Succeeding in Oversaturated Markets

Succeeding In Oversaturated Markets

Successfully growing a business in a crowded industry requires you to go the extra mile. That is why you should tune in to today’s Startup Hustle episode. Matt Watson has an insightful conversation with Edgar Blazona, the president and founder of BenchMade Modern. They discuss ways to create value for your target market in order to survive and thrive against competitors.

Covered In This Episode

The business of selling furniture has seen immense growth throughout the years. It led to an oversaturated market with so many entrepreneurs struggle to come out on top. The founder of BenchMade Modern devised a way to beat the competition. Here are some things he shared in the podcast:

  • The making of Edgar Blazona as an entrepreneur and BenchMade Modern
  • The beauty and the struggles of choosing modernism as a market niche
  • Benefits of being acquired by a bigger company
  • How BenchMade Modern competes in the market
  • State of furniture making pre- and post-COVID
  • Building consumer trust through effective marketing and a good business model
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Highlights

  • Edgar Blazona and his story of creating BenchMade Modern (01:55)
  • Choosing modernism as a niche (03:17)
  • How American Leather acquired BenchMade Modern (06:57)
  • Creating a furniture business online, establishing brand awareness, and building consumer trust (09:50)
  • What is the competitive advantage of BenchMade Modern? (15:34)
  • Pre- and post-COVID changes in the furniture industry (20:34)
  • The number one nemesis of a furniture business owner (25:49)
  • Best business model and go-to marketing strategy for a furniture business (31:46)
  • What worried Edgar the most about competing with bigger companies? (39:11)
  • Riding the e-commerce and tech advancements (42:00)
  • What are Edgar’s thoughts on how to win against the Goliaths in the industry (47:28)

Key Quotes

When you get all these envelopes of little swatch cuttings and stickers and so on, you will remember our giant box. That is how I signal quality to you. That is how, in a way, kind of convince you that buying a sofa can happen online.

Things go wrong. Startup struggles week in and week out. Some days, you’re gonna be a millionaire. The other days, you’re gonna go totally out of business and lose everything. You kinda have to ride this wave.

I’m not a believer that the guy who outworks everybody is the winner. I’m a believer that the guy who can play the long ball is the winner. In order to play the long ball, you have to ride the ups and downs.

More advice for business owners in saturated markets is waiting for you. Listen to this episode today!

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Rough Transcript

The following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode.

00:00.00

Matt Watson

And we’re back for another episode of Startup Hustle. This is your host today, Matt Watson. My guest today is Edgar Blazona with BenchMade Modern. [I am] excited to talk to him about his furniture business and how he is competing against all sorts of giant companies in the industry. We all want to take on the monsters, and he’s doing it. So we’re gonna talk to him more about succeeding in that situation. But before we get started, [I just want to] remind you that today’s episode of Startup Hustle is sponsored by Canva. You can collaborate and create an amazing graphic design for free, whether it’s a presentation to share, an idea to launch your business, or a social post to start a conversation. With Canva, you can design anything and discover the magic of visual communication. Canva helps you create a lasting impact today. Visit http://canva.com to learn more. Edgar, welcome to the show.

00:53.60

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m excited about this.

00:57.27

Matt Watson

First of all, I should tell you, one of the first jobs I ever had was selling furniture. So I don’t know why I’m weirdly excited about this conversation.

01:05.11

Edgar Blazona

Wow. Okay.

01:10.97

Matt Watson

Tell us about yourself and your background. How did you get into the furniture business? 

01:13.92

Edgar Blazona

I started out when I actually left high school and started a furniture company. It wasn’t necessarily my direction in life. I didn’t have furniture for the little apartment I had. And I started making things that turned into a business. I would straighten up furniture on the sidewalk. You know, I’d be out in front of the bar at night, I’d have these coffee table consoles set up, and I would just be slinging furniture. That became a career, and later on, I had a cabinet shop. Then [I] went to work for Pottery Barn; that was my college, so to speak. Since then, I have started a couple of brands, and now, BenchMade Modern.

02:02.48

Matt Watson

Furniture is an interesting market. You have a lot of different segments to it. You got Ikea, obviously, its own kind of segment. And then you have furniture that is pure art. And you have everything in between. 

02:15.50

Edgar Blazona

Yeah.

02:21.69

Matt Watson

So when you started a furniture business, what was your target market there?

02:26.87

Edgar Blazona

Well, I’m a bit embarrassed to say because it’s, you know, frankly a shitty market. I went after modernism. And modernism is true to me, right? And that’s why that’s when I say it’s shitty; it is because it’s such a small portion.

02:38.47

Matt Watson

Okay.

02:46.19

Edgar Blazona

When I started in the 90s, one-two percent of America liked modernism, so it wasn’t a very good business model. Since modernism has kind of picked up and taken over, I’ve had all kinds of different avenues within the furniture world. For a long time, I made custom furniture. I worked for some of the big-box retailers, including Walmart, Target, and those guys. So I’ve been all over the world trying to figure out what my furniture is.

03:22.66

Edgar Blazona

But I always knew that I would get back to modernism in the end. Luckily, modernism has kind of become quite a thing now, and I’m sort of a leader in it, which is pretty cool and surprising.

03:34.14

Matt Watson

When you say modernism, would you also just describe that as contemporary?

03:39.52

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, I mean, there are so few nuances of modernism. I don’t like to be that douche designer that pinpoints exactly what people are trying to say. I think that, in general, like Apple stores, you know, Apple did such a great job of actually bringing modernism to the world. Then you’ve got all these hotels, so things started to change around that. Going back to your question, contemporary versus modernism. Yeah, I mean, it’s all sort of in that modern vein.

03:58.92

Matt Watson

Yeah.

04:14.24

Edgar Blazona

But there are slight nuances between the two.

04:15.16

Matt Watson

Well, it is one of the biggest segments of furniture and design. Now, would you say transitional is that kind of . . . what you do is it is kind of transitional as well?

04:21.76

Edgar Blazona

Yes, yeah. You know, we try to span the whole spectrum. Yes, transitional, I would say again, if I don’t want to get too into the nuances. Yeah, sure, we have [been] transitional. From classic all the way into modernist, right? But I would say that we try to put a modern spin on pretty much everything that we have. Maybe a more updated look would be a general description of our goods.

