Turning the Tables

Bigwigs are stirring up the kids' furniture market. But when the sawdust settles, entrepreneurs prove they can play, too.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the September 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The children run into the room to play. Inside, the table and chair are hand-painted in a sailor motif, and the bed has scalloped edges with a matching pillow and comforter set. Anyone with kids knows that a child's room can mix whimsy and practicality. And anyone in the children's knows there's money to be made by outfitting beds and mini-kitchens.

Large companies, like Pottery Barn and The Bombay Company, have entered the children's furniture market--with Pottery Barn Kids and Bombay Kids, respectively. But is there room for entrepreneurial start-ups as well?

The answer is a resounding "yes" if you talk to Cheryl and Dick Shaw, founders of Little Colorado Inc., a Denver children's furniture manufacturer. The Shaws started the business in 1987 to create heirloom-quality wooden furniture at moderate prices.

After getting laid off during the mid-'80s, Cheryl, 44, and Dick, 51, began creating wooden stools, beds and toy organizers in their garage. "Given our size and what we do, we're specialists," says Dick. "We can do things larger companies can't." A significant part of their business is done during Christmas-contributing to about $2 million in annual sales.

With a special focus on shipping and distribution, the Shaws design their fully assembled items to fit standard shipping sizes-giving them a strong catalog and Internet business.

This emphasis on shipping and distribution is one way the Shaws stand out in the marketplace, a key strategy that helps them stay competitive, says Sheila Long O'Mara, editor of Kids Today, a children's furniture trade magazine. "[With the Internet], they're competing with everyone-[not] just people in their own backyard." Long O'Mara has noticed two trends: juvenile looks and more adult looks-pieces that will last through adolescence and even into the teenage years.

Capturing that whimsy is Angela Harrigan-Flores, who, through her Web site, www.jackandjillfurniture.com, sells hand-painted children's furniture part-time. Harrigan-Flores, 36, started her enterprise in 1999 while looking for bedroom furniture for her daughter, Hannah, now 9 years old. In fact, young Hannah is her mother's very own research center: Harrigan-Flores asks for her daughter's opinion on the furniture designs. "I try to offer products that are specialty-oriented-hand-painted by an artist rather than being mass-produced," she says. With sales increasing 50 to 75 percent from 2000 to 2001, this Tujunga, California, entrepreneur looks forward to opening a brick-and-mortar store to complement her online business.

There's one special concern with children's furniture: You'll have to conform to federal safety regulations in order to do business in this market. Check out the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association at www.jpma.org for more details.

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