Tom Sullivan and Joanne Chen are the owners of Hollywood Chairs and Totally Bamboo.
Hollywood Chairs started off making luxury customized director chairs for the movie industry in the “NoHo” Arts District of North Hollywood, CA. They began experimenting with bamboo during their quest for a lighter, stronger chair. Their use of bamboo blossomed into various house ware products using their “engineered bamboo” and developed the world’s first bamboo cutting board. The goal of Totally Bamboo is to be recognized as the leader in changing the way the world uses bamboo, as the new, ecologically renewable alternative to hard woods.
Tom was willing to answer a few questions for us to learn more about their story of pursuing their dreams.
Where did your dream of owning a business start and where did it come from?
Both Joanne and I are artists and wanted a way to be creative and get paid for it. We find the 9 to 5 mentality goes against our grain and personalities. So basically we started our own business out of necessity, as most employers would have fired us. One thing we did not take into consideration; owning your own business is a 24/7 commitment. So what started as a way to have a low stress, “come into work anytime” lifestyle turned into anything but that!
What was it like to begin pursuing that dream?
In the beginning, it was very consuming, very fun, and very exciting. We talked about our goals and ideas all the time. Our poor kids at the dinner table pleaded with us to stop!
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey as a business owner?
Over the years I have thought about this a lot. I think the best way to sum it up is that old saying: Do what you love and you’ll never “work” another day in your life. In other words, be passionate about what you do.
What has been the most challenging part of your journey?
On a personal level, as a man and wife team, being able to disagree amicably and without weapons! On a business level, it is dealing with QC in China. It is very challenging to keep the quality as high as we require without being at the factory 24/7. Spot inspections are only as good as the products they can see at the time of inspection.
What have been some of your high points (achievements/milestones) and low points (setbacks/disappointments) along the way?
Our highs: developing something that never existed before such as our bamboo cutting boards, bowls and a number of true innovations. Our lows: happened about 2 years into our business when the competition started wholesale stealing of most of our ideas, low balling our pricing and driving the once unique items into a mere commodity.
What is one thing you’ve learned that all small business owners seem to relate to?
There is no 5PM….ever…even on vacation!
What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Dream big and follow your instincts, don’t listen to naysayers, but most important, if you are not completely competent in any one thing, hire a consultant until you are and then…. and this is important…. know when to stop using them.
What would you like to say to other small business owners during Small Business Week?
Is it just me… or could anyone ever imagine working for someone else?
Small Business Spotlight Series #SBW2014
This Small Business Spotlight is part of a series of interviews performed by Employers Resource in order to honor small business owners and the hard work they’ve invested in pursuing their dreams of owning a business. They represent the #DreamItBuildIt elite. Cheers to your passion, your values, and your hard work.