From the archive: This episode was originally recorded and published in 2020. Our interviews on Entrepreneurs On Fire are meant to be evergreen, and we do our best to confirm that all offers and URL’s in these archive episodes are still relevant.
Brian is the President of Austin’s Couch Potatoes in TX. He grew the company from selling broken couches out of his garage to opening his 4th location.
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Brian’s Email – Connect with Brian via email!
AustinCouches.com – Check out Brian’s website.
3 Value Bombs
1) We’ve got to evolve to be like any other industry. We need someone on our team who truly loves people and has the mind of a strategist.
2) Focus on three things: Loving people, bringing comfort, and practicing fair trade.
3) You need to set yourself apart from the competition — something that will keep you untouchable.
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**Click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.
Today’s Audio MASTERCLASS: Growing a Retail Business Amidst a Pandemic
[00:57] – Brian shares something interesting about himself that most people don’t know.
- He funded his college years by selling lingerie on eBay.
[2:48] – Brian was a minister in New York City, and is now running a highly-successful furniture chain — Austin Couch Potatoes. How did he make that transition?
- In his early 20s, he went platinum on eBay just by selling and building relationships with big box retailers.
- One of the accounts he had was Macy’s Department Store. One of the things that was really hard to sell at the time was furniture. People used to buy it from him and then resell it in their own furniture stores.
- One time they spent 12k on furniture and all of it was damaged.
[8:36] – Where did the name Austin Couch Potatoes come from?
- One weekend when they were in high school they were just sitting on the couch watching cartoon, and then their dad come in and asked, “What did you couch potatoes do today?”
[11:08] – How to did Brian flip an un-win-able situation?
- You need to set yourself apart from competition — something that will keep you untouchable.
- If you buy normal equipment that every manufacturer has for building furniture, you’re going to be on the same level.
- He started watching videos and visiting factories to learn how to make custom furniture.
[16:23] – A timeout to thank our sponsors!
- Podopolo: The best podcast listening app in the world is here! Visit Podopolo.com, download the app for free, mention John Lee Dumas (my Podopolo username) when you sign up, and start listening now!
- HubSpot: Learn how HubSpot can help your business grow better at HubSpot.com.
[18:17] – From making sofas to supplying the government with PPEs – how did Brian jump on the #FurnishTheFrontline movement?
- The massive shortage of masks gave them the idea to make masks from their fabric-making machine.
- He went on to post on social media, telling those on the frontlines to let him know who among them needs masks. The very next day, they started distributing masks to help their community.
- Brian didn’t know that the material he was using in his factory to create masks was the exact same material used in N-95 masks.
- They turned their factory line upside down: from manufacturing sofas to manufacturing PPEs for frontline workers, and they’ve even shared their templates with other furniture manufacturers to help in their communities.
[27:21] – Brian’s key takeaway and call to action for Fire Nation.
- Brian’s Email – Connect with Brian via email!
- AustinCouches.com – Check out Brian’s website.
- Focus on three things: Loving people, bringing comfort, and practicing fair trade.
[29:41]- Thank you to our Sponsor!
- Podopolo: The best podcast listening app in the world is here! Visit Podopolo.com, download the app for free, mention John Lee Dumas (my Podopolo username) when you sign up, and start listening now!
- HubSpot: Learn how HubSpot can help your business grow better at HubSpot.com.
What's shaking fire nation, J L D here with an audio master class on growing a retail business, amidst a pandemic to drop these value bombs. I brought Brian Morgan on the mic. He is the president of Austin's couch potatoes in Texas. He grew the company from selling broken couches out of his garage to opening his fourth location in fire nation two, we'll be talking about how Brian went from a minister and NYC to running a successful furniture chain, how we turned an unwinnable situation around and how to build the right team when it's so hard to find good people and so much more fire nation. When we get back from thanking our sponsors, did you know that 97% of text messages get opened and 90% are opened within three minutes.
