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El Dorado Woodworks

Owner: Richard Loper
Location: Houston
Years as pro: 15 years
Education: Bachelor's degree in photography, Ohio University
Previous job: Professional photographer
Specialty: Arts and Crafts furniture
Shop size: 6,400 sq. ft.
Adjacent showroom: 600 sq. ft.
Quotable: "The Arts and Crafts style I know inside and out and, with my years of experience, I can design just about anything in that style. It depends on which way the customer wants to go and then I know how to get there."

“When I saw my first Arts and Crafts furniture, I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” he says. “There was a guy from California, and he had a booth there and it was beautifully decorated. The furniture was gorgeous, and it just embodied what wood meant to furniture, and I knew right away what I wanted. So I started investigating the style. Once you get into it; it envelops you. It gets into your blood, and you can’t get rid of it. From there, it has just snowballed.”

Loper depended heavily on his photography income to support his newfound passion. As his furniture business grew, the reliance on photography income diminished. But attempting to make a living by selling Arts and Crafts furniture in Houston has proven to be a formidable task.

“About 90 percent of what we do is Arts and Crafts. Houston is not a great Arts and Crafts community; most people don’t know about it. But they are living in homes that were built in that era, and they just have to be taught the history — why the home is the way it is and what should go into that home.”

Beyond Houston
With a small local clientele, Loper realized he had to look elsewhere to promote his product. Several outlets have strongly influenced the success of his business — his showroom, his Web site and American Bungalow magazine. There’s a 600-sq. ft. showroom adjacent to his shop filled with his furniture and accent items. He doesn’t get much walk-in traffic, but it is a place where the maker and client often meet to discuss design features and consummate a sale.

Loper admits his Web site takes a back seat to some of the more pressing shop issues, but the El Dorado Woodworks’ site, which has been online for more than 10 years, contains images of more than 200 pieces from his several furniture collections. Without the Web site, Loper believes business would be much tougher. He doesn’t produce a catalog so, in essence, the Web site is his catalog. And with his professional photography background, the Houston maker has saved money by taking all his own photos.

The Web site also contains a section for custom pieces that don’t precisely fit into the Arts and Crafts mold. People occasionally visit his showroom with pictures, explain what aspects of a piece or two they like, and Loper combines the elements using CorelDraw, a two-dimensional graphic design program. Between CorelDraw and regular drawings, the clients obtain a visual understanding of how the pieces will look.

“The Web site has been an incredible tool,” he says. “One comment I get from a lot of people is the fact that when the pictures do pop up, they can actually see the furniture and the details of the furniture. I’ll go to a lot of Web sites and you can’t see details. That helps sell the product.

“I’d say 90 percent of my business comes from American Bungalow magazine. We advertise in that, it’s nationwide, and it’s directly geared towards Arts and Crafts enthusiasts. It has a circulation between 35,000 and 50,000 and, once again, everybody who picks it up is a potential customer. And we do work nationwide. I’d say there are times when 75 percent of my work is out of state.”