Today, a powerhouse of the industry. Back then, a mobile trailer set up behind a seafood processing factory. Such is the journey of Four Hands, the Austin, Texas–based furniture manufacturer that supplies everyone from top designers to blue-chip retailers and rakes in more than half a billion dollars of annual revenue. To say it has been a long, strange trip would be an understatement.
When Matthew Briggs arrived on the scene in the late 1990s, the company was a distinctly marginal operation. “We were [a] weird little importer on the fringes of the industry around companies like Century or Bernhardt—the real companies doing real business,” Briggs tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “We couldn’t afford a real showroom in High Point [so] we were off campus. There’s been a shift in the industry, where older school businesses have gone away and lifestyle home furnishings companies like Four Hands have become the mainstream.”
What drove the change? To a large degree, design. In the wake of the 2008 recession, Briggs (by then, he was leading the company; today, he’s CEO) realized that wholesalers were going to be squeezed from both directions and oversaw a radical shift in the company’s strategy. They would bring on creative people and make the furniture themselves, putting them in a stronger position in the marketplace. At the time, Four Hands only designed 10 percent of its inventory. Today, it’s 90 percent. “Instead of being middlemen, we are the creative force behind the product we sell,” says Briggs.
For Four Hands, the past decade has mostly been a runaway success story. But on this episode of the show, Briggs shares a sobering look at the headwinds ahead, ranging from out-of-control shipping costs to rampant inflation, which he believes will prove fatal for smaller businesses in the industry. He also offers a candid appraisal of the radical shifts that have taken place over the past five years around pricing transparency and exclusivity.
“Whether it’s a designer or a retailer or anyone in this industry, I hear less and less conversations about how people want to be protected,” says Briggs. “People have figured out that to be relevant in this industry long-term where the internet does exist, you’ve got to find another way to add value and have people want to do business with you, other than lack of transparency or [the] ability to control a geographic region. These conversations were far more common five years ago. They just don’t happen anymore. Everyone has figured out they’ve got to find their own way to add value.”
Homepage photo: Courtesy of Four Hands