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1 (1m 29s):
Well, I love to share something. I felt called to go to school to be a minister. And I had a little bit of a scholarship, but not enough. It didn't pay my room and board. And so to make ends meet, I sold anything and everything on eBay. In fact, I've found really the best item with the highest close rate was women's plus size lingerie. And I funded myself to go through Bible college by selling lingerie and can't make that up. And that, that turned into selling anything and everything. And to this day, people still tease me because I could just feel the material.
1 (2m 11s):
And I know like almost the percentage of polyester in it. I know what it is. And I just have a lot of fun with that. And, but it was just a unique time, you know, back in the early two thousands where people bought unique things on eBay. If you were a plus size individual in the middle of nowhere and you wanted something nice, you know, you would go on to eBay and buy it and we would ship it right to you. So that's, that's a interesting topic that a lot of people don't know.
0 (2m 39s):
That is very interesting. And I hope that there's some people listening to this right now being like, Oh my God, I literally have known Brian for like 30 years that I never knew. That's how he funded it. And you're gonna have some great conversations going forward. Fire nation, Brian and myself are both really happy right now because we did reveal to each other. Pre-interview that we both an amazing piping hot cup of coffee right next to us. We're going to be sipping on that. Having a great conversation today, as I mentioned in the intro about growing a retail business, amidst a pandemic ends, you were a minister in New York city, Brian, and now you're running this highly successful furniture chain Austin's couch potatoes.
0 (3m 21s):
Talk to us about how that transition happens
1 (3m 24s):
After college. And I kind of alluded to selling things on eBay. So all through my time in school, I always ran this side hustle, this eBay gig. And by the time I wrapped up here, I am early twenties. I went platinum on eBay just selling anything and everything. And I built a lot of relationships with big box retailers and helping them offload their, you know, the return items and stuff like that. But I kind of just got tired from working behind the computer and said, I'm going to go help people. That's really what I love doing. This was just a job, you know, I'm ready to go do what I felt like.
1 (4m 6s):
I went to school for what I've been called to do, to, to love people and give them a lasting hope. And so I had a roommate in college, said, Hey, I want to go start a church in New York city, 500 feet from ground zero. So it'll be great. We'll, we'll, we'll use a public school up there. We'll have a church every Sunday. And, and so I sold everything, sold, everything I had, you know, and moved to the concrete jungle and, and just kind of needed work still. You know, this is a startup church, you know, you kind of just go in, you don't really know how you're going to get support and stuff, but loved that side of it. And, and then I said, you know what? I just need to be around people that need, you know, I'd been behind a computer. I don't wanna get stuck behind a computer. I can always fall back on that.
1 (4m 47s):
But so I, I was just walking down the road one day and I heard this really awful singing on the Bowery and like, what is this? And, and I happened into a mission called the Bowery mission. And it was there that I really just kind of fell in love with people's stories. And I walked into this chapel, it's 130 year old mission at the time. And it was called the Bowery mission. And people would, you know, hang out in like a church service and then they would go eat a meal afterwards and get a shower in one clothes and all that stuff.
1 (5m 27s):
I just loved it, but I stopped. I kept going back, you know, every day and to listen and eat and then serve. They actually started serving on the soup line and I started to listen to these people's stories and this crowd of people coming in to eat every day. It was people that had a lot of amazing past, you know, they had a lot of letters after their names, you know, PhDs and masters in this and this. And they have all these amazing accomplishments in their life. And now they're on the street and I just began to wonder why are they doing this? And so, anyway, I just, I fell in love with people's stories and come to find out a lot of those men, I worked in the men's home there, they, they just had some bumps along the way growing up, and they just needed someone to help get them back on the right path again, or just listened to them.
1 (6m 17s):
And, and so I fell in love with people there I'm I was born in Austin, Texas, and about the third year of my time, working for the Bowery and doing this church plant up there, I really kind of fell out of love of working at a church. I said, Oh my gosh, I love people. I have more fun working at the homeless rescue mission than I do at this church. And, and I'm like, I just feel like I'm not bringing a lot of hope to people. And so I decided to go back into the old industry that I was in, you know, flipping stuff, you know, buying and selling things. And it was a perfect time because my dad was ill down in Austin and I had to keep going back and forth.
