A. Cooke Furniture is headquartered in Bishop, California and manufactures premium outdoor furniture in Southern California. We ship nationally and have also had clients internationally – in Australia and Brazil. Cooke Furniture is comprised of twenty skilled craftsmen and over 100 employees in the supply chain.
Q. Give us a brief description about yourself (it should include your brief educational or entrepreneurial background and list some of your major achievements).
A. Growing up in a rural area of California, I was allowed to experiment with fire and ultimately learned to control it. Taking this passion to its fullest, I earned a mechanical engineering degree and an MBA, and Cooke Furniture was born, focusing on innovation and expansion of fire pits, fire tables and unique fire features. As a mechanical engineer, I was trained in using CAD software, fabrication machines, welding and techniques used in the off-road auto industry. These skills enabled me to get creative with my knowledge base and create stylish patio furniture and patio decor fixtures, most of which revolve around my early passion: fire.
My passion for contemporary style and top quality materials shines through in all of my designs. In order to deliver the highest quality product and design flexibility, I sell my products direct to designers, builders, contractors and discerning homeowners rather than utilizing retail outlets. This business strategy enables me to offer superior products at competitive prices, while keeping all design and manufacturing of Cooke Furniture fire products in the USA.
Q. What inspired you to start a new business venture? How did the idea for your business come about?
A. The motivation for my business came earlier on, when I used to work building racecars. Everyone who was buying a racecar owned a business, and everyone building them didn’t have enough money to afford a racecar… and I wanted a racecar! So, the motivation to start my own business was the desire to be a racecar owner. Now I have a racecar – a sportsman class Ford Raptor. The inspiration for my business came when I needed new patio furniture and saw a fire pit table at a restaurant in Newport Beach. So, I went home and figured out how to make my own fire pit table.
Q. What three pieces of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
A. Good luck is actually the product of hard work — put in the hours because no one works harder or longer than you.
It takes time to become profitable – it certainly doesn’t happen overnight.
Make sure it’s something you like doing because when you like what you do it doesn’t feel like work.
A. Effective interpersonal communication skills
Financial savvy and knowing how to leverage capital
Be prepared to learn whatever you’re not good at.
Q. How many hours do you work a day on average?
A. Feels like 24 hours! Truly, I’m always working but it doesn’t feel like work… so probably 10 – 12 hour a day.
When I was an engineer, 8am – 5pm felt like an eternity, now time flies because I’m my own boss.
Q. To what do you most attribute your success?
A. Tenacity — You can’t give up. You have to keep trying harder and find the right help to get the job done.
Q. How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
A. I do SEO, magazine ads, PPC, and old-fashioned business networking. SEO marketing has been the most successful for Cooke Furniture as most of my clients have simply found me by conducting a Google search.
Q. Where did your organizations funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?
A. I took out a loan to start my business. Luckily my wife was there to help when I quit my job — she was able to cover living expenses for the first year as I ramped up my revenue.
Q. What is the best way to achieve long-term success?
A. Honesty, because good, honest customer service leads to long term success.
Q. Where do you see yourself and your business in 5 – 10 years?
A. I see Cooke Furniture still headquartered in Bishop, CA and creating new pieces to add to the collection in the workshop that I’m currently building on my residential property. In 10 years, I see myself having a showroom in Orange County.
Q. Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
A. RH – Restoration Hardware because they are leaders in the furniture industry, and have a brilliant marketing strategy that leads to high revenue.
Tesla because of their forward-thinking innovation.
Amazon because you can find everything you need. I’m an Amazon customer as well as a merchant. Being a merchant through Amazon is great because they stand by their merchants in customer disputes, and are always looking for ways to improve their product line and delivery.
Q. What motivates you?
A. Racecars. I’ll put my son in a racecar one day if he wants to be a racecar driver, I’ll encourage him to the fullest, because one doesn’t make one’s self a racecar driver — dad make you a racecar driver.
Q. How do you generate new ideas?
A. Customer requests and feedback, as well as identifying a need. Also, my business revolves around outdoor living which I enjoy as a major part of my life, so whenever I am BBQing or hanging out outside, I’m always thinking about products to make my outdoor experience more beautiful.
Q. How do you define success?
A. Being happy and having the respect of others is the ultimate success, and for me, autonomy plays a huge role in my happiness. I enjoy having the ability to do whatever I want whenever I want.
Q. How do you build a successful customer base?
A. I’m still working on building my base, but I am hoping that my core business principles of good customer service and high quality products will build my customer base and long term success. I hope to deliver maximum value to the market.
Q. What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
A. Autonomy and being my own boss.
Q. What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
A. Every time I deliver a product and the customer is happy, or when I take on a challenging project and I complete it successfully – that’s the best feeling.
Q. What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?
A. The understanding of how much we pay in taxes is a huge difference. When you personally write the check to the IRS, you realize you pay a lot in taxes! I pay the government more than I pay myself…
Q. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
A. Obviously, I’d be a racecar driver! Or I would have gone to a better college and studied harder in high school.
Q. How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
A. It has given me the ability to spend more time with them.
Q. What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
A. Running out of money is my biggest business-related fear. I manage it by not overextending myself, taking calculated risks and not spending more than needed.
A. Racing racecars, hunting, fishing, skiing, mountain biking and enjoying the great outdoors.
Q. What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
A. By quitting my salaried job as an engineer, I forfeited my cushiony 401k. Now it’s up to me to make my own retirement fund.