05:01.60

Matt Watson

So your business [is], that you have today, BenchMade Modern. It’s located in California, where you guys are located.

05:10.90

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, it’s weird. Yeah, we’re split, right? These days, we were acquired not too long ago by a huge manufacturer in Dallas. So my office is in California, but I actually have people all over the world. It’s really difficult when people ask that question. You know what our is. Um, do you know where’s our location? I sit in California. I’ve got multiple team members to sit in California ah, several sit in Dallas, and then a whole spectrum of people throughout the world working on various, you know, projects for us. So it’s really kind of difficult to say exactly where we’re from. But.

05:46.21

Matt Watson

Okay, so you’re but, um, so who are you guys acquired by. Okay, so I actually have two pieces from American leather. I believe that I bought a couch and a couple of chairs.

05:48.88

Edgar Blazona

But I’m from California. So American leather. Yeah.

06:02.85

Edgar Blazona

I wouldn’t be surprised.

06:03.26

Matt Watson

Um, from American leather. So um and I bought them because they were a more transitional modern style. But um, so how? So how did the acquisition come about? So what? What? What led them to want to acquire you guys.

06:17.36

Edgar Blazona

Well, we are a direct-to-consumer furniture business, right? and there’s you know we are considered a disrupter in the space and I think there’s ah, there’s a lot of these older companies have been around for a long time and that have needed to get you to know? Ah. In a position where they’re actually, you know, directly interacting with the customer, you know, um, um, American leather at the time probably didn’t you know, know who you were or what you did or yeah, anything about you probably because you bought it through a retailer that they sold through so you worked directly with that retailer. 

06:49.10

Matt Watson

I Did, yep.

06:56.30

Edgar Blazona

You know American leather, in general, is just providing the sofa so we are in touch with that customer. You know every day directly. Um, you know, directly from our factories into their homes and I think in general the. The direction of these new disruptors. These cool companies are direct to consumers, and you know we call them direct to consumers. Basically, we are, um, an online first-type brand. Um, you know, an online native type brand, and so they needed to have that in their portfolio. Of companies and so we were required.

07:33.87

Matt Watson

So do you think people like Casper and the mattress part of this kind of led the way with this direct Consumer Market? Would you say?

07:41.40

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, that’s an awesome question. I actually use them as part of my example. You know, when I started, I raised a bunch of capital. I live in the bay area just outside of San Francisco. I grew up here, and there’s all this investor Vc. You know startup capital is happening, and it was very hard to raise money for a direct-to-consumer business. The cases of the world. I would also say dollar shave club, and that’s another one of those particular groups.

08:13.45

Matt Watson

Yep.

08:15.17

Edgar Blazona

You know, I started to create eye bonobos, another great one for clothing. You know, those guys kind of brought a little bit of spotlight to the investment world, and they thought, okay, well, we can. We can invest in these companies. There’s actually, you know, a path to growth, and so I think Casper hugely helped me in raising capital for sure.

08:38.82

Matt Watson

So How do you go about creating a furniture business that is primarily online, and you know, the consumer adoption of that getting people to know that you exist. And for me, it seems like I can understand buying a mattress online. You’re like, I’m not really sure if this thing is comfortable or not. People say it’s comfortable. So I’m going to take a chance, but like I need a sofa and I don’t know what color it is and like it like to me like that just seems so much more complicated right? So how was that journey?

09:05.51

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, I mean, yeah, not to put you on the spot and all, but I want you to back up and hear what you just said, right? I mean, you just said I’m gonna. I can totally understand how I could buy a mattress online, something that you spend.

09:14.50

Matt Watson

Yeah.

09:20.51

Matt Watson

Um, yeah, I know, yep.

09:24.74

Edgar Blazona

Every day on. So here’s what just happened. I mean, let’s just take a step back and reflect on that, right? Casper worked on you, right? They put this energy into you, and they basically gave you tools and.

09:34.63

Matt Watson

Yeah.

09:40.54

Edgar Blazona

And through enough press and you know through enough podcast advertisements and all that and made it okay, and so that’s what you see in the sofa business as well, right? A lot of my job is actually, yeah, and is actually frankly converting you, right? Yeah, I mean, you’re the exact customer, right? I can’t imagine.

09:42.33

Matt Watson

Um, yeah.

09:48.79

Matt Watson

Moving.

09:54.60

Matt Watson

Um, yeah.

10:00.23

Edgar Blazona

You know, buying a sofa without sitting at first. However, you just said the opposite for the mattress business, right? It’s perfect, and so you know, part of what we do is kind of train. We talk about this funnel, right? This is a kind of marketing voodoo right of how we get the customer in the funnel. Bring them down the funnel, and there are all these nuances that I’m doing to signal to you that it’s okay for you to buy a sofa online. You know you come to our site. You know, a hundred-day tryout, right? You can try it out, and that’s why we have so little return on that.

10:29.79

Matt Watson

No.

10:36.11

Edgar Blazona

Is it hardly anything, right? But it signals to you like okay, you know these guys stand behind it. We send out this giant box of swatches, and I always tell everyone to get the swatch box where we send it to you on second-day air. The reason why I do that is that I want to be the first one in the door. But really I’m signaling to you like we’re badass like we’re the guys like when you get all these envelopes of you to know little swatch cuttings and little you know stickers and so on like you’ll remember our giant box, and that’s how I signal quality to you.

10:58.83

Matt Watson

We have.

11:14.35

Edgar Blazona

And that’s how you know in a way kind of convinces you through a little Judo that you know buying a sofa can happen online and that it’s okay and I’ve got several more tricks within that funnel that kind of do and signal the same thing.

11:30.82

Matt Watson

I mean, I would imagine that the key above all with this is, like you said, speed is important, but quality, right? Like you’ve got to have a really, really, really good product and experience all the way because it’s all about trust, like you got to get people to trust.

11:46.10

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, yeah.

11:47.94

Matt Watson

They’re buying this thing online, and when they get it. It’s gonna be super high quality, and they’re gonna be happy with it, and then you’ve got to get the referrals and the reviews and all that that continue to tell that story, right? Because otherwise, if like 80% of the people that get it they like ah I could have bought the same piece of shit at Ikea like it’s gonna.

11:54.99

Edgar Blazona

Yeah.