1 (6m 58s):
And so I said, gosh, I guess I need to go back into the old eBay thing again. And one of my accounts that I had early on was with Macy's department stores and I used to buy and sell anything and everything. And one of the things that was really hard to sell on eBay at the time was furniture too big to ship. And, but people used to buy it from me by the truckload and, and resell it in their furniture stores. And so I said, this is perfect. It's a high enough price tag item that I could kind of have a side hustle in Austin, go take care of my family and just kind of work out of a garage or something like that and sell furniture on the side.
1 (7m 39s):
And so that's how couch potatoes was born. I brought a truckload of furniture in, never saw this stuff before I used to just Mark it up a few points and sell it to the next guy. And, but this time I was very hands-on. And so my brother and I, we offloaded our first truck in North Austin. And we were amazed. We just spent 12 grand on a truckload of furniture. And all of it was damaged. I said, Oh my goodness, what are we going to do? So that was 10 years ago, October of 2020. So 10 years ago is when we started. And in 30 days, John, we, we doubled our money and it was a journey that I had no idea would turn into what it is today.
1 (8m 31s):
And, but all those experiences at the church at the mission, selling the stuff online, it's all come full circle. And we're still touching on a lot of those topics that I had experiences with years ago.
0 (8m 46s):
We jump in here for a second, cause I really like to talk myself and you've been doing a lot of talking, just kidding, but I'm a sucker also for names, names of companies and how they were formed in Austin. Austin's couch potatoes to me is just a home run of a name. Like I love it. Do you know where the phrase couch potatoes came from? Like where did that origin?
1 (9m 6s):
Absolutely. Growing up, grew up in a very blue collar home rapport. Couldn't rub two pennies together, but dad just worked hard and he was a farmer, was a Vietnam vet, came back and said, you know, guys, you find it, you find a career, you just work hard. But you know, we just never had money. It was just that we always had everything we needed, but if we weren't working on Saturdays or out of school and we were watching cartoons and dad came in and he was, he would just call us couch potatoes. What are you? Couch potatoes during the day? And sure enough, we were sitting on the couch and we were practicing our craft at a young age. But so, so anyway, my brother and I, we, we were, when we started our furniture store in Austin with all that broken furniture that we refurbished, you know, this building that we were renting, it had no electricity, no running water, it was super cheap.
1 (9m 60s):
And so we rented this property and we pulled out our SLR camera, took pictures of it would charge our batteries up at my other brother's house to fix and restore furniture. Then I go to the coffee, shop down the road with a bottomless cup of coffee and I would list the pictures of stuff. And I began to realize Craigslist was my only place to list back then it was a top 10 marketplace, Austin, Texas was for Craigslist. And so if you don't come up with a name, something, people just have you tracked by your phone numbers. So we began to think, well, what's the name going to be? You know, we've got to figure this out.
1 (10m 41s):
And so we could be the, Oh, we can be the family name, furniture store, like everybody else. But you go into those places and it just felt really impersonal and not Austin. Austin is the capital of weird. And so we said, why don't we call ourselves couch potatoes? And it kind of stuck. And to this day, I never thought we'd still be called that. But I would just tell people if you want to see all of our product, just search couch potatoes. And so it stuck.
0 (11m 8s):
Awesome. I love those kinds of stores and actually go the while you were talking. And it was first used by the way, in the seventies, by a comic artist who drew lazy sedentary characters, he called couch potatoes and it became extremely popular. Talk about someone who's spent so much time in front of the T that he seems more like a vegetable than a human being. So there you go. And fire nation don't be a couch potato, 2018, Brian, you were in what some people would call an unwinnable situation share with us that situation and how you flipped that script.
1 (11m 41s):
Correct? Yeah. 2018 was an interesting year for our industry. We, we had to make a decision. We watched several of our peers and our market locally furniture stores that have been around for decades, close their doors. And we were going to be another statistic unless we made some changes. And, and our business is it's, what's this be honest, it's pretty easy to do. You could be, you could go to market and become a furniture dealer and you could sell this brand of furniture in your store, just like the guy down the block. And you can run a promotion, you know, the BOGO, get one, buy one, get one free, or, you know, 10% off this weekend.
