HOW IT BEGAN
The soil. I watched my dad, a commercial plumber, return home from work covered with sweat and dirt having worked out in the hot, humid Arkansas summers for 45 years. He had a tremendous work ethic. Never quit, never whined. I remember him taking only one sick day my whole life. One summer in college before the start of two-a-day football practices, I worked with him as the plumbers’ gofer. I lost 15 pounds… in sweat. So the next job I landed during college was as a manager trainee for a national fine jewelry chain. I was excited to work in an air-conditioned environment wearing a clean white shirt. This was my original goal – work indoors.
The seed. Twenty years ago, as a 26 year old, I entered this industry. After a 4½-year stint in jewelry, I was excited about not having to work weekends. Within a year of entering this new exciting world of furniture and design, my then boss and VP of the company, Paul Holland, approached me with the proposition of some day buying the dealership with him.
The shoot. I was falling in love with this business. There are things that are outright exciting about this industry. I love the distinct “before and after” aspect of designing and redesigning spaces. I like that I get to be a catalyst of change and have visual proof of “where they were” and “where they are” now. There are many industries that sell products, but quite frankly, they don’t offer the same blend of function and aesthetics. For example: a piece of art, it’s not very practical. And consider a copier; it’s not real beautiful. To blend those two concepts, now that’s exciting. It’s the difference between the beige IBM computers of the 1980’s and the sleek cutting edge design and operation of today’s Apple products.
The other facet of this business that appeals to me is the opportunity to build relationships. Together with architects, designers, and end-users, I take joy in participating in a design concept and watching it unfold into reality. As well as working with those involved on the conceptual side of designing and furnishing spaces, I am also connected to those that will benefit from those decisions. I love the reaction of employees and management as they move into their new more functional and beautiful work spaces. That is rewarding.
The trunk. To own the dealership… that was my dream for the next 10 years. Paul and I would talk about the “some day” dream of buying the company and the details of how that could happen. I could envision how I would do things differently. I’m kind of like my work. I’m a blend of a piece of art and a copier. On one hand, I’m not very “corporate.” I don’t like meetings or policy binders. I don’t like to wear a tie every day. And I think a ping-pong table in the office is a cool idea. On the other hand, I’m my father’s son. Work hard. Do it right. Don’t whine. I couldn’t stop thinking about how things might be when I got my chance to lead the company.
The lumberjack. Then came the first blow. Paul left the company. Both subconsciously and practically, I was relying on us doing this together. I had, by that time, 12 years in the industry but not a viable plan on how to accomplish this dream alone. With sons in high school and college, I needed financial stability, not a risk. After my initial reaction of “there goes the dream” I rebounded and resolved to figure out a way to see my dream come true. I talked to fellow businessmen. Researched my options. Learned more. And in 2008 I approached the owner about buying the company. We agreed on a price and were talking about possible owner-financing options.
Then the next blow came. The owner changed his mind and sold the company to an out of town businessman who could pay cash for the company. It makes complete sense. But buying the company would never be an option for me now. After 15 years with a company that I loved, in an industry that had captivated me, my dream evaporated.
The branches. I was still my father’s son. Work hard. Do it right. Don’t whine. And that’s what I did (I may have whined a couple of times…). Our dealership made it ahead of our peers through the recession of 2009 and continued to rebound. But the new management was like the previous in many of the same ways. Not bad, just different. We had different visions. My experience in the industry gave me a love for it and a desire to see it grow and evolve in much the same way as you would a child. It wasn’t an income or just a business to me. It had become my life.
The leaves. Then something happened. Herman Miller, the 100 year old global office furniture manufacturer, approached me about running their local dealership. It was the second time they had approached me. Nine years earlier I had turned them down. But this time ownership was a possibility. I wasn’t interested in running someone else’s company someone else’s way anymore. For me to leave the company I had been loyal to most of my adult life, this new endeavor would have to be mine: all or nothing.
The other promising and exciting aspect was the Herman Miller factor. This presented an opportunity to represent iconic lines from over half a century of classic designs. Not only are these time-honored museum pieces, but they represent everything that is not that. They are progressive, trendsetting, and innovative. They embody that dichotomy of old and new, of art and practicality. They are the theme of what I envisioned for my own business model.
I must admit that by that time in my life I had a new motive as well. As much as I had thrown into my work, I had also thrown into my sons. They grew up to be much better versions of myself. They are more innovative, savvy, energetic, and yes, even more “cool” than I am. And more importantly – and what is missing in so many of their generation – I have somehow managed to pass on to them my father’s work ethic. They work hard, do it right, and don’t whine. They blow me away. And I wanted to work with that kind of people.
The fruit. With more calculating, exploring options, gut checks and praying, Evo was nurtured into existence. Twenty years after I debuted in the industry, I put everything on the line to start Evo. We began this journey October 1, 2013.
I am humbly blessed to have some of the best in the field join me. Accompanying me from our previous dealership came my counterpart: Karen. She knew what I didn’t about the business. She not only brought another 20 years experience, but a heart that was ready to take a chance on the vision of doing things better. Ashley – who always presents her work back to you faster than you had hoped and better than what you had envisioned – came too. Then there was Sarah. We had to lean heavily on her during our transition. Like any move to a new place, someone needs to know where in the world everything is. And she bore the weight of our leaning on her at the start and has continued to offer incredible design insight and hard work.
As well, Gwyn leapt on board. She somehow figured out what was going on before anyone outside of Herman Miller and my family knew. She called and requested a meeting with me. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “I think you are the one buying the Herman Miller dealership and I want in.” Now that takes skill. And as I had hoped, but tried not to push, my sons also decided to join us. Both are uniquely gifted, different, but complimentary. Zac is the natural salesman: never met a stranger and passionate about helping others achieve their goals. Casey is the practical, analytical one: decide what needs to happen and figure out how to get it done.
And my launching team was complete. This team – intertwined – is the core of my confidence in the future of Evo.