12:05.43

Edgar Blazona

Totally agree. Yeah, I totally agree, and you know, I think there’s one thing that people forget, right? Okay, at our price point, we have to have good quality. I talk a lot about what’s under the hood.

12:06.21

Matt Watson

It makes it really difficult right? Like you’ve got to have a super high-quality product, I would imagine, is the key.

12:24.34

Edgar Blazona

I won’t bore you with all that, but I try to basically create and put the best materials underneath the cover because online, you know, you look at a thousand dollars sofas, and you look at a $5000 sofa, you know, design-wise they’re not that far off, but it’s those materials that actually go in it. But I think there’s one thing that people miss. And especially in the sofa business and and and it’s what I called you to know turning the problem right? Turning that one scenario that something went wrong and converting that customer to a brand advocate like what do we do after we’ve taken your credit card. That’s a big thing because. Always you know, it’s not like stuff goes wrong all the time. It doesn’t, but there are things that happen along the way, and what I’m looking to do is, you know, take that bad situation and make it okay for you, and then you’re going to tell your neighbor. You know what? Like. This thing came and fell off the truck. You know they replaced it. No problem. You know it was quick. It was easy. I think that is as important as the quality of the furniture.

13:29.86

Matt Watson

Yeah, I think the other part of this is like, so my wife is the person that she’s all about the fabric like crazy about how the fabric feels. I’m actually doing a lot of remodeling and doing a lot of furniture shopping these days and um.

13:37.50

Edgar Blazona

Um, yeah, yeah.

13:49.70

Matt Watson

I had an interior decorator at my house this morning talking about buying a couch, and yeah, so I did. I did yeah, and um, yeah, so ah, but my wife is crazy about the fabrics and stuff so getting those swatches.

13:51.73

Edgar Blazona

No, you didn’t, really. That’s awesome. Yeah.

14:05.80

Matt Watson

And all of that would be a super important and actually true story. Um, yesterday I was buying some barstools, so we needed some barstools, and was looking at a website from what’s called Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams. I’m sure you know they are, and I found some awesome barstools on their website, and I ordered some swatches 10 minutes later. Somebody called me and said oh, I live 20 minutes from you. I have your swatches can. I can bring them by.

14:24.39

Edgar Blazona

Yep.

14:37.20

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, yeah.

14:41.47

Matt Watson

Literally an hour later. They’re at my house with our watches, so they did. They destroyed your two-day shipping. Ah, but that’s great. It was crazy that they showed up an hour later.

14:44.15

Edgar Blazona

That’s pretty amazing. That’s amazing. Yeah yeah, however, now or when you call them back. Ask them what their lead time is on those stools, and we’ll see who destroys who.

14:56.49

Matt Watson

Um, yeah, sixteen weeks. Wow, that’s huge.

15:01.48

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, well, we’re at five weeks, and honestly, we’re at five weeks on a fully custom product, right? So all of our sofas are made within five-inch increments you know, so span you make it bigger, smaller, all that and then up to you know about one hundred and hundred and fifteen different materials, fabrics and leathers and so on.

15:12.43

Matt Watson

Um, that’s awesome.

15:20.72

Edgar Blazona

But we’re doing that in five weeks, and I’ll tell you, you know that’s like that is so long for us. You know, pre covid, we were at ten days, and that is our goal, so we’re going through this backlog right now. We’re trying to get you to know through that get kind of past these covid era times and so on and.

15:28.53

Matt Watson

Wow.

15:39.92

Edgar Blazona

And we’ll get back to that ten days, you know, when I started the company. You know we were at we had we? This is my startup era, right? we were at we would make you a custom made sofa by the inch within 24 hours, right you could pay a couple extra hundred dollars and get a sofa made in 24 hours now

15:51.45

Matt Watson

Wow. Ah.

15:58.97

Edgar Blazona

Here’s a funny thing that turns out that people don’t like something made that quick because how could you know this BenchMade Modern company makes it in 24 hours, yet if I bought the same, you know, $5000 sofa restoration hardware, it would take. I don’t know, sixteen weeks or whatever, so it must not be good now. That’s not the case, but it must not be good, and so we’ve had to kind of, you know, play with that throttle back. It also turns out that people don’t like it to be made quicker than it can be shipped.

16:18.45

Matt Watson

Um, yeah.

16:34.81

Edgar Blazona

That’s another interesting point and so.

16:36.48

Matt Watson

There’s an interesting perception of quality and value there, right? And honestly, that was a, hard, I want to say a hard lesson, but it was a lesson that I learned as a software developer like fifteen years ago like I get on the phone with a customer like oh yeah, we can fix that’s no big deal I’ll have it done a couple of days and like. And like our boss, my boss is like whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa! We gotta build value here. We gotta make them sound like this is hard, and they gotta pay a lot of money for it even if it just takes you 2 hours to fix that shit. You don’t tell them that and it.

16:53.18

Edgar Blazona

Um, totally.

17:04.59

Edgar Blazona

It’s such shit. You know, yeah, hundred percent you say that’ not the same thing but sort of the same thing say you got to build some value here. Yeah, yeah, absolutely, you know it doesn’t take that long to make a sofa. It’s kind of the.

17:07.40

Matt Watson

It was the same, not not the same thing but sort of the same thing. You got to build some value here and make it look like we got to do some work so we can charge some money, man.

17:21.27

Edgar Blazona

Ah, part of our disruption is like, how do we? How do we make a product that is supposed to be made in, you know, sixteen weeks which is really made in 8 hours so what happened there like where did you know where did everyone go wrong and. A lot of it has to do with your ordering process. You know how long it takes you to get the materials. You know the transparency of all that, right, like those bar stools. Did anyone tell you that that red fabric within that swatch kit that you just got yesterday is no longer in stock. Not available for sixty weeks, or you know all this crazy stuff that happens that somehow within this upholstery world furniture business. It just became okay to like, well, we’ll just call them and tell them what’s gonna be sixty weeks. You know it’s ridiculous like that, and so that was one of the things that we set out to be different with. Let’s just be transparent. Let’s not have fabrics. It takes sixty weeks to get and if and if one of our suppliers is going to do that then drop the fabric, and there’s no reason for us to offer that um and you know I I feel like that’s a big part of where the furniture industry has gone wrong, right? I mean. How many times like you, you probably got a nice house, right? Like how many times you waited for a piece of furniture for what seems like forever, you know, and I’m the dude who comes over to dinner at your house. And the first thing you say to me is, so I hear you’re in the furniture business. You know I bought this piece of furniture. It took sixty weeks to get it, and frankly, it sucks, you know, like I get that sit all the time like that’s a common thing that happens to me, and you know I I set out to kind of fix that and frankly, just.