1 (12m 25s):
And, and you can really go out of business pretty quickly by doing the same thing everybody else is doing because of the worldwide web. And you can track pricing and stuff like that. But in 2018, we watched our property taxes increased by 20%. I felt like I was in New York city again. I mean it just, the price of rent for brick and mortar for retail space was just nuts. And you can only raise your prices so much. So early on in our career, we thought, well, one day we'll design and build our own furniture. And I said, well, the only thing that we can do right now, guys is where it going to be a statistics that statistic and go out of business like everybody else, this is our last hoo rah, or we're going to start building furniture.
1 (13m 6s):
We've got to set ourselves apart from the competition, something that's going to be untouchable. And my brother and I, and my best friend, Dan, we've been in business now 10 years, none of us had ever sewed before. And we're like, well, how in the world are we going to build furniture? We can kind of frame a little bit. So we stepped out and face and we actually bought $130,000 piece of equipment. We called our bank and said, Hey, will you give us a loan? So this, and they said, are you crazy? And so we called another bank and we called another bank. And we said, well, even if we buy just the normal equipment that every other manufacturer has, that builds furniture, we're going to be on the same level.
1 (13m 48s):
So we decided from day one, we want to build and design furniture. We want to do something. No one else has done before next day, custom furniture. And so in order to do this, we had to buy this really expensive piece of equipment that is used in apparel. And so we stuck our heads out. It's like our necks out. And we, we bought this piece of equipment and we bought another piece of equipment without having any employees or even knowing how to do this. And so we watched a lot of YouTube videos and
0 (14m 15s):
YouTube is really the entrepreneur's friends. I mean, it's how you do everything. Every time I buy something from the internet, I go there for how to set up videos. I mean, critical, critical stuff. So get us there. Go ahead, Brian. Yeah.
1 (14m 28s):
Yeah. So, so we watched how people were making furniture, how they were buying fabric. And we went on a few factory tours and we're kind of like despised behind the scenes, watching how they cut and everything like that. So, so traditionally, when someone makes us sofa, you, you have templates, you have like cardboard templates that you put out on a fabric cutting table. Like, you'd see it like a, a craft store and you'd cut out, Oh, this is the arm, the sofa, this is the seat cushion. And you have to get the grain, right. Or the fabric. And, and it takes about when you're a skilled, a pollster, it takes about an hour to cut out a sofa. So, so we, we took that hour long cut time down to 45 seconds.
1 (15m 10s):
And so that's what really helped us. We started a factory that, that was matchless. Not a vendor could even compete with us. We had unique styles and, and overnight in less than a few months, we had built a sofa factory and it really kept us alive
0 (15m 31s):
Fire nation. What Brian was able to do. And this is just so critical for any business in any industry or niche is they built a moat around their business. They couldn't just be replicated. They had actual things that were in their competitive advantage. They were building these things. They knew how to do what they were being unique. They couldn't just be copied or ripped off. They're building that moat. How are you building your Mo how are you developing skills and systems and processes that can't be easily replicated the higher, the barrier, the lower the competition. And there was Brian building a high, high barrier and fire nation. When we get back from thanking our sponsors, we have so much to talk about ready to stand out in the inbox.
0 (16m 13s):
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0 (17m 10s):
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0 (17m 54s):
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1 (18m 25s):
So here we are. We're watching the shutdowns happen in our industry with every industry. It's kind of envelope being right on to Texas. And we're just trying to rush to get furniture out the door before the shutdown happens and we needed to make this another big decision. We've got to pivot either furlough, everybody, or we keep going. And I began to watch the news and things are popping up saying, there's a massive shortage on masks. And, and so we're just like, Oh my goodness, what do we do? And the next morning we were watching the news and we're like, well, should we start making masks? I mean, we have this fabric cutting machine that we bought.
