Richter Furniture Manufacturing Year Founded:

1997

Core Business:

Manufacturer of sofas and chairs

Revenue in 1997:

$500,000

Revenue in 1998:

$5 million

Revenue in 2000:

$19 million

Employees in 1997:

4

Employees in 2000:

99

Employees in 2001:

150

Goal:

Increase sales at the 500 plus retail outlets where its furniture is sold, while maintaining cutting-edge designs

Driving Force:

Customers' desire for high-end upholstered furniture on a short delivery time and at a reasonable price

If you want to quickly build a start-up to $20 million in revenues, any successful entrepreneur knows what you need to do. Write a business plan and find a few angels or VCs.

Or, you could do it the old-fashioned way, the by-your-bootstraps method.

Just ask Braden Richter.

In 1997, he had $500 in the bank, a garage and a driving passion to make sofas. Today, Richter Furniture Manufacturing employs 150 workers, sells thousands of sofas, chairs and other furniture each year, and is projected to hit $22 million in sales.

Along the way the 30-year-old Los Feliz resident has become one of the leading manufacturers of mid-to-high end upholstered furniture in L.A., a position that some of his competitors have taken a decade or more to achieve.

"Braden took a little factory and grew it to a bigger one," said Michael Ostrow, one of the first furniture buyers to take a chance on the company and who is now owner of Grace Home Furnishings, a Brentwood furniture store.

"It's amazing what he accomplished."

The company manufactures an assortment of styles designed by Richter. They have a clean, masculine look, using top of the line leathers and fabrics. Richter likens the company to The Gap in that it produces "casual" products with a "younger feel" to them.

The company is considered a custom manufacturer, making 120 designs that can be matched with 350 fabrics. The furniture, including ottomans, also can be widened, lengthened and otherwise tweaked.

Retailing up to about $3,500 for a top grain leather sofa, the furniture can be found in 500 mostly mid-to-high end independent retailers nationwide. It is also sold at Macy's, Nieman Marcus and other national retailers.

Although Richter had a passion for furniture, he had a head start.

His great-grandfather had a New York company that manufactured upholstered furniture in the 1890s. His grandfather, Morris, took over the firm and moved it to Los Angeles, where he sold furniture to movie studios. His father, Andrew, remade it again, manufacturing high-end custom wood furniture for the hospitality industry and upscale homes.

After graduating from high school, Richter worked with both his father and mother, who was an interior designer before starting an ottoman design and manufacturing company. He also learned the upholstering trade while working for a friend of his grandfather.

Still, when Richter decided to start his company four years ago, he did it without the help of his parents, who were skeptical of his chances. "I was scared to death for him," said his mother, Renee Silvestre, owner of Ottoman Empire. "I could tell you he grew up in a house that was into furniture, but he had absolutely zero capital to start."

Little to begin with

Actually, it was $500, which he used to buy wood, fabric and other raw materials. He also had the advantage of knowing some furniture workers who wanted to make a little on the side moonlighting, building the frames.

It took two days to build the first sofa, which Richter sold to a friend for $1,000. He took that money and, sofa by sofa, built up his capital, selling to relatives, friends and friends of friends.

Within six months he had built 200 sofas, hired a dozen workers moonlighting in his garage and landed accounts at two local stores. He took a big leap in April 1998, moving into a 9,800-square-foot Vernon factory. The growth was funded internally from sales.

"I went to swap meets and found used (commercial) sewing machines, and would buy one at a time when we needed it," he said.

In July 1998, Richter borrowed several sofas he had already sold and displayed them at the summer show at the San Francisco Furniture Mart. It was a breakthrough, with the company securing $100,000 in orders for both its own products and furniture it had agreed to make to retailers' specifications.

Three months later, Richter attended his first show at Highpoint, N.C., the nation's furniture manufacturing center, landing another $200,000 in orders.

The company expanded in 1999 to a larger site in Compton and then moved back to Vernon within a year to the 170,000 square foot space it now occupies. It recently took over another 80,000 square feet next door and has begun selling end tables and coffee tables.

Richter's formula: Make a high quality product with lifetime guarantees at a reasonable price. The company fills custom orders in two weeks, practically unheard of in an industry where six-week waits are common.

What helps is manufacturing everything in-house, from legs, to frames, to down pillows. And unlike other customer sofa manufacturers, Richter only offers 350 fabrics so it can keep them all in stock.

"They can get their stuff out quick, which will get you a sale in this town," said Michael Davis, who manages Mortise & Tenon, a La Brea Avenue furniture retailer that was one of the first two stores to carry Richter's line.

But the company is more than quick. It has cachet. Davis said company has landed contracts to supply hundreds of chairs and sofas to the "W" hotels.

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