18:56.56

Matt Watson

Yeah.

19:06.41

Edgar Blazona

Frankly, for myself, you know, ah, the response for me is well. You didn’t buy it for me, then you know it was.

19:08.87

Matt Watson

So I have a lot more questions about this. I want to ask you a few more questions about that because it pisses me off, frankly, but before we get into that and remind Betty that today’s episode of Startup Hustle is sponsored by Canva. With Canva, you can design your ideas with ease and get inspired.

19:26.94

Matt Watson

Over 500000 free templates and a rich content library that helps you and your team achieve your goals. Sign up and start designing for free at http://canva.com. So why does it take sixteen weeks? Is it just ah, is it like the whole just-in-time inventory thing where they just don’t have the materials, or is it a shortage of labor these days like like so right now it seems like a lot of places are like 12 to sixteen weeks did it used to be 4 to 6 before covid and everything is just backlogged or is that kind of normal for the industry.

19:58.41

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, the great, great question, and I and, you know, while I basically I’m selling out my industry by telling the truth, right? The real reason is that the line is long, right? That’s I mean the bottom line I mean there’s some. Outliers there. Maybe you know that example of sixty-week fabric, right? that product fabric company or that production you know is something happened or you know they’re so backlogged or whatever, but the majority of that is based on um, a backlog of people. And then also the material orderings you’ve touched on it just-in-time manufacturing I mean IT actually you know I don’t really believe in just-in-time manufacturing in that model if you don’t have the components like just in time manufacturing works if every one of your suppliers is also just in time right? But if you’re. Claiming to be just in time and you don’t have a leg, right? or don’t have the fabric, then it’s really hard, so you know the truth is that it takes us, you know, 8 hours to push you to know even quicker really to push a sofa down the line and you know to get it out the door. Um. But the line is so long, and COVID in the furniture world covid kind of change things. One was a huge problem with foam for a while. This backed things up. There are two foam suppliers, the material and the actual raw material that goes into the foam.

21:18.32

Matt Watson

E.

21:27.68

Edgar Blazona

Ah, one had a freeze in that whole Ah yeah, Texas freeze time, and the other one was offline for Epa, you know, changes and cleaning and all that and so that that set everyone back and then covid happened and you know it’s not easy to find upholsters. You know these old worlds are the old world technique and. And ah, you know it’s hard to train. You know, young and aspiring furniture makers in the upholstery world because it takes time.

21:54.13

Matt Watson

You mentioned the foam. I ordered brand-new refrigerators last September, and if I’m lucky, I will get them this September a year later, and it was all because insulation had to do with that foam the same stuff you just mentioned can’t get refrigerators because of foam. It’s crazy. Yeah.

22:06.21

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, yeah, we all went on foam allocation, and you know, surprisingly um, we were, you know, it was down to 60%. It wasn’t just me. It’s across everybody. You know the people that make Mitchell’s, you know stools and the.

22:22.63

Matt Watson

Um, yeah.

22:24.35

Edgar Blazona

The guy who does this and that we all went on this, and so it was really hard. A lot of it had to do with your previous relationships, and you know even we have a small facility in La Ah, where we manufactured there, and you know we were buying foam out the back door, and you know taking care of the guys with bottles of Tequila. You know, making sure that we were getting our phone.

22:45.30

Matt Watson

So do you do all your manufacturing in the LA area, or okay? So you mentioned earlier like the skills and stuff required to do this kind of work is it almost.

22:48.44

Edgar Blazona

Um, no, we do some in ah both Dallas and in l a.

23:02.60

Matt Watson

Assembly line style, or does the same person like to make a whole couch? I’m just kind of curious.

23:05.00

Edgar Blazona

Well, there are multiple ways, right? So our name is BenchMade Modern, right? that comes from Benchmade is a type of furniture made on the up poster in our case, the upholster’s bench, right? If it were a cabinet. There’s Benchmade cabinetry. There’s a bench made, you know, but any sort of furniture. And that means they make it through and through right from the frame all the way across. In our case, we do like a hybrid version of that. That’s where the modern comes in from our name BenchMade Modern. So you know, fabrics are cut on, and style machines frame materials are cut on CNC style machines. We actually have a frame maker, right? and then we have a, so you know, a team of sewers, right? and then um and finally that package the frame and the sewing package is handed off to the upholstery.

23:49.14

Matt Watson

This is.

23:59.25

Edgar Blazona

To be made on the upholstered bench. Now that’s how we do it? Um, and that’s how we can tailor everything. A lot of the difference between ah, a fine quality upholstered well is really the tailoring, and when I say tailoring, it’s in the sewing, it’s in you know how good the cutting. 

24:00.50

Matt Watson

The.

24:18.12

Edgar Blazona

When we marry the frame to the sewing piece, you know that it all comes together perfectly, and then that last part which is so valuable is the upholster, right? He’s stretching and pulling the fabric. You know to kind of make that really good. Beautiful piece.

24:27.89

Matt Watson

And

24:35.46

Edgar Blazona

Suppose it was just a quick line thing. They just pulled over and stapled the bottom, and they’re out of there.

24:39.70

Matt Watson

It’s a lot. It’s like the fit and finishes, and leather stitching and all that in the Arari seat are just a little different. It’s just a little different, man, the way they do it. I don’t know how they do it. It’s magic, and its level of quality level quality. Is there.

24:43.80

Edgar Blazona

Totally. A lot of polling. Yeah, a lot of polling and reading the materials and and and that’s all the difference in the world.

24:55.61

Matt Watson

So you talked about trying to build the furniture and inventory and speed and all that, so isn’t your worst enemy offering all these different fabric choices? Wouldn’t that be your worst enemy?

25:05.79

Edgar Blazona

Ah, ah, my worst enemy is shipping fabric. It is not my worst industry enemy, you know? Ah, um, you know, fabrics. Yeah, I mean, we have a lot of money invested in our fabrics, right?

