This post was originally published on November 7, 2017.
I met Elise Miller at a recent business luncheon, and I knew I wanted to talk with her again. I wanted to hear the details of her story—to learn how she started selling beds. It’s not every day that you meet someone in this industry!
Both Elise and her husband Nick grew up in families with stay-at-home moms, and they wanted the same for their children. Elise has a background in elementary education, but after the birth of their first child, Elise briefly worked in direct shipping. When Elise mentioned to her dad the desire to be a stay-at-home mom, her dad said, “Sounds like you need a Bed Barn.” (Her dad happens to be the owner of the Watertown Bed Barn.) Within 24 hours of this suggestion, Elise and Nick were looking for space to open a store. Lake Country Bed Barn in Hartland opened March 2014. At first, it was by appointment only. In June 2016, Nick left his full-time job as a low-voltage electrician, and started full-time hours at Lake Country Bed Barn—allowing the store to have official store hours. In November 2016, they opened a store in Waukesha, their second Lake Country Bed Barn.
The Bed Barn offers a business model that fits a niche customer. Here’s what is unique about the Bed Barn.
- The showroom offers many beds in inventory for same-day take home that are made in Wisconsin.
- The customer sets the budget. When you visit the store, communicate this to Nick, Elise, or one of their sales representatives, and you will not be shown mattresses over your budget. They pride themselves on this strategy. They don’t want to mislead you with a product that is not right for you.
- Beds do not have a “comfort warranty.” Meaning, you can’t return your mattress. Do you like low prices? Having no warranty allows the store to keep prices affordable.
- Delivery is not free. Yes, they offer delivery, but you pay extra. Once again, this helps keep prices affordable.
- King sized beds are in stock but are made-to-order (in Wisconsin!) in less than a week.
- The store is family friendly. A train table is set up, waiting to be used. A baby stroller is also available. Elise and Nick’s children may also be around.
- Appointments can still be made if the store is not open at a convenient time for you.
- The owners seek every opportunity to be involved in their community.
During our coffee meeting, Elise willingly allowed me to ask her some general business and accounting questions. Elise’s responses are paraphrased and italicized below.
What was the hardest obstacle to overcome as you started your business? Marketing. This completely caught me off guard. I took some classes at WCTC to help me get started. Bookkeeping was also another obstacle.
What do you like least about owning your business? I don’t like managing a store because Nick or I cannot always be present. It was hard to find a good manager that works just as hard as we do for the business.
What do you like best about owning your own business? I like planning events, getting involved in the community, and connecting with people. Networking is important, but I am also finding it to be enjoyable.
What accounting or tax issue caught you by surprise? Use tax! You must pay Wisconsin use tax on inventory items that are donated to charity! Also, the requirements of tracking inventory by location caught me by surprise, but we’re getting better at that.
What accounting software do you use? We use Quickbooks Online (QBO). I really like the ability for delivery drivers to use the QBO phone app to look up a customer and use the map feature for directions. We also use Quickbooks Point-of-Sale and Square at separate store locations. If you are using Square, make sure you don’t sync it to QBO—it doesn’t work properly and only gives headaches.
What is (are) your most useful phone app(s)? I like my Facebook app and MileCatcher (for tracking miles). I also like Hootsuite because I can post to all social media accounts at the same time. Our store has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
What is one piece of advice you have for someone just starting a business? Owning your own business is more work than you ever, ever anticipated. You need to network, network, network. Keep at it—even if it initially drives no business.