1 (19m 5s):
And, and by now we've got a pretty sweet operation. We've got a team of about a dozen people that are helping us build furniture. And that was a big deal for our little company. And, and so I challenged these guys. I said, guys, we're going to try to help our community. We were walking around our factory and just looking for a material that would look like a mask. And we found this giant roll of white material. And I use it to make the liner of our cushion casings that go inside of our sofas. And so I just take apart and then 95 mask, and I kind of make our own version, trace it out on this fabric. And I'm like, okay, I hold it up to my face.
1 (19m 45s):
I cut it out. I'm like, that's pretty breathable, but still, it doesn't feel like it's doing anything. And so then I put another layer behind it and like, wow, this really works. So we make a really good template. And now we're stuck. We have this amazing like cone thing that fits over our face, but we have nothing to hold it onto our heads. There's there's we go to the fabric supply stores. They're out of elastic everywhere. So I run into office Depot and I look for something elastic and I land on number 19 rubber bands, and I grab a bag of them and I run home and run back to our shop and mean, and kind of lay some backs through each other. And we, we so on a, a, a headband out of rubber bands.
1 (20m 28s):
And, and I put a picture up on our social media saying, Hey, if there are any frontline folks, any of our customers and our friends here in Austin that need a mask, let me know. And that was in the evening. I go and I put my kids down for bed and John, the, the messages come pouring in just the short time I'm putting my kids down of, Hey, I'm a nurse on the front lines. I'm an anesthesiologist. I'm in a nursing home. We haven't had masks in days. In fact, I just taught us how to reuse our masks and word got out in Austin very quickly. The hospitals were saying, send us whatever you have.
1 (21m 8s):
And I'm like, I've only made a prototype. And so I go, and so I'm like, I need to find a doctor. Is this stuff going to kill somebody? If we use this stuff, I don't know what to do. And overnight, I'm just sending all these messages out. And I tell my partners. I said, tell the guys, come into work tomorrow. We're going to figure this mask thing out. And, and so we start distributing the very next day masks without an FDA approval. We're just here to help people. And I said, if we're going to go down for this, let's go down with this ship, helping people, because I can't sit by the wayside. When my community is hurting, the very people that we serve every day that keep my business going, let's give back and let's help.
1 (21m 48s):
And it was Sunday, two days into this, I get a call from department of Homeland security, that office in Austin, Texas, this could go a couple of ways right now. I texted my wife. I said, honey, I'm telling you where I'm going. But they just called me and said, bring my masks to their office on a Sunday afternoon at four o'clock. And I said, I'm, I'm probably gonna get locked up. I have no idea. They're gonna tell me they're gonna find me there and do something. And so my brother, Travis and Dan, my best friend, the three owners, we, we pop in my 99 Ford pickup truck. And we go down to the department of Homeland security. It's this gigantic fork you go into and they wand you.
1 (22m 28s):
And you know, they checked your temperature. Oh my goodness. We went straight upstairs and we walk into this giant boardroom and we sit down and I literally have these masks and individuals, Ziploc bags, like sandwich baggies, and incomes, the director of hospitals, the director of star flight, the director of EMS, the director of Homeland security for Texas, all these different, big title people. They just start putting our mask on and S and sniffing through it. And they're like, this works pretty good. How'd you come up with that? And I said, well, we here and I sold the whole same story. And they said, do you know what this material is this? And I said, well, it's some kind of poly. He goes, well, do you know what the material is?
1 (23m 9s):
And then 95 masks and polypropylene. And he goes, well, this is the exact same material that no one can get right now. And you happen to have it in your factory, get to work, Brian. And that's kind of how the story started. And then, and then at the end of this conversation, they said, don't stop making these things. In fact, just keep making them, in fact, we want to throw something else at you. And they said, we haven't had these in our EMS vehicles in our hospital for two weeks. And they're just long isolation gowns. And they said, do you know how to make these? And I said, no, we'll give me one. And so we took, went back to our factory. And 20 minutes later, John, we sent them a picture of a gown that we made and they just, it blew their mind.
1 (23m 53s):
And they said, once again, get to work. And so we completely pivoted. We turned our factory line off in furniture. We kept everybody hired in factory hard, 40 more people, and had three shifts working around the clock, making isolation, gowns, and masks. And in fact, the gown need was so huge for the entire state of Texas. And it branched out into other States. We actually started sharing our templates with other furniture manufacturers, same, bring your people back to work. Here's a template, how you can help your community. And to this day, I don't even know how many people have copied it and used it, but all over Canada and many, a lot of the East side of the stage where people were using are designed to make masks and gowns for their community.
