Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrew DePalma.
Andrew, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
The story of Open Door Furniture begins with me having what some would call a quarter-life crisis when I stepped away from a career and a nice 6 figure salary to pursue something that I was passionate about. But I am getting ahead of myself…
When I graduated from college, like most young people, I had no idea what I actually wanted to do. I knew that I had a bunch of student debt that needed to be paid so I took a job in the insurance industry for no other reason than it was the highest salary I could get. My rationale was that it would be the quickest way to pay down my loans, and in the interim, I could continue to think about what I really wanted to do.
Time really started to fly and before I knew it, I was starting my 10th year as an insurance professional. My career was advancing nicely. I was moving up the corporate ladder and from the outside, most people assumed that everything was going well. However, it seemed that with each life goal that I accomplished, I would find myself wondering why I didn’t feel as fulfilled as I had imagined I would.
So after many conversations with my wife, friends, family and supportive co-workers, I made a huge left turn and quit my job in hopes of pursuing something that I was both passionate about and good at. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that happiness is found solely in a career choice. It is much more complex than that, but it was a good starting place for me.
I would love to say that I had some grand plan out of the gate but for the first time in my life, I really didn’t. I spent a summer exploring my passions to see if something jumped out at me. One consistent theme I discovered was building. I grew up in a small town where I had lots of opportunities to work with my hands. Creating something physical and tangible has always been immensely satisfying to me. This is something that I spent a lot of my free time on during my insurance career. After I left my insurance job, I started building furniture all day and every day.
I certainly was having a lot of fun that summer but I wasn’t confident that what I was doing could be a viable way to earn a living, pay for a house, put kids through college etc. That same summer, I had an opportunity to visit a furniture store in Portland, Oregon called The Joinery. This place is amazing. They have a showroom and right next door you can look through a window and see about 15-20 craftspeople building all of the beautiful furniture that was going out to clients. That was my “ah ha” moment. I thought to myself (albeit somewhat naively), that if they could do it then so could I.
So after more talking with close family and friends, I jumped into the deep end and started Open Door Furniture. That was 3 years ago and it has been one of the best decisions of my life. I have worked extremely hard but I have been so blessed. So many opportunities have come my way that were outside of my control which has positioned the company where it is today. From mentors, designer relationships, staff, equipment acquisitions, our current building and landlord, and so many more. It was a very scary leap but I am thankful to have made it and for all of the encouragement and support along the way.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
In my opinion, most things worth doing do not come easy. So the short answer is no, it has not been easy. I used to think that I worked hard but in a lot of ways, when you are a small business owner, you don’t own your own business, your business owns you. It requires a lot of time and sacrifice and it can be very taxing, even when you love what you do. To name a few challenges: developing a product, a brand, a team, finding customers, getting them to buy your product and executing your vision in a timely manner all before you run out of money.
The original vision for Open Door Furniture was to create a high-quality online furniture store. Think big brand luxury furniture store meets old world craftsmanship, where materials are sourced in the US and furniture is built to last a lifetime. To start, I built a line of furniture and offered each piece in a couple of different sizes to keep production efficient by reusing templates, plans etc. If successful, this model would allow for simple scalability and expansion of our lines over time.
My target customers were Interior designers. I thought if they liked our products and service then they would keep coming back to our site to purchase more high quality furniture for other clientele. 5 of the 10 years in my insurance days were spent in sales so I quickly got to work looking for my target customer. I cobbled together a list of over 1,400 designers in California and started cold calling people 8 hours a day, 5 days a week to set up meetings. People responded well to our products in the meetings but they were not placing orders. I realized that designers love the variety and different styles and they have countless catalogs and websites for pre-sized furniture that we were offering. Our furniture became another option in a sea of vendors that in most cases was quickly forgotten after our meeting.
But something designers were always interested in were identifying skilled builders who could create custom and artistic pieces to fit exact spaces and client preferences. The thought of stepping into the custom furniture business model scared me. Many times when someone reaches out to a company like ours, they have a concept in their head and want us to help them create a piece that is unique for their home. It requires you to be comfortable pushing your skillset and perpetually doing things you have never done. It necessitates a lot of communication to make sure everyone is on the same page for design, timelines, changes, etc. Not to mention, you also have to be comfortable saying no when a customer dreams up something that is outside of the equipment or budget limitations of your shop. The business model is much more of a dance than a transaction.
These complexities were the reason I first shied away from this model. But this service ultimately ended up being what brought customers in the door so it is what we started doing. It taught me a very valuable lesson in that one of your strengths as a small business can be your ability to pivot. I still have hope that we can one day revive the template/retail model but I have fallen in love with the challenge and uniqueness of the custom furniture business.
Please tell us about Open Door Furniture.
I love this question because I love talking about our work. I am obsessed with building the best piece of furniture we can for a client. People spend a lot of time around their furniture so we want to create something that is artistic, functional and that they enjoy looking at and using each day. We work hard to make something that will last for generations by using a combination of old world, time-tested building methods while continuing to study and incorporate new techniques and technologies to improve our design and construction.
Another specialty and something that sets us apart is the ability to create furniture from a large variety of materials. We have built pieces that incorporate steel, copper, glass, concrete, marble, and more. We have accomplished this by constantly researching other building disciplines, learning and practicing new skills, and also vetting and creating a network of skilled partnerships to collaborate when necessary. Contemporary design tends to be very eclectic so people are always pleased to see examples of work that incorporate different textures, materials, and finishes.
From a skill perspective, I would say that the last major pillar is arranging wood grain to flow throughout our pieces. This may sound minor but it is not. The inside of a tree can produce so many different colors, patterns and sheens all in one board and it is very important to be aware of that as you are designing and building furniture. It makes the building process much more complex and tedious but the end result is worth it.
One of my favorite examples of this is our Cloudscape headboard that we built for a client (seen below in the images or can be found on our site). The shape of the headboard couldn’t be more simple, it is a flat rectangle. But the wood grain and pattern is what makes it come to life. We cut out a section of a particularly interesting piece of wood and then split it into 12 different pieces to form this beautiful pattern. Pictures honestly don’t do this justice but hopefully, you can get the idea.
All that being said, what I am most proud of and what I believe truly sets us apart is our dedication to the customer experience both during and after the building process. As a craftsperson, building is the fun part and it is easy to strive for growth in that area. But being vigilant about deadlines, responding timely to customer questions, patiently explaining reasons for design changes, those take hard work and dedication that doesn’t come from the same well as the natural passion to create.
People work hard for their money and if they are going to spend it on our products, we want them to love the product AND the process. We are not perfect and like all skills, it involves learning from mistakes. We try to do the right thing as much as possible and admit when we are wrong or need to change a practice. But the reviews that our customers have written about our service on both our Houzz and Google profiles show that we are getting things right more often than wrong.
I believe that if we continue to place a high value on that, we will continue to grow as individuals and as a company and continue to have the amazing opportunity to get up and do what we love each day.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I grew up in Patterson, California which is a small farm town in the central valley. It is nowhere close to a big city so when you look up at night, you can see an incredible amount of stars. My mom used to let me sleep outside with my friends. We would stay up late, makeup ghost and UFO stories while watching shooting stars and satellites until we fell asleep. Those slow summer nights and skylines really instilled a sense of wonder and perspective that I am thankful for as an adult.
- Address: 14137 Hillside Dr. Jamul, CA 91935
- Website: Opendoorfurniture.com
- Phone: 6193632765
- Email: Info@opendoorfurniture.com
- Instagram: https://instagram.com/opendoorfurniture/ or @opendoorfurniture if you are in the app
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/opendoorfurniture