For many business owners, one company is enough. But last year Donnie Harper added a second business in a completely separate industry. Harper’s businesses – Door to Door Solutions, which helps seniors downsize to assisted living, and Alliance Business Interiors, which provides office furnishings – have been affected by the economy in different ways, and his experiences are an interesting example of how the real estate market trickles down into everything.
We chatted with Harper about his two businesses and were joined by his partner in Door to Door solutions, Katie Hamann.
Richmond BizSense: How did Door to Door Solutions get started?
Katie Hamann: Door to Door solutions started in 2004. We identified a need to help seniors going through the process of preparing to move a lifetime of stuff into a small space in an assisted living community.
We went from basically two of us providing services, to today there are 12 of us, two trucks and a van making 500 moves a year.
RBS: How has the business changed?
KH: We started out thinking we will help them form plans and change their utilities. Within the first six to 12 months, they really need a coach or adviser in this process, someone to keep them positive on what they are gaining versus what they are losing.
RBS: Have you grown in the past year? Have you been affected by the economy at all?
KH: We’ve grown every year. We grew at a smaller rate last year, but we still had growth. The moving industry is very much affected by the economy. People really got nervous and put brakes on any kind of decision. But most of our clients can only wait for so long because of health issues or something forcing them to move.
Donnie Harper: With the economy the way it is, kids are doing more than they have ever done, because they are trying to keep the costs down.
RBS: How much does a move usually cost?
KH: We basically give a project estimate for every move we do. The cost can be anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand [dollars], depending on how much service they want.
RBS: Is there a lot of local competition in the senior moving industry?
KH: There are definitely other people who provide a similar service; the number of companies has grown just like the numbers in the industry. When we started, there were about 30 companies in our business association. Now there are more than 500. Locally I’d say there five or six more companies since we started.
RBS: Donnie, you also have another business, Alliance Business Interiors. Tell us a bit about that.
DH: We are a little bit over a year old, and we are a small shop, small showroom and small office area. We have been very fortunate and seen some good growth by being a small company. By offering both pre-owned and new office furniture, we have been able to meet 95 percent of everyone out there’s budget.
One thing we are doing is positioning ourselves for 2013, when we all hope and believe the economy should see some good improvements.
RBS: Who is buying office furniture now?
DH: Law firms, doctors expanding and financial groups expanding as well. You’ve also got some banks that are retooling and being more creative, getting away from typical office layouts. That is creating some opportunities.
Of course Fort Lee has been good for us.
RBS: One of the area’s most well known furniture dealers, Chasen’s Business Interiors, went out of business recently. Has that affected your business?
DH: As unfortunate as it was for Chasen’s, we don’t believe the business we have gotten.
RBS: We have heard of many new offices that are subleasing fully furnished spaces. Has that affected business at all?
DH: It does put a damper on things and has had a significant impact on furniture dealers in the Richmond area. If you are a full service furniture dealership, usually there are opportunities for us to redesign and change some of the work environment to make them smaller and bigger, so we are getting some service work from that.
Al Harris is a BizSense reporter. Please send news tips to [email protected].