Neil Martin and Carol Dillard met at the University of Arkansas, where they discovered they 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 in college.
With a primary income from cattle and a berry side business, the pair were sure they had a winning formula. Their family grew with the addition of two boys, 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 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.
They contacted Northwest Arkansas SCORE in 2004 to ask for guidance.
Today you will find Neil busy in his farm buildings, creating one-of-a-kind cedar furniture while Carol hand-finishes every piece. They rented a large, bright showroom on the main highway through Harrison, Arkansas, and now have an extensive online catalog of items ranging from lamps to bed frames.
The Martins have introduced illustrated sales leaflets and printed promo cards to load into the local attractions racks in nearby tourist towns, and have experimented with radio commercials and Yellow Pages advertising. Neil has joked 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 their 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 markup. Neil and 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 their 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.