25:16.46

Matt Watson

Um, just having a warehouse and a hundred fabrics or whatever.

25:25.26

Edgar Blazona

You know that’s part of you know what we do is we manage that fabric inventory and how do we manage it. You know that sort of thing, and it’s really hard. I know I would love to actually tie 1 of our projects. You know the fabric inventory directly to the website. Right? So that you know, even if I had, let’s say, three red sofas ordered that day by the time that you got on to order your red sofa, I don’t have any more fabric stock of red, so it wouldn’t even show you red right? and so there’s. There are things like that that I know that’s coming in our process that I would love to know? Fine-tune a little better, but I think a lot of it has to do with how we do it. Inventory it. How do we control it, and can we invest enough in that inventory? That’s what we do.

26:01.91

Matt Watson

The.

26:13.49

Matt Watson

Well, I mean, I’m also the kind of person that feels like the more choices you have too. It just makes it harder for clients to order. You’re like, okay, you got 50 grays. How the hell do I pick one? I don’t freaking. No, just if you had 2, I could narrow it down by I can’t do it. You got 50 of like.

26:23.38

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, yeah, it. That’s funny. That’s funny. You say that right because we have you, and then we have the customer who’s like.

26:34.53

Matt Watson

Um, yeah, yeah, yep, yeah, yes.

26:37.30

Edgar Blazona

This gray isn’t cool enough. There’s not enough blue in it. You know, don’t you have this one that’s just a little bit darker. You know, like it just never ends and so you know a lot of you know you could call in to our people at the frontline, and they’ll talk to you. They’ll kind of walk you through that, and they might just say to you, hey, look, just pick a gray. Like you know, stop the madness. One thing we always say is, you know, paint the room later, right? Because while we offer a hundred colors, I probably only have ten grays. I mean, gray is the most popular color that we have, right? and so maybe I have 10 grays, you know, something like that. But. But there are a bazillion gray colors to paint your wall. You know, so start with the upholster goods first, then paint the wall to go with it. Um.

27:22.78

Matt Watson

I know all about the grays. I painted my bathroom gray and then, based on the sunlight and the morning and the type of light bulbs. The gray looked pink. So then I painted a different shade of gray that really didn’t look that much different, and then, depending on the light and everything, it would look a little purple.

27:31.66

Edgar Blazona

Yes.

27:39.76

Edgar Blazona

Yes, I live next to a neon yellow house. It was my first house ever back, and it was like in the ghetto days, right? And this neon House Yellow House would, basically.

27:41.92

Matt Watson

It was just like yeah, gray is crazy.

27:50.26

Matt Watson

Progenies.

27:56.15

Matt Watson

Um.

27:56.54

Edgar Blazona

It shines through our windows and changes the entire color of everything, so we had to paint our room, but then at night, the color was kind of weird and wrong. But I had no choice; I had to basically pay for the day.

28:06.27

Matt Watson

So you mentioned shipping earlier. I imagine you know this isn’t like, ah, we joked earlier about Casper mattresses that I don’t know how there was like some major invention there to figure out how to get those damn things in a box and the way that they wrapped those things so tightly is mind-blowing.

28:26.15

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, yeah, well, you brought up 2 2 interesting points, right? How do you do? How do you return it after it’s out of the packaging? Another challenge, right? and and and you know for us. Um.

28:26.18

Matt Watson

Good luck trying to return one of them. But how do you do that with a sofa? How do you ship 1 of these things, man?

28:42.40

Edgar Blazona

You know we ship Nine-foot goods, right? It’s a big giant thing, so you know we make our own crates, our own pallets. I should say we shipped it through the trucking line. It was not cheap. You know, people talk about free shipping. You know, like. I’m eating that, and it’s a lot. It’s not. It’s not, you know it’s cheap on a pair of shoes. It was very, very expensive. You know, shipping frankly to your home. Ah, you know, ah, a sectional sofa is a thousand dollars for me. It’s ah it’s big. It’s a high cost and.

29:11.64

Matt Watson

Wow, and you have free shipping. It’s, and it’s just concluded in the price or who.

29:18.85

Edgar Blazona

We do. We have free curbside shipping, yep, and then you know we have white glove delivery as well. It’s a little bit of an added charge. But you know it’s definitely not cheap, ah, to ship, and then you know what? Why I said, it was you know my the ban of my existence is. You know guys don’t like to carry a three hundred pound thing or move a £200 thing, right? It’s hard and so they, you know, they.

29:41.21

Matt Watson

Wait a second. That’s the only reason my wife keeps me around. Hold on, that’s like my job security.

29:47.33

Edgar Blazona

Ah, to move things that suck. I’m sorry. Oh yeah, I actually, you know, I used to do my own deliveries and yeah, in the bay area back when I very first started.

29:52.78

Matt Watson

Yes, ah, maybe it feels like it some days.

30:07.10

Edgar Blazona

And I was like, okay, you know what? To save a little money, I’m going to do all my own local deliveries, right? I’d, you know, go pick it up at the cross stock, and I’d put it on my pickup truck. You know I’d show up in my BenchMade Modern shirt. I’d get it into these people’s homes. It taught me a lot, man. It taught me how hard it is to get a piece like that in the door. It. You know it changed our model from a ten-foot sofa to a nine-foot sofa that’s kind of being the max like ten feet just too big. It’s just you can’t get it into a lot of people’s homes, and so it really likes it. It changed my world. It also taught me, you know to be nicer to the delivery guy, right? When the.

30:39.92

Matt Watson

The health.

30:42.31

Edgar Blazona

The delivery guy reaches out to you to shake your hand, and you give him, you know, a bad look like I’m not shaking your hand, and then that delivery guy says, Well, I’m the designer of that sofa, and the owner ah, you would be surprised at the shocking look that these customers would give me you know.

30:54.76

Matt Watson

Um, yeah.

30:57.70

Edgar Blazona

And I would walk away; I’d be like yeah, that’s one for the delivery guys, right? Maybe that guy will be such a jerk next time.

31:01.83

Matt Watson

So let’s talk more about your business model and the competition you have, you know? So you know when you start this Business. You’re like, oh, we’re just going to sell furniture online like what. What are the thoughts there around your Go-to-market Strategy, and how do customers know that you exist and all that kind of all that part of it. What did you guys have to do?

