VOL. 129 | NO. 222 | Thursday, November 13, 2014
By Amos Maki
As Amy Howard built her high-end, luxury furniture manufacturing business in Memphis over 23 years, the entrepreneur developed her own lines of paints and finishes for the pieces.
Amy Howard assists David Kaplan through the steps of creating an embossed zinc finish in one of her workshops she hosts at her company’s headquarters.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
Over time, Howard patented the paints, finishes and the process used to make them and slowly built a network of hundreds of retailers across the country to sell the products.
Now, thanks to a deal with Ace Hardware Stores, Howard is set to exponentially grow her Amy Howard at Home collection of paints and finishes, a partnership that allowed Howard to grow her business while staying true to her beliefs.
Howard had wanted to expand the brand and make it widely available to the fast-growing furniture rehabilitation movement, but didn’t want to “sell out” her entrepreneurial roots.
“I always promised my retailers we would never go into a big-box, like Home Depot, Lowe’s or Michael’s,” said Howard, founder and CEO of Amy Howard at Home. “I said I just couldn’t do it because I believe the backbone of this country are entrepreneurs, mom and pops, and if my word can’t mean something, I’m worthless.”
The Amy Howard at Home collection began landing on the shelves of select Ace Hardware stores last week, giving the line of chalk paints, milk paints, gilding supplies, spray lacquers, antique waxes and other finishing products 3,700 outlets in the U.S. and a toehold in 68 countries around the globe. So far, around 200 stores have picked up the Amy Howard at Home line, a number Howard and the retailer hope to grow in the coming months.
It also allowed Howard to keep her word because Ace Hardware operates as a co-op, where the stores are owned and operated by local entrepreneurs.
“Partnering with them was huge because it gave us distribution without selling out to a big-box,” she said. “I think the partnership with Ace, because of what they believe, because they stand with independents, has been amazing and we’ve fallen in love with the people.”
An Ace Hardware official said the feeling was mutual.
“Amy’s entrepreneurial spirit is a perfect match for Ace’s locally owned and operated stores,” said Chris Huot, global department merchandise manager for paint at Ace Hardware Corp.
“We recently introduced her product line to our retailers and the initial response has been very positive,” said Huot. “The Amy Howard at Home line meets a growing trend in the do-it-yourself market and we see strong growth potential in this category.”
Howard is currently training Ace employees on how to use the Amy Howard at Home collection, knowledge they’ll be able to pass along to consumers.
“It’s really exciting because people are coming into Memphis from all over the world,” said Howard. “It’s the process of teaching them how to teach.”
Howard didn’t set out to be in the furniture paint and finishing business. For years she manufactured luxury, handcrafted furniture – pieces sold for $3,000 to $18,000 – for sale to interior designers and architects.
Then the economy crashed and that market began to slow down. Even wealthy buyers who could afford the furniture held off on buying during those uncertain economic times.
That’s when Howard developed her “blue ocean strategy” of selling paints and finishes that appeal to the cottage industry of refinishing furniture, whether it’s individuals reworking older pieces for their home or office or people who make their living reviving old pieces.
“I said what we’ll do is put our processes and finishing techniques in a bottle, we’ll patent it and show them how to do it,” said Howard.
The strategy also focused heavily on teaching people how to use the products, an interactive edge that can promote a deeper relationship between businesses and consumers.
“If you want to be a brick and mortar store you have to have a connection and a great way to have a personal connection is to teach somebody something,” said Howard.
In addition to overseeing the Amy Howard at Home collection, Howard is in the process of writing three books and teaching classes on entrepreneurship.
“I do see myself getting to the point where the (furniture) manufacturing part becomes less important to me than teaching people how to build a business and paint furniture and sell it,” she said. “Life is short enough. I don’t want to go through life and do something I don’t love and can’t be real about.”