the company was doing well. I bootstrapped my way to this point and continued the path of debt. I needed a $100K before I could make the next move, I was under contract and closing was in a few hours. After months of negotiations it was time to shit or get off the pot. I gritted my teeth, took the plunge, and walked over to my own credit card machine and swiped all my personal cards just when I did not think the hole, I dug could get any deeper.
That was 15 years ago and after a rocky up and down I continue the scrappy routine of growing my business. We have made the INC 5000 two years in a row. There is only one thing you need to understand if you are going to be the master of your own domain and that is you must want it more than anything. No matter what, failure is simply not an option.
Jamaica Cottage Shop, Inc. began in September of 1995, I was 26 years old and fresh off a four-year excursion living out of my car with my two dogs. After seeing 48 of the 50 states I landed back in Vermont where I had graduated college in 1991. Vermont ranks high among desirable states to live. I was broke, it took every penny I had for first, last and security, I was tired of living outdoors and it was getting cold. I was determined not to work for anyone and did not have a plan.
What’s up with the quirky name? The company name came from the town Jamaica, Vermont. The cottage shop came from an all-inclusive name as I thought I would create a cottage industry from a rented house by the ski resort Stratton Mountain. At the time I did not know what I was planning on doing, I was swinging deals, parting Subaru’s and attempting to sell anything I could get my hands on. For example, welded metal sculptures, a story for another time. The name really did not take meaning until folks began asking for sheds, a coincidence I have always been grateful for.
As a carpenter I began building dog houses from materials sourced from local job sites. This was before cell phones, email and websites. The house I rented sat on bustling route 100 which drew “flatlander” tourists into the yard. I primarily used classified advertising to find new customers. At the climax I had three sizes and 50 dog houses sitting in the front yard. I had the whole process down to one-hour flat start to finish. A good profit when all the materials were free.
Today I average a gross income of $600K/month. After 25 years the company has expanded by the same means it began bootstrapping and marketing. Currently now with 80 employees this internet marketing slash wood manufacturing company is the largest employer in town. Although we no longer offer dog houses the library of designs are all my own each distinctive and unique, I was adamant that I would run a business with a bit of creativity.
My family tells me I was an entrepreneur before I could pronounce the word. I was seven years old when I collected toy remnants into my old wooden wagon and dragged my sister along to the curb to open a shop. I grew up on a street where if a car drove by, we would run to the window to see who it was. I realized that if I could set up at the intersection, I would get more eyeballs, but I had to convince my parents first. Over a few years I narrowed in on what sells best, raspberries! I was hooked on swinging deals.
All through high school I was mesmerized by the framing carpenters erecting a housing development in my neighborhood, I still remember vividly the silhouette of the carpenter setting the ridge at sun set, I said to myself that’s what I want to do. Without passion you have nothing, after 50 years of life I have come to realize it does not matter what you do has long as you are passionate about it. I was told at one point and it never left me, “Do what you love, the money will follow” Ain’t it the truth.
My first website was built in 1998 leads began coming in from around the country. I had to make the decision to be a regional or national company. I chose to kit my buildings to ease the logistical transportation concerns. The engineering and time involved was intense. The first kit cost $50K to develop the cut list. In 2004 after nine years working out of a 150-year-old farmhouse on three acres I was able to purchase the light industrial complex we are in today.
Mr. Smith an ornery man that owned the mill complex could have sold the property to several qualified candidates, but he chose instead to hold a note for me. At that point he had watched my carpentry operation grow from one man to a crew of 20.
The company grew as quickly as the manufacturing would allow. I learned that I could only sell what I could produce. But I did enjoy manufacturing as opposed to a contracting. I saw greater potential and opportunity without restrictions or limits. My true passion devotion has been marketing, I can sell ice to an Eskimo.
Today I run a sophisticated operation that includes CRM, ERP and several KPI’s and all revolves around what the CPL is along with a whole assortment of other alphabet soup acronyms. When the solution did not exist, we became innovators that sets us apart from the competition. The designs we offer solve a fundamental problem for many individuals regardless of their demographic backgrounds. Every human on the plant requires shelter and essentially that is what is offered. That day I was mesmerized by the skeleton of a house I realized; no other contractor can work until the frame is up. Once I had my designs, I developed the product into DIY plans, kits and fully assembled projects. Each form with its own abbreviation DIY plans, PCK a Precut kit, Frame only, three- or four-season kits, fully assembled or RTA, ready to assemble. In 2019 the company will ship 2,000 buildings across North America. “What is the furthest you have shipped?”, a common question. London England, the Bahamas and the islands in the pacific northwest.
We sell a big ticket to the end user, a business to consumer distribution model. There was so much trial and error here as many of the procedures that we use today were not common in the industry. Labeling, color coding and the heavy-duty pallets had to be designs, none of these solutions were rocket science however the innovation had to be tested and refined.
Along the journey which continues today there have been many obstacles and hurdles. The naysayers and the rejection. The regulations and bureaucratic red tape, it is not always unicorns and rainbows it takes hard work, devotion and commitment. I am thankful that I kept my nose to the grindstone and never quit. There has been so many hardships and excuses to quit that I do not care to recall, again if you want to start a business simply look for a niche and fill the void. The money will follow.