31:24.84

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, well, that’s um, you know it’s really crowded out here, right? and covid didn’t help, right? A lot of people were at home, and a lot of people thought, okay, I’m going to start these businesses. Luckily we started. You know well before that, and you know our Seo traffic was. Was already. You know, doing really well, and we already had a name, we already had reviews and all that, I think, in the beginning when we very first started. Um, you know it was about the press, and so I spent a lot of my time, you know, focused on how to get good press. You know, good quality press and. You know it. It doesn’t. It doesn’t hurt that I’m married to a Pr person, right? So I had a little bit of a leg up. Um, but I’ve understood press all along, and you know one of the things that we did was I was building a sofa vending machine basically, and you could if you go online, you could do a Google search for. Benchmade Modern robot, and it was this. It was this iPad-controlled giant robot that you could swipe through and pick your sofa, and you could go up, and it would go up in the air. Grab the sofa off a wall and bring it like a love seat down to your feet if you want to see another one. It would go put it away and bring another one back was ah like a giant pegboard system of sofas. And you know I did that for two things. I was building these small little hybrid stores. But part of that was how I got pressed. No one wants to write about a sofa. So what? If you make a better sofa than the next guy, right? That’s just not something that is very press-worthy. So. I think finding ways to, you know, not be cheesy about the press, right? is it not that floaty guy out in the front of your store like here now. You know that’s not press-worthy, but how do you find a way to get press in a very crowded world? Um, and my thing has always been gorilla marketing. You know, I grew up as a graffiti artist, and I’ve always loved those sort of different avenues of marketing, and that really helped us, and you know, frankly, we had a front-page section in the New York Times, and I acc credit a lot of. Ah, the sale of the company to the New York Times article because it kind of put us on the map, you know, and um I know that you know the company that acquired us American leather. You know, one of the reasons was because they read about me in the New York Times.

33:52.30

Matt Watson

Wow. Well, so how long ago was the acquisition. Okay, so has the business like ten times bigger than it was before or so dramatically different. So.

33:56.27

Edgar Blazona

Three years ago

34:02.39

Edgar Blazona

Yes, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, dramatically different a lot of that has to do with, you know? Um, we were in a position three years ago that we didn’t have enough manufacturing to be able to accommodate. Great press or even big marketing spend, right? and so and so now we have ah you know one of the biggest factories in the country you know behind us, and so we can match whatever sort of.

34:28.13

Matt Watson

Right.

34:33.71

Edgar Blazona

You know to increase and in sales, we can match that from the manufacturing side.

34:37.26

Matt Watson

You know everybody talks about whether they want to have that problem or they have more business than they know what to do with, and I lived through that on the software side. You know, like fifteen years ago, you know, we were signing up so many customers that there was a backlog to install, and then next thing you know, our salespeople just take phone calls all day from customers that are pissed off because they haven’t been installed yet and it’s the same thing for you right? It’s like you have a black Friday sale, like some big event, and you sell a lot of stuff, or you get a lot of press. You sell a lot of stuff you’re like.

34:54.27

Edgar Blazona

Um, yeah.

35:02.22

Edgar Blazona

Totally.

35:07.55

Matt Watson

Shit, we got Johnny out there, and he can make three couches a week, and that’s it. What are we going to do? You’re like, and I don’t know, we just sold 500 of them now. What do we do? Like it’s a whole crazy problem, right.

35:08.99

Edgar Blazona

Um, yeah yeah, I have firsthand experience in that. I did a show back in the 90’s one of my first companies. And I got this big order, and I mean now that would be just such a small order, but at the time, it was like this huge order, and it actually broke me. It actually put me out of business; I actually wasn’t able to do the order. It was too much. I tried to like it.

35:34.38

Matt Watson

Wow.

35:41.59

Edgar Blazona

Build out, you know, the factory. I try to do all this stuff, and at the end of the day, nothing worked, and I did it. It actually put me out of business. So, I understand that really well things go wrong. You know we at 1 point, gosh, you know. Ah, startup struggles right weekend and week out. Some days you’re gonna be a millionaire and the other days you’re gonna go totally out of business and lose everything and you kind of ride this wave, and at one point we were in between factories. We moved to another factory because we thought someone else could do it better. And he actually ended up going bankrupt and left us like high and dry, and we had all these orders man we built a little small little you know, sofa making thing in my factory manager’s backyard. We had trucks coming to his driveway fit to pick up sofas. You know to get them to our customers now, I mean, talk about being handmade and hand-tailored. It couldn’t get any more handmade and tailored, but you know it’s those hurdles, you know, and thank god we didn’t get an order for some crazy amount. We wouldn’t have been able to handle it, and you know I know at that given time. We weren’t spending any money on marketing because we couldn’t handle the orders and what happens there when you have too many orders? You disappoint the customer, right? And that, to me, is the Holy Grail. Do not disappoint. The customer turns them into a brand advocate. I will talk about it.

36:59.33

Matt Watson

Um, yeah.

37:08.23

Matt Watson

Right.

37:11.20

Edgar Blazona

Constantly because man, if I ship you a sofa, your wife, right? She hates our fabric, and it took sixteen weeks, and you hated that the neighbor is going to come over and be like, oh nice sofa and you’re gonna be like, you know what? Yeah, it might look cool, but you know the fabric sucks, and they took sixteen weeks, and I hate them, and they’re gonna.

37:27.63

Matt Watson

Yeah, the network effect of that is huge, right? Like I bought the product I’m happy with it. I tell everybody you know great things about it, and more people buy over a long period of time, right? It’s not necessarily immediate. But if I didn’t buy, then that Network effect doesn’t happen.

37:30.46

Edgar Blazona

Instantly not buy. Yeah, I’m happy with it. Totally you know great things about it. More people buy over alone 30 times writes not a silly immediate. But if I buy, then that network is like this? Yeah, especially with sofas because.

37:46.30

Matt Watson

Right.

