Tyler Kingston did not say that because Tyler Kingston doesn’t exist (or at least isn’t the owner of Tyler Kingston Wood Co.). Ryan Mead and his wife, Jessica, own the furniture company based in Kansas City, Mo.
He’s not counting or anything, but if Mead were paid every time he’s been called Tyler, he could probably retire on that money alone. The name of his business does have a huge significance to both Mead and Jessica, though — it combines the middle names of their two boys, Gentry Tyler and Isaak Kingston.
Tyler Kingston Wood Co. finds inspiration in old wood destined for the landfill or scrap heap. After a little love and affection, Mead creates furniture that’s both beautiful and useful for someone else to adore.
Check out how Mead describes his journey from Corporate America to imaginative wood creation.
How did you get into handcrafted furniture?
It started as a hobby — making furniture for our own home, for family members and a few close friends. The first items we made were benches. We listed the first one for sale on Craigslist and were surprised when the lady that came to look at it actually bought it! That’s when we thought that maybe we had something here.
What ignited the passion to start your own business?
We both had comfy corporate jobs in the financial industry, but after doing the same thing for so many years, we just weren’t feeling fulfilled anymore. The rat race of Corporate America began to lose its appeal to both of us, and since we both loved to create, we thought we’d go for it. We started slow and did our furniture making in the evenings and weekends. Once we became so busy that we had no time to do anything other than work, we knew it was time to make some hard decisions. I quit my corporate job in December 2013 and Jessica followed about 9 months later.
What was your start like? Smooth sailing?
We really can’t say enough good things about the platform that Etsy provides to creatives and those that wish to start their own small business. Etsy made getting started super easy, but I would not say that it has been all smooth sailing. Figuring out our pricing to stay competitive and getting our shipping logistics down were definitely the toughest parts. Packing and shipping a garment rack takes just as much time or maybe even more than actually making it.
What’s your motivator to keep creating?
I would say it all boils down to passion and curiosity. When you are passionate about something, it’s amazing how motivated you are to keep going. Passion for life. Passion for people. Passion for good design. We just really love what we do and are so grateful that we get to wake up and create every single day.
Describe your typical day.
Each day is different depending on our timeline, but we typically spend the mornings responding to e-mails, ordering supplies and reviewing our work queue for the week. The rest of the day is either spent in the woodshop building and creating items, or spent in the studio photographing and packing items to be shipped across the globe.
What’s your typical creative process?
We constantly look for fresh inspiration and new ideas. We love to travel. We ask tons of questions. We bounce ideas off each other a lot. We also pay attention to what our customers are asking for. There is a whole host of things that go into our creative process. It doesn’t always turn out exactly as we expect, but that’s part of the beauty of creating.
Kansas City has a fairly big handmade furniture business with First Saturdays in the West Bottoms — how does that influence your work?
There are so many great furniture makers in KC and each has their own unique style. The majority of our business comes from outside Kansas City (east and west coast), but we are starting to grown our local client base which is really exciting for us.
What keeps you excited to be in KC?
There is such a creative community here in KC that I’m not sure how you couldn’t be excited to live and work here! I have lived in Kansas City my whole life and there is great local pride and a community willing to support small business and local artists.
How has experience changed the creation process?
In the beginning it was a lot of testing ideas, sketching new designs and just figuring out how turn our ideas into a profitable business. We had to figure out if someone would buy it, and how we could ship it. Sometimes it would work, but sometimes it wouldn’t.
We’ve also learned how to create items that could ship economically. By selling online, we are competing with large companies that can offer free shipping, so making items that can ship easily and affordably for the client is paramount to our company.
That reminds me of our first large retail orders that we were packing one night early on in our basement studio. It was 11 p.m. and we had just finished packing several large garment racks, we moved them toward the door and one side of the box completely crushed under the weight. Needless to say we had to start packing it all over again and it was a very long night. Learning how to ship all of our large pieces was definitely the largest obstacle to overcome.
How would you define success in this business? Have you reached it?
Success for us is about making a quality product, sourcing our materials locally when we can and being able to support our family. We get to do what we love every day and make a living doing it. It really doesn’t get much better than that!
What are you most proud of so far?
We love how we’ve been able to turn a hobby into a career. We started with a few tools in our garage, sourcing wood from the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
We just moved into a 4,500 sq. ft. shop to keep up with the growth we are currently experiencing. We are proud of the company we are building and the work we produce.
How do you build a customer base?
Social media is huge. Word of mouth. Building quality products. Great communication is key. Top notch customer service. All of this is really so important to building a customer base and a following.
What sets you apart from other places doing similar things?
Our customer service definitely sets us apart. We can’t believe the number of people who are surprised when we respond to their inquiry within an hour or two. Our product offering is also fairly unique. We not only offer custom and handmade furniture, but a slew of vintage and industrial home goods that accent them quite well.
What is your favorite aspect of working with wood?
The best part is taking wood that was destined for the landfill or scrap heap and making it into a functional piece for someone’s home or store. When we get the wood, it’s usually covered in years of dust and dirt, but through the sanding and finishing process, something beautiful emerges.
To what do you most attribute your success?
Our faith in God. Tons of hard work. Supportive family and friends. Learning from our mistakes.
Do current trends influence what you’re putting out? How?
Absolutely! We always pay attention to how retail stores are displaying their merchandise. We ask ourselves how we might be able to do it differently or more uniquely. We look for inspiration and pay attention to what our customer base is asking for and responding too as well. We are keep an eye on current trends and think of ways that we can put our own spin on it.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start his/her own creative business?
Go for it! Be responsive. Take your time. Start small. Ask tons of questions. Take notes. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t give up.
What’s on the horizon?
We are in the process of moving into a new workshop and studio, which will allow us to become much more efficient and continue to grow. We are also beginning to expand our brand to include home goods and supply items that complement our furniture and fixtures.