As she was waiting to pick up a takeout dinner to continue working late one evening, Erin Till, co-owner of Henrico-based S.G. Woodworks, saw a Facebook post from Inc. Magazine.
It was for a contest to win a 2019 Mercedes Sprinter van, an otherwise costly piece of equipment that the furniture restoration and upholstery company could really use.
On a whim, she composed an essay and sent it in.
“Luckily, I went to school for creative writing and that is the only time that has paid off,” Till said. “I composed an essay in under five minutes and I sent it off. I didn’t think too much more about it.”
About six months later, Till was notified she was a contest finalist and was invited to attend the Inc. 5000 conference. At its closing gala event in San Antonio, Texas, she learned her company had won the prize.
Now, Till and co-owner Sarah Grinter are awaiting the arrival of their prized vehicle, which they plan to convert into a mobile workshop and use to broaden their delivery schedule. Sprinter vans start at nearly $34,000.
It’ll also enable them to stop renting vans for deliveries, and put that money back into the company and its apprenticeship efforts – a free program to train women in upholstery.
“We are both women and we operate in a field that is generally a male-dominated field,” Till said. “Because there’s such a long tradition of amazing furniture craftsmanship in Virginia, we want to be a part of that, but we also want to see more women participating in that tradition.”
Program participants work in the S.G. workshop at 6945 Lakeside Ave. for a year, where they can transition from intern to apprentice and leave with skills to launch their own business or land a job at other workshops.
Grinter, whose initials account for the S.G. in the company name, founded the business in 2004. After college, she worked in an upholstery shop. When it closed, she wanted to continue working in the trade.
The company specializes in private furniture restoration, and also has commercial clients that include Quirk Hotel and Perch, a Scott’s Addition restaurant.
“The business was started to fill a niche in Richmond where you could go to the same place and have furniture restoration and upholstery,” Grinter said.
Till joined the company in 2016 as a co-owner after becoming interested in Grinter in a chance meeting several years prior.
As a Los Angeles native and world traveler, Till met Grinter when visiting a friend who was Grinter’s former roommate. They’d been sitting on the porch one afternoon when Grinter pulled up in her pickup truck. Till watched as Grinter wrestled a dresser up the stairs with no assistance and spoke about refurbishing the item.
“Where I’m from, women usually don’t drive pickup trucks or lift heavy furniture,” Till said. “She was a master. I was really knocked out by her at that point. That was the first time I had also seen a woman be competent with power tools.”
As time went on, Grinter managed her company and Till went on to work in auction houses and travel the world. By 2014, Till returned, lured by romance with the mutual friend and former roommate of Grinter. Till asked him to formally introduce her to Grinter.
“He said, ‘She’s really serious. If you’re not serious, don’t waste her time,’” Till said. “But I’m serious.”
Till was able to satisfy her desire to learn about upholstery and restoration from Grinter, and then became a partner in the business.
Delivery of the van may take several months.
“I’ll take it whenever it arrives,” Trill said. “I’m just super grateful.”