37:48.69

Edgar Blazona

There isn’t a product in your home that when your neighbors come over, they touch and feel more than your sofa, right? They sit on your sofa. You all sit around you, watch a game you hang out. You know you hang out after dinner. Whatever, they’re actually sitting on that Sofa. It’s not like you know the cabinet on your back wall or whatever and so. Oftentimes this starts that conversation, and if we blow it along the way, your neighbor is going to know it. So when you were trying to launch this direct consumer business. What was your bigger competition? Was it really just getting their name out there more than anything, or what? What? What was it?

38:13.12

Matt Watson

So when you were trying to launch this direct-to-consumer business. What was your biggest competition? Was it really just getting your name out there more than anything, or what? What? What was it that you know the most about competing with a hundred other people?

38:31.00

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, you know, when we first started, I had a brand called true modern, and we sold a sofa through wayfare. It was actually the company before they were wayfare called Csn stores and all modern and you know so I had been kind of progressing in this in this world. Um.

38:31.83

Matt Watson

You know, the same product, similar product.

38:49.90

Edgar Blazona

And learning the problems that we had to compete with, was these online guys like the wayfarers, right? How do we compete with a product, say, coming out of China? Do you know how we are? How do we compete in a world against you know at the time it was more like criterion barrel and pottery barn. You know. How do we? How do we go up against those guys and then, oh yeah, on top of that, we have to teach the customer to buy this thing without sitting on it without being a crate and barrel or pottery barn and all that, and so the biggest hurdle was that right? A and that started to change.

39:15.92

Matt Watson

Um, yeah.

39:27.42

Edgar Blazona

I think when we started, our business model was going after millennials, right? Because millennials would buy, you know, a product. Ah, you know, online sites on the scene because they were familiar with it. Oh, we’re not going to steal your credit card and run. I mean, do you know.

39:40.70

Matt Watson

Yeah.

39:43.20

Edgar Blazona

Many times I’ve spoken to an older couple or something like that, and they actually asked me like, well, what do you do with my credit card? You know, I don’t know if I want to give you my credit card information because you know you might take it and you know to buy a bunch of beer or something you know, and so you know that that probably was the biggest hurdle.

39:59.90

Matt Watson

Yeah, you think there’s a generational change there that is key to this success.

40:06.26

Edgar Blazona

Yes, hundred percent; however, it’s transitioned, and what it’s allowed me to do is I no longer have to sell a product that is a millennial-priced product, right? I don’t sell them to any millennials these days because. Because my sofas are of the higher end, I’m more of a luxury brand than I was when I started, and so now, you know, it’s become this thing like okay, I can buy, you know, whatever it is online, I could buy a refrigerator online, or I could buy a nice sofa online.

40:25.26

Matt Watson

Right.

40:37.10

Matt Watson

Me.

40:40.85

Edgar Blazona

I’m willing to take the risk, and you know, I credit a lot of that too, you know, some brands around us that have, you know, we weren’t the first to do the hundred days. You know the policy, right? We adapted to that because we thought they were crazy, and we watched them very closely. And nowadays you know we find that it works if you can stand behind your product. You really have to believe in your product, though.

41:00.65

Matt Watson

Well, and you also get to ride the wave of just eCommerce in general, right? Like people buying shoes online or anything on Amazon or clothes or all that stuff and people having good experiences with those and you know they carry that around with him like hey I’ve bought a lot of stuff online, and it’s worked out.

41:06.33

Edgar Blazona

Um, yeah.

41:12.87

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, yeah.

41:18.96

Matt Watson

Let’s try buying this online, right.

41:19.99

Edgar Blazona

Let’s try. Yeah, and the price point keeps going up and now look, you can buy, you know, a Tesla online you know you don’t have to yeah, you know there’s plenty of cars you can buy inline and that sort of thing you would never have thought of that you know back in the day I think you know I think we should all you know, kind of give a little love bow down a bit to um.

41:23.84

Matt Watson

Um.

41:38.17

Edgar Blazona

Zappos, you know Zappos with their shoes changed things, right? They were one of the first people to deliver um shoes like five pairs or whatever and just send them back. You know, and that started to kind of change. People’s mind um, you know, no questions asked kind of thing and.

41:39.82

Matt Watson

Present.

41:51.17

Matt Watson

Yeah, yeah.

41:56.16

Edgar Blazona

And that’s kind of the gold standard for sure at that point in time.

41:57.42

Matt Watson

You mentioned cars. I’ve probably ordered ten cars. I’ve probably purchased ten cars over the last ten-fifteen years. They didn’t test drive any of them. I just like bought it, had it shipped in, or whatever just sight unseen. Now I don’t need to test drive it. Whatever.

42:06.14

Edgar Blazona

Test right? Yeah like.

42:13.42

Edgar Blazona

I don’t think this is so crazy. I’m kind of with you on that; I’m kind of like I like the car. I’ve done my research on it. I’ve looked at it. You know I can’t have that many blind spots. You know, like whatever, um I’ve never been stung in that and and and I think that goes back to.

42:15.57

Matt Watson

Crazy.

42:25.61

Matt Watson

Yeah.

42:32.74

Edgar Blazona

You know, better marketing is better. You know, better things online you can Zoom in, you can look in the interior, you can spin the thing around, you can see it in different colors. You know, there’s a lot that’s happened in technology to kind of push us along, you know, but to that same extent, I actually pushed back on some of that, you know we.

42:51.34

Matt Watson

Here.

42:51.60

Edgar Blazona

I Like the tactile stuff like you. You don’t see those ah Ar-type things happening on our site, right? Where you can click on it and look at it on your phone and an iPad in your home. It never looks good, right? So, for me, it’s as if it doesn’t totally work. It kind of sells a shitty experience, right? So. Do you know? For instance, if you go to our site. You can hit the print button, and we’ll send you a full page giant piece of paper that you layout on the floor of whatever customized sofa you choose, right? and you can lay down in it, and if I fit between the arms can I take a nap in it. Can I. Is it going to fit my room with my coffee table and side table and all that and that’s um, ah, that’s just a little trick that I like to use. It’s tactile, right? It kind of goes back to the old school days. Here’s a fabric swatch That’s tactile; here’s this giant piece of paper that’s tactile, and you can start to really get an understanding of the feel for it. And I think at the end of the day that that shows that we’re willing to go the extra mile, and our customers are willing to buy from us.

