New furniture shop owners have high hopes

10_news_deskThe new owners of Riverside Rustics in Lowville, N.Y., have discovered that purchasing an existing business can be a smart move if you put in the effort to make the process a smooth transition. Brothers-in-law Zech Zehr and Barry Roes proudly shared the details of their recent experience of buying, relocating and re-establishing the 10-year-old high-end rustic furniture business.

Prior to the July purchase of the business, Zehr, who's 32, ran a construction company and was an independent contractor for the last decade. The 23-year-old Roes joined him five years ago out of high school. Together, they framed houses, did all of the roofing, siding and trimming and, when time permitted, they tinkered with woodworking on the side.

Two years ago, they met Jonas Wagler, then-owner of Riverside Rustics, who hired them to finish a remodeling job on a house he had purchased to fix up and sell. Last summer, Wagler decided to move out of state and offered to sell them the business, which was located in Philadelphia, N.Y.

"It would have never been in my plans to do anything like this, but I really think there was an element of fate involved," says Zehr. "I was getting to the point where I was sick of contracting because people were not paying on time and this just seemed like a great new opportunity. There's no other business like this around here."

The parties worked out a financing plan and Zehr purchased all of the machinery and inventory, including about 9,000 logs. Wagler even trained them for several months, which proved beneficial.

"He was very patient with us. Working with logs for rustic furniture is different than working with light finish-grade materials. Buying lumber and logs is a job in itself," says Zehr.

The two owners relocated the business to their new building in Lowville last October to cut down on an hour-long commute.

Zehr says he has no doubt the relocation will affect his customer base because the former location was on a main highway near the popular camping grounds in the Adirondacks. Still, they've managed to keep many of the existing clients, the vast majority being high-end homeowners. About 50 percent of the clients are within an hour's drive, but others have been from more remote locations such as California, Pennsylvania and Ontario who are visiting the area.

About 60 percent of sales are for stock designs, while the rest are custom orders. The furniture is made almost exclusively with cedar and pine.

"Our bedroom sets are probably the most popular with log beds leading the way. For the custom jobs, we recommend [customers] give us measurements and a picture of their home. A lot of people have these camping cottages and need a vanity or entertainment center for a specific space."

Zehr says he's being cautious with the business. He's paying himself half of what he made before just to make sure that the business is going to have money through the winter.

"I think people have to be careful in that respect. Finances are the toughest part right now because the economy isn't super. People have to be more careful than they were four to five years ago."

Roes says the biggest benefit of purchasing a business is getting clientele and equipment right off the bat and having someone show them the ropes.

"Jonas had his reputation already built in, so we've already got a few returning customers who he's done business with before. We also got the training we needed. We already knew a majority of the basic woodworking applications, but we wouldn't have known how to use the specialty tooling. The log selection is also critical. He went step by step and showed us what to look for in each piece we used."

In November, the owners held an open house to introduce the business to the local community.

Contact: Riverside Rustics, 5491 Bostwick St., Lowville, NY 13367. Tel: 315-642-3658. www.riversiderustics.com

This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue.