Iowa seems like a long way to go for a Danish dining-room chair—but not to Brian Wilcox. He’s one of the owners of FindFurnish, and he’s happy to travel to the Hawkeye state. “Oh yeah, I love Iowa,” he says.
He brings his box truck down at least once a month, as well as to South Dakota, Illinois, and surrounding states, looking for finds in the midcentury home goods category. He finds undervalued gems in all kinds of places, but none more than in Iowa.
“I try to schedule my trips to begin and end in Iowa City,” he says, explaining that the sweet spot is towns with a university and manufacturing center, as residents there tend to buy, and discard, quality items with design panache (Peoria, Ill., and Columbus, Ohio, are other mainstays). “I always stop to see Todd at Artifacts in Iowa City; he has great items. And my favorite bagel in the country is there at New Pioneer Co-op.”
The aesthetic that captures Wilcox’s eye is easy to see at the FindFurnish store, 3,400 square feet of vintage delight just blocks from downtown Minneapolis. In two cavernous rooms, one can find a Paul McCobb coffee table next to a refurbished steel stool. There’s also hipster chic everywhere—bright red Etch-A-Sketches and hi-fi turntables and banged-up steamer trunks. It’s American Pickers come to Minneapolis.
And it’s profitable. What started as a hobby business four years ago for Wilcox and co-owners Eric Wivinus, Tim Schumann, and Marie Zellar, selling a lot of things on eBay and Etsy, is now going great guns as a bricks-and-mortar storefront. It’s been in its new space in near Northeast for a year now, and three of the principals—Wilcox, Schumann, and Zellar—work for the business full-time, with Wivinus working half-time.
Last year FindFurnish brought in $250,000 in revenue, and this year Wilcox reports that it’s on track to double that. Things are flush in the world of vintage, and Wilcox has a hunch why.
“We’re in the midst of the [baby boom] generation with the largest accumulation of wealth and material goods in history starting to downsize, moving, or dying. There’s this giant tidal wave of transfer happening now, and this market, for the most part, is completely unorganized,” he says. “That’s why there aren’t big-money players in this business. There’s Goodwill and Savers, but we offer something different, a narrative of where these goods come from, and that’s valuable to us and our customers.”
There are some interesting stories, like the time they found a violet Knoll chair designed by Bill Stephens in a back barn of an old machine shop. “The narrative is important to our brand concept and proposition,” Wilcox says. “That’s how we keep our store fresh. We explain where we got an item, what history it has, the context.”
The goal is turn over the inventory every six weeks, and that happens 90 percent of the time, Wilcox estimates.
Approximately $500,000 in anticipated 2014 revenues
3,400 square feet of retail space
A “handful” of outside investors
The company is close to launching a website that will rely less on Facebook—right now it spends $1,000 a month on Facebook ads—and offers more functionality for customers who see something they like and want to reserve it.
“The new site will allow us to communicate directly with customers in a more unfiltered way, and allow more of a purchasing buffer zone,” Wilcox says. “It’s a key next step for us.”
The partnership has also brought in outside investors for the first time—“a few of them” Wilcox says, for moderate and undisclosed amounts. One is Blake Iverson, partner in the law firm Friedman Iverson, which is just across the street from the store. Iverson didn’t have to think hard about investing.
“I discovered FindFurnish during Art-A-Whirl 2012. Their sensibilities matched mine perfectly,” he says. “I saw an incredible opportunity for growth and I couldn’t pass it up. I’m very excited to be part of the company.”
The location favors the store. There are 160 new apartment units going up right behind them, as well as development nearby in the North Loop and along the river. If Wilcox has a hard time keeping the store stocked now, he soon will have an influx of millennials strolling around after brunch, in the mood to pick up a refurbished machine-shop benchtop. He has plans for broadening sales channels, converting the basement to an area for high-end merchandise and perhaps expanding yet again.
But first, there’s stuff to go look at, and Wilcox’ll be back in his truck soon. Customers can even let him know what they want and he will try to find it.
“I always say I’m good at talking people into or out of things, but we don’t want to sell you on it,” he says. “We live for the hunt.”