0 (24m 41s):
Brian, including this, you're doing so much good in this world. So let's talk to fire nation right now. How can we as listeners of this story of this podcast? How can we get involved?
1 (24m 54s):
Oh my goodness. Well, it's, it's been a journey. You know, we went and, you know, our, our whole business shifted from brick and mortar to online. And we were, we were doing so much online chat during this time and we just watched our, our strategy shifts. And so you asked, how can we help you guys right now? And with the tools that are out there, you know, I'll, I'll give one little plug for this company that kept us above water. Along with our factory was this, this tool called podium. And it helped us chat and continue to do business.
1 (25m 35s):
We, we actually had the biggest month we've ever had in our company during the shutdown, when we're making masks and gowns, by doing all of our communication on a web chat. And what I saw in that time was that we have got to evolve to be like every other trending industry right now, the AR the furniture business is really behind. And we really need a chief marketing officer. This is one thing I thought of. And so if you've got a listener that wants to get behind a family owned business, that truly loves people, but has a mind of a strategist.
1 (26m 16s):
That's what we need. If you want someone to, to partner with, to pursue your dreams of helping people join our team. And my goal this next year is to be shipping our furniture nationwide. So if you need a new sofa and the next quarter, I'll be shifting nationwide, that's my dream. So hang on and come and buy from us. But we're, we look, we're looking for the best of the best. I know it's a little too much to ask, but
0 (26m 44s):
Are you going to shift to Puerto Rico? Because, you know, we, we need, we desperately need some good furniture down here.
1 (26m 50s):
So my wife and I that's when went for our honeymoon, I love that place. So I would love to,
0 (26m 55s):
Oh, well, keep me in mind, keep me in mind. Cause I've been here four and a half years, and we would love to have a company that would actually ship down here. It'd be amazing. And it's a huge and growing and thriving community down here, people that are, are really having a lot of success in looking to, to, you know, really beautify their homes and stuff. So something to keep in mind in fire nation, you want to be a part of this mission. So Brian, tell us the best way that we can contact you to raise our hands.
1 (27m 22s):
Oh my goodness. Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org, check us out on our Instagram or our website, Austincouches.com. You can see all of our handles there. King me. I check every message. I'm very involved in our company. We focus on three things, loving people, bringing comfort and practicing fear.
0 (27m 44s):
Now do people have to be in the Austin area?
1 (27m 46s):
Oh goodness, no, we do outsource right now, some other things. And I think for, for like a CMO type role, I really believe that the best talent is, could be over the world. You know? And so that's one thing that I love about technology and, and, and being in surviving and thriving during this shutdown is that we can work some anywhere.
0 (28m 11s):
Brian fire nation is all over the world. So I hope that people are typing in your email address into their subject line or right now. And that's Brian B R I A N@austincouches.com. email@example.com fire nation. Step up, reach out to him, raise your hands. Or if you know, somebody who should be reaching out to Brian passed that along. firstname.lastname@example.org and Brian is so cool. They actually mentioned podium. They actually are one of our presenting sponsors for the podcast. They're a great company. When they reached out to me, I was stoked. They wanted to be involved because I love what they do for entrepreneurs for small business owners. That's awesome stuff.
0 (28m 52s):
And I just want to say, thank you, Brian, for sharing your truth, your knowledge, you are value with fire nation today. For that we salute you and we will catch you on the flip side. Thanks. Hey, fire nation today's value bomb content was brought to you by Brian. And if you've ever, ever, ever thought about creating a podcast of your own, well, then the podcast journal is for you. It is a gorgeous, full leather journal that will guide you. We're talking step-by-step and the creation and launch of your podcast. And 50 days that's five zero fire nation. Visit the podcast general.com use promo code podcast for a $15 discount as a thank you for listening to the podcast and I'll catch you there, or I'll catch you on the flip side.
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