Native Range LLC started as a side gig for Southwest Baptist University professor Aaron Black and his wife, Jennifer, in 2016.
The e-commerce business – which specializes in handcrafted, wooden welcome signs, organizational pieces and various home decor – has grown into a much larger operation with seven employees and products sold on eight marketplaces.
Moving out of the Blacks’ basement last year, Aaron says the business already has outgrown its 3,500-square-foot warehouse off Scenic Avenue and Walnut Lawn Street.
“We’re doubling revenue every year, and we’re on track to double again this year,” Aaron says, coming off 2019 revenue of $365,000.
Native Range doesn’t have much of a local following, with most customers hailing from Texas, Minnesota, Tennessee or California. Roughly 40% of sales come from welcome signs, with another 40% generated from organizational shelving. The remainder comes from miscellaneous home decor, with most products ranging $20-$300. Native Range also will start supplying abstract art and tapestries this year, he says.
Aaron, who has taught business at SBU since 2016, says he’s stepping away from his educational role after the spring semester to take on Native Range full time. He’s made aggressive revenue goals this year, aiming for $700,000.
“The recent coronavirus outbreak, and its related economic complications, may make that much more challenging,” he says, noting in the coming months he may need to revise his goal to $500,000.
Aaron admits that welcome signs and other wooden home decor were not what he first thought he’d be producing for Native Range.
“We tried to do picture frames, which were difficult to sell,” Aaron recalls. “I made 40 or 50 different items before I made my first sale. One of the things I tell my students is don’t make stuff you think is cool, look at what’s selling and make what customers want.”
To do that, Aaron and Jennifer have turned to social media platforms Pinterest and Instagram, where they research top keywords for insight. Jennifer, who focuses on marketing, says she’s constantly following HGTV and Better Homes and Gardens for inspiration. The most recent trending items are welcome signs, farmhouse decor and the use of natural wood for home decorations, she says. She’s unsure when consumers will gravitate toward a different look.
“Trends don’t go as quickly as people think,” she says. “I would say it takes five to seven years. But we’ve expanded our product line so that when welcome signs aren’t popular anymore, we’ll have other products to take the lead.”
The couple have added shelving, decorative shutters and wooden art pieces.
The only local shop that carries Native Range products is the Footbridge Trading Co. on Commercial Street. Co-owner Irene Schaefer says Native Range was one of the store’s first vendors when it opened in 2019.
“We’ve sold about a dozen of his pieces,” Schaefer says. “People love local artistry in the Ozarks. Aaron does a lot of pieces with colors, shapes and dimensions, which has been really popular.”
With more time to devote to the business, Aaron has big plans for Native Range in 2020, despite a global pandemic.
“There’s really only two ways to grow a business: add products and add markets,” he says.
Native Range soon will be selling on Wayfair.com and Houzz.com, and Aaron says he plans to distribute through Walmart and Home Depot’s websites by the end of the year. A long-term goal is to sign a contract with a major retailer and secure in-store distribution.
The couple also have sights set on investing in advertising and branding for their Native Range subsidiary, DecorForDoors.com. The online retailer was created 18 months ago as an outlet to distribute their handcrafted products.
Jennifer says they’re also focused on streamlining the order and shipment process.
“One of our goals is to decrease the time it takes to get our products out, which will be a big competitive advantage over the people who do this as a hobby,” she says.
The e-commerce business also gives Aaron the ability to continue fulfilling orders from home during business restrictions because of COVID-19. However, he says the shipping times will be a bit delayed without extra help from staff.
Within the next few years, Aaron plans to purchase a larger warehouse building, to replace rented space for undisclosed terms at 3389 S. Scenic Ave. He doesn’t plan to open a retail store.
“Retail is tricky because on a good day, how many people might walk through your store? I’ll get 1,500 visitors in a day on Etsy and my website,” he says. “And we average about 20 orders a day. So, I could put up a brick and mortar and incur that cost, or I can cash in on 1,500 people coming in on the web.”
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