43:52.40

Matt Watson

Well, I think even if people don’t use it. The fact that you offer it helps build additional trust, right? Like I’ve seen similar things like ordering light fixtures online where they give you some kind of cut out of like how big the light fixture is so you can do the same sort of thing.

44:03.80

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, yeah.

44:08.24

Matt Watson

I’ve never used that. But just the fact that they offered, I always thought, was super cool. It’s like, Wow, these guys are awesome. This is cool, like it just creates that trust, right.

44:12.69

Edgar Blazona

See, that’s I mean, people don’t realize that we talk back to that funnel, right? I mean, we do that sort of thing. I’m trying to signal to you I think people miss that oftentimes, right? and in online sales. They’re not.

44:23.70

Matt Watson

Who?

44:31.64

Edgar Blazona

Signaling to the customers. Are they either screaming it, right? As you know, number 1 selling wine is the best selling wine blah blah blah, but people aren’t reading that, right? They’re not sending these signals to the customer to say that it’s okay, and it’s that nuance of not being a car salesman but still sending these signals.

44:48.30

Matt Watson

Yeah, it’s ah eCommerce and continues to see more and more things being purchased in eCommerce, right? And it’s just refining the funnel as you said earlier, like all the little tricks, all the little things you got to do that give you knowledge. Ultimately, it’s about trust like a buyer.

44:50.14

Edgar Blazona

It works.

45:07.18

Matt Watson

How do I trust these people [to] have a good product? I’m actually gonna get it. If there’s a problem, they’ll take care of it. How do you create trust in all of those scenarios? Well, once again, a big thank you to today’s episode sponsor Canva. With Canva, you can work together from wherever.

45:15.18

Edgar Blazona

Totally.

45:25.28

Matt Watson

Get on the same page as your team with seamless real-time collaboration. What will you design today? Explore and start designing for free at http://canva.com. Ever use Canva? It makes me feel like I’m a . . .

45:34.22

Edgar Blazona

You know, it’s funny you say that. It’s funny because I wasn’t. . . I wanted to say it, man. We use Canva all the time. We actually love Canva, and that’s no joke. But I didn’t know if I should say that or not, like, “Oh, is that bad [for the] podcast?”

45:48.68

Matt Watson

No. Canva is awesome.

45:52.17

Edgar Blazona

Is it bad podcast etiquette to actually say, “Oh, man, we totally use [it]. But the first thing I’m going to do when I get off this podcast [is] I’m going to call the person who uses the camera. And be like, “You’ll never guess who the sponsor was.” We love Canva. It’s an amazing platform.

46:00.97

Matt Watson

Yeah, I’m sure Canva would love to hear that you designed every one of your sofas while using Canva.

46:11.52

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, a lot of our marketing materials were used—it was made with Canva. I’ll tell you that. Yeah.

46:13.65

Matt Watson

I always joke with my business partner in Full Scale, Matt DeCoursey, that he’s the best graphic artist we have. Thanks to Canva.

46:24.84

Edgar Blazona

Dude, yeah, and on top of that, your wife is the best invitation maker. And you’re like, “Oh, yeah, you need a quick little business card. Here, let me hook you up with the most cool and relevant fonts and all that. So not to be a Canva commercial on top of a Canva commercial.

46:28.51

Matt Watson

Yeah.

46:40.83

Matt Watson

But it’s a slick tool, for sure. Well, I really appreciate your time today. Any final thoughts for our listeners as we close this out today.

46:41.26

Edgar Blazona

I freaking love Canva. It’s awesome.

46:51.90

Edgar Blazona

There are two things in raising capital. Ask for advice. Get money, ask for money. Get Advice. That’s something that is a constant thing, and it really worked for me. And the other thing, I think, being an entrepreneur is such a long haul. I’m not a believer that the guy who outworks everybody is the winner. I’m a believer that the guy who can play the long ball is the winner. In order to play the long ball, you have to ride the ups and downs. If you ride them too high, like on the same day, you’re like, “Oh, I’m cashing out. I’m a bazillionaire.” And then, four hours later, like I’m going out of business—bankrupt. And the emotional wear and tear of that on you, your family, and the people around you are too much. So, if you can, ride that wave a little bit more in the center. Don’t let those highs become too high or lows become too low. You can actually play the long ball game, and it’s the long ball game that wins more often than not. These little quick success stories that we read about in the news are few and far between.

48:09.60

Matt Watson

What do you mean? You weren’t an overnight success. No.

48:16.44

Edgar Blazona

No, I mean, look. I was a success pretty quickly. And you know, that’s what brings me here to talk about it. But it certainly wasn’t overnight. I’ve been building furniture all my life—almost thirty years of furniture. So, no, I wasn’t an overnight success. And boy, I’ve been down on the mat many times and had to find a way to get back up.

48:39.65

Matt Watson

Yeah, I think your advice is great—about the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. You definitely have to be able to handle the stress of the highs and the lows. I’ve always been able to do that. I always tell people that I could work in an emergency room; I would be perfectly cool.

48:58.86

Edgar Blazona

Yeah, yeah, but I agree. But not only that, you have to be able to go home in a reasonable way. You can’t bring that stuff home. You can’t.

48:58.90

Matt Watson

Like missing limbs, this person is dying when I deal with all of it. It’s fine. Just bring him in, and, to some degree, you have to be able to deal with all of it.

49:10.94

Matt Watson

Um, yeah.

49:18.12

Edgar Blazona

You know, “Hey, wife, family, like we’re millionaires.” Then literally later, you’re like, “We’re bankrupt.” That doesn’t work for them. Because they’re not seeing the picture that you’re seeing, so if you bring too much of that, one [way] or another, it can be . . .

49:25.25

Matt Watson

Right for your employees.

49:36.15

Edgar Blazona

Really challenging for them. It’s rough. It could be really rough.

49:39.35

Matt Watson

Well, that’s great advice. I really appreciate your time today. Again, our guest today was Edgar Blazona with BenchMade Modern. I think it’s cool. I’m an American leather customer. Maybe I’ll be a customer of yours, too. But, seriously, I’m looking at buying a sofa today, so I’m gonna check out the website.

49:56.10

Edgar Blazona

Well, we will hook you up [so] that you’ll get a really nice piece of furniture. You know, made by some guys on his bench. Thank you. I appreciate the time.

50:02.27

Matt Watson

All right. Thank